2018-10-10 / Front Page

Complaints aired against drain chief

Greg Alexander denies allegations
810-452-2684 • skovac@mihomepaper.com

Bridgehampton Township officials brought their complaints about drain issues to the Sanilac County Board of Commissioners last week.

The complaints were about finance, not flooding.

The township’s delegation was comprised of Planning Commission Chairperson Chris Martinelli, Clerk Shelly McCarty and Supervisor Leo Sonck.

Sonck gave each commissioner a packet of documents and then addressed the board about several issues.

First, Sonck alleged that Sanilac County Drain Commissioner Greg Alexander was in violation of Section 280.196, sub-sections 4, 5, and 6 of the Michigan Drain Code.

“Specifically, I’m talking about the Sweet Drain extension which is three miles long,” said Sonck. “The drain code states that the cost of maintenance on a county drain cannot exceed $5,000 per mile without the permission of the township. We had $24,000 worth of work done on it. Take $24,000 divided by three miles and you get $8,000 per mile.

“Also, we got charged for 25 percent of the project, when the drain code states that a municipality cannot be assessed more than 20 percent without the local unit being notified and approving it.”

Sonck continued, “Then in July there came a ‘Day of Review,’ and the drain commissioner reduced the township share to 10 percent and applied 15 percent to the county.

“Also, we were billed $11,000 and not told why. We were not notified in advance. We did not budget for that. Looking back over the past ten years the most expensive drain work done in Bridgehampton has been $4,000 in a single year. Township budgets are adopted April 1. When we get unexpected bills, it affects other spending priorities.”

Another grievance against the county drain office raised by Sonck involved slow response to complaints. “We brought an erosion problem to their attention in April, and again in May, and again in July. Finally, on August 2, they put riprap on it.”

Riprap is a name for anti-erosion stones laid on a slope.

Sonck also alleged that a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the township brought an incomplete response from the drain office.

“I believe he is not doing anything right,” claimed Sonck. “I believe he is violating the drain code. He thinks he can just throw these numbers out there. Our budget is already approved. He is bankrupting the townships. Our attorney said, ‘Just don’t pay it.’ We’d rather not have to sue the county but something needs to be done,” concluded Sonck.

When asked after the meeting what he viewed as a solution to the problems, Sonck replied, “He (Alexander) needs to follow the drain code. Cleaning out a drain is an actual engineered project and should have a request for sealed bids and a formal day for a bid opening. He is just taking estimates and passing the work around to a small group of contractors. And he can’t continue spending more than $5,000 per mile on drain maintenance. I want it stopped. I want things done properly. We’ve met with him but he doesn’t listen.

“Our township’s total revenue is about $130,000. Our budget expenditures are $160,000. We are making up the difference but it’s eating into our reserves. I wonder if other townships are having the same trouble with their budgeting process because of the drain office. If so, I’d sure like to hear from them,” said Sonck.

Sonck was elected Bridgehampton Township supervisor in 2016 after serving more than 20 years on the township planning commission. He currently works for Semco Energy as a data control and collection administrator. He also worked for five years as a draftsman for BMJ Engineers and Surveyors Inc., a Port Huron based firm that over the years has been involved in numerous drain projects in Sanilac County.

“My experience with BMJ helps me to understand some things about drains and helps me in understanding the drain code,” said Sonck.

When given the opportunity to examine Sonck’s handout and to respond to his allegations, Alexander, who was not present at the commissioners’ meeting, told the News, “Mr. Sonck is mistaken on all counts. I have done everything absolutely by the law. I’ve been doing this for ten years. I’ve had an attorney at my disposal to guide me through the whole process.

“The legal limitation of $5,000 for drain maintenance is confined to actual dirt work -excavation - which is only part of the cost. If a project will exceed $5,000 per mile, I go to the townships to ask for a resolution to exceed.

“If bids come in too high, we don’t do the work. Is it possible that Mr. Sonck is referring to an estimate in the amount of $24,000 that was rejected,” asked Alexander.

Alexander continued, “Only maintenance work that is petitioned for by property owners legally needs to be engineered. If we paid for engineering for every maintenance project it would cost way too much money and require long delays. Maintenance work without such a petition is allowed by law. That’s how most of the work is done.

“We need to remember, when every drain is constructed, it has been engineered. I’ve got the documents and or engineering plans for every one of Sanilac County’s 470 drains going back to 1879 in our office vault. All those drains still exist. When I do maintenance, I am simply re-establishing the route, course, and depth of a drain that has previously been engineered. 

“Why pay to reinvent the wheel? The planning for maintenance jobs often needs just a couple of bench marks and a laser level to guide the contractors in restoring the original functionality of a drain.”

As to allocating the work, Alexander explained, “The work is put out for estimates. These come back sealed. Sometimes only certain contractors have the size and type of equipment needed for a particular job. The rest don’t bother bidding on these. The location of the work and contractor mobilization are also factors. We have about a dozen contractors who regularly give estimates on jobs they are interested in and able to do.”Alexander said the Freedom of Information request from Bridgehampton Township was complied with completely by his office.

Regarding advance notification of municipalities for upcoming drain maintenance, Alexander showed the News a certified letter sent to a group of townships, including Bridgehampton, dated October 6, 2017.

The letter says in part, “I intend this letter to not only give you a heads up, but also initiate further communication with you…to prevent unnecessary stress…I do not want, nor ever intend on putting a financial burden on our County, Townships or residents, so I feel it is extremely necessary to prepare you…In closing, as we prepare our budgets for the upcoming year, I propose a drive around your township to verify areas of dead ash trees, and carefully consider increasing your budgetary appropriation…”

Alexander said the devastation wrought by the ash bore insect has killed so many ash trees that their logs and branches are one of the leading causes of drain problems which result in the need for clean outs.

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