OAK HILL CEMETERY on S. Washington Street was a topic of discussion at the Owosso City Council meeting Monday evening. Ann Bentley, Vice President of the Oak Hill Cemetery board, addressed the council over the cemetery flooding issue resulting in “substantial damage.” According to Bentley, the city had agreed to a prior plan to “clean out the creek as much as possible, fill it in with large rocks to slow water flow, and install some type of screen so that water could continue to flow into the north drains.”
The primary flooding issue is happening in the area of the chapel on the northwest end of this location. The chapel dates back to the 1800s, with the connecting drive having been there for over 40 years. The above view is angled (approximately) west toward S. Washington Street where the modern placement of five city storm drains seemingly run off from Gute Hill and beyond, into this “creek.”
City Manager Don Crawford referenced farm drains that are still draining into the area from “rain two weeks ago.” He suggested that one overall solution would be to construct a new drain and petition the county drain office. Eveleth shared that the city had tried to offer solutions for the problem a year ago.
Public Utilities Director Glenn Chinavare advised against shutting the drain down, since that is what the cemetery board is saying they are going to do unless something is done to alleviate the flooding.
Since the council meeting Monday, Mayor Eveleth stated he previously met with Bentley, and has agreed to meet with another small group of board members as requested. “The initial meeting with the group was cancelled as they couldn’t get together with me at their initially requested time, and I’m waiting to hear back from them as to when they can meet,” he shared. “No matter what, this is a very complicated issue involving multiple entities, property owners, and governments. Unfortunately, the solution won’t happen overnight.”
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
Public hearings at the Owosso City Council meeting on Monday, May 15 included several questions regarding the Special Assessment District No. 2017-07 (Resolution No. 3) for street resurfacing for Chipman Street from Willow Springs Drive to Harding Avenue.
Timothy Root, a corner property owner on N. Chipman Street, stated he believed the stretch being resurfaced to be “one of the best sections of the entire street.” He voiced he believed the assessment was excessive.
Former State Rep. Clark Harder, also a N. Chipman Street property owner, discussed similar concerns, but put further emphasis on the flooding problem in that area. He shared that he had “been there for 38 years, but had seen an increased flooding problem over the last ten.” He expressed concern that the work being done on the road might further complicate the drainage issue.
A third N. Chipman Street property owner, Holly Bentley, who has a driveway exiting onto Willow Springs Drive, also voiced concern about the special assessment, and confided she has also had problematic flooding.
Mayor Chris Eveleth responded that he believes it has been city practice for many years to fund roads with 60 percent of the revenue coming from general funds, and 40 percent by special assessment. “To my knowledge, it has always been a sixty/forty split,” Eveleth said.
Public Utilities Director Glenn Chinavare, referencing the need for the Chipman Street resurfacing, explained the decision regarding the resurfacing was based on pavement rating and the overall contour of the road. No grants were available for that resurfacing. He also stated that the needed water main construction was not tax assessable to the property owners.
Council member Lori Bailey explained the goal of the council is to “save money for both the city and property owners in the long run.” The concept is to deal with areas such as Chipman Street to proactively prevent future costs that would result in higher assessments.
Council member Burton Fox admitted in the past, the city had not completely taken the underlying infrastructure into consideration, and explained that individuals can’t adequately judge the quality of a road based solely on cracks and other visible problems. “The goal is to not have to tear streets up and replace water mains. We want more streets to last longer.”
The resolution was adopted.
Alexis Mueller, an Owosso High School teacher, attended the council meeting to make a plea for the case of the Owosso Public Schools bond proposal. “Our graduates need your investment,” Mueller advised. “What is the city going to offer young people?” A number of Owosso High School students spoke on the same subject, citing numerous structural issues to school buildings.
Council member Robert Teich stated that he hoped the price of the new bond proposal would be based on maintenance inclusion. “We don’t want to build a $60 million school and have it deteriorate because of lack of maintenance,” he said. Eveleth answered that he would pass any concerns on to Superintendent Andrea Tuttle, because he communicates with her regularly.
Council member Dan Law pointed to the “white elephant in the room,” calling out the Owosso Middle School on Water Street, that is in constant need of repairs.
Don Stanley, a property owner on Harding Street, approached the council over an enormous city water bill he has been strapped to pay. He has paid half of the amount, and was asking the city to step up for the other portion, since absolutely no leaks have occurred with his property. He is being billed for using 255,000 gallons of water during a period of time when he was not home.
Chinavare made it clear that Stanley’s meter had been checked and was fine. Fox questioned that the situation just did not make sense. Eveleth suggested the council come up with a policy to help deal with similar situations.
Ann Bentley, Board Vice President at Oak Hill Cemetery, addressed the council over flooding at the landmark cemetery on S. Washington Street. The not-for-profit cemetery has been dealing with flooding related to five city storm drains on Washington Street. Bentley’s claim is that prior to the installation of the city storm drains, the “creek” area along the bottom of an embankment on the northwest side of the property, did not have a flooding problem like it currently does. This region is in close proximity to several graves. The Oak Hill Cemetery board is planning on shutting the problematic drain off due to this issue.
Oak Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of numerous past residents, including James Oliver Curwood, Amos Gould, A.L. and B.O. Williams, and others. Two employees and a number of volunteers work as caretakers at this historic location. It is important to note that Oak Hill Cemetery is not a city-owned cemetery. A number of area events are annually held at this location, including the Curwood wreath ceremony that traditionally begins Curwood Festival every June.
The flooding outlined by Bentley cites “substantial damage to the cemetery, involving property damage and extra labor,” and mentions, “this past spring, the city came on three different occasions to unclog drains, but when I made a call during the worst of the 2017 flood, I was informed that this was not a city problem.” Bentley wants the “city to admit the problem.” She shared, “We are not in a position to handle the amount of water coming in, and it appears no one wants to help.”
Eveleth later responded saying he believed “it was an unfair characterization to say no one is willing to help. Several people are willing to help, just my opinion.”
“Do we need to petition the county to take care of the drain?” Fox asked after City Manager Don Crawford explained he thought the issue was from the Gute drain coming from underneath Saginaw Street, and ultimately connected to agricultural run off. He suggested the “overall solution is building a new drain.”
After the adoption of four Items of Business, the council moved to adjourn. The next meeting will be Monday, June 5 at 7:30 p.m.