According to sources, the
Michigan Senate appeared that they might vote on the Drain Code today. Please
contact your Senator today and ask them to VOTE NO on the new Drain Code Bill
(House Bill 4803).
To find your senator's phone or email, go to this website and click, to the
left, on "find your senator": http://www.senate.state.mi.us/
can locate your senator's fax number by going to his/her web page (an
under "find your senator").
Here's a press release from November 21 on the new Drain Code Bill (HB
4803) by Fred Fuller, Saint Clair County Drain Commissioner:
Contact: Fred Fuller
office: (810) 364-5369
home: (810) 794-0846
NEW DRAIN CODE BILL
SEND CITIZENS’ RIGHTS AND
St. Clair County Drain Commissioner
Fred Fuller calls the proposed new Drain Code bill now pending in the Michigan
Senate, "a sham" that will further diminish accountability to the
public, the rights of citizens to due process, and the environmental protection
of Michigan’s waterways.
Fuller has written his state senator,
Dan DeGrow, the Senate majority leader, for a third time, asking him not to move
the Senate Substitute for House Bill 4803 on the Senate floor when the Senate
reconvenes on November 28. HB 4803 was bulldozed through the Michigan House of
Representatives in a hectic pre-Christmas session last December and opponents
fear it will pass the Senate with little scrutiny again, in the lame duck
session this fall.
Fuller says he is apparently the only
Drain Commissioner in the state who is not afraid to speak out against the bill.
The legislation was largely written by the Michigan Association of County Drain
Commissioners (MACDC), an organization that includes not just Drain
Commissioners, but also contractors, engineering firms, drain law attorneys, and
other consultants for the lucrative drainage industry. The MACDC has spent
thousands of dollars lobbying for the legislation.
The Michigan Department of
Agriculture also plays a powerful role in the MACDC. It provided grants to the
MACDC for writing the legislation and has kept the Department of Environmental
Quality and the Department of Natural Resources from commenting on the
legislation. Drain Commissioners are exempt from most environmental laws and for
years have been able to turn natural creeks and rivers into channelized drainage
ditches without restraint from citizens or environmental regulators. While most
states, and federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers, have turned away
from channelization projects, the drainage industry in Michigan has continued
these old practices because of the MACDC’s political clout and because it
is a great way for special interests to profit from tax dollars, Fuller says.
Drain Commissioners are able to place special assessments on people’s
property without any chance for a vote or referendum. The new bill would not
help this situation, and in many ways would make it worse.
Fuller says that other conscientious
Drain Commissioners are probably afraid to speak out against the MACDC because
of the hammer the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) holds over their
heads. Representatives of the MDA chair all intercounty drainage boards for
drains that cross into more than one county. They vote in case of a dispute
between counties so are able to side with one county against another. Thus they can exact retribution on any
Drain Commissioner that might challenge them. Fuller says he has already felt
their wrath as they have tried to force a channelization project on his county
and also make his county pay 70% of the cost. He is still fighting that
project---the South Branch of Mill Creek Intercounty Drain.
Fuller says the section of the
Michigan Department of Agriculture that handles drain projects is completely out
of control, facilitating big dredging projects that subsidize development more
than agriculture, promoting expensive over-engineering at taxpayer expense, and
ignoring the Michigan Open Meetings Act. The section is euphemistically called
the "Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section of the
Environmental Stewardship Division" of the MDA.
"They have hidden from public
scrutiny for so long that they are completely out of touch with reality,"
Fuller believes the first step in
revising Michigan drain law should be to remove the Michigan Department of
Agriculture from its position of dictatorial power. But the new drain code bill
will increase the MDA’s power.
Fuller lists these other problems
with the legislation:
- Amazingly, Drain Commissioners are
not required, like other government agencies, to have independent audits.
Each drain is a separate public corporation and none of these drain funds
are required to be audited. The only accountability Drain Commissioners have
for drain funds is the requirement in the current Drain Code to file an
annual report to the County Board of Commissioners. Yet House Bill 4803
would make even that report optional. John Cosens, the Lapeer County Drain
Commissioner who is president of the MACDC, has never filed a written annual
report to his county commissioners, despite the current state
- For ten years Fuller has fought,
first as a citizen, then as the elected Drain Commissioner of his county, to
stop a 17-mile dredging of Mill Creek, which flows through his hometown. The
petition that started the project was signed by 211 landowners, but was
opposed by the vast majority of citizens. Fuller was only able to halt the
project when he became Drain Commissioner and joined with three townships
and the City of Yale in a lawsuit against the Intercounty Drainage Board. In
the current Drain Code, a number of petitioners is required that is equal to
50% of the landowners abutting an intercounty drain. In the case of Mill
Creek, that was over a hundred signatures. But HB 4803 would reduce the
number of signatures required to five, no matter whether the drain is 20
yards long or 20 miles.
- Once a drain project is petitioned
for, there is almost no way for citizens to stop it if the Drain
Commissioners want it. The Drain Commissioner appoints the Board of
Determination, which decides if county drain projects are necessary. If
found necessary, citizens can only challenge in court whether the decision
was arbitrary or capricious. They cannot challenge the scope of the
project. It is totally up to
the Drain Commissioner whether the project costs ten dollars or $10 million.
There is no way for citizens to request a vote on the project. Drain
Commissioners can take citizens’ land for drain projects in 60 days
under "quick-take" provisions and the only thing landowners can
continue to challenge in court is the amount of compensation for their lost
land. They can challenge their tax assessment for a drain project in probate
court, but if they lose, they have to pay all court costs, including the
Fuller says that HB 4803 passed the
House of Representatives and has escaped media scrutiny so far because few
people comprehend the importance of the Drain Code and fewer people still take
the time to understand it. But, he says, the Drain Code is the most important
statute for the day-to-day management of Michigan’s
Fuller says HB 4803 has also been
"greenwashed" to appear as if it contains environmental reforms and it
has some important backers who pretend to be environmentalists, but a close
examination of the bill, Fuller says, will reveal that it contains few effective