Montgomery drain repair two years late, 25% ahead of schedule
The streets of the Frandora Hills neighborhood, west of Coolidge Road and just across the border from East Lansing, can be charitably described as a patchwork.
At worst, the road surface is very poor. Lansing put the streets on a list to fix for the past two years and then took them off again.
It is therefore understandable that residents of the small housing estate feel they have taken a double hit. Above their subdivision roads – or rather, below them – is the troubled Montgomery Drain, for the repair of which they are being assessed.
The cost of the project grew over time from $36 million to over $45 million. It remains to find the difference, with the objective of completion in the fall of 2023.
The county is still seeking funding sources beyond the million dollars approved by Ingham County commissioners at their August 23 meeting. Almost $1 million more will come from a county bond fund.
The familiar refrain of “supply chain issues” is at the heart of the matter here. Take PVC pipe, the most commonly used in residential and commercial construction.
Like many things, PVC pipes – the ones most people use in plumbing – are made from natural gas.
Like many things during this lingering pandemic, PVC pipe is in short supply. What happens to things in short supply? Even when you can find what you need, it’s at an incredibly higher price than normal.
This is what happened with the Montgomery Drain, an area that spans several municipalities in the metropolis of Lansing. An unfortunate combination of cost overruns and supply shortages combined to delay project completion and boost the bottom line by more than $12 million.
The project was expected to be completed this spring, but likely won’t finish until fall 2023. Early estimates have it completed in fall 2021.
The River Trail Millage’s million dollars will pay for 2.5 miles of new trails and new, wider sidewalks, among other improvements. Further work will allow the reopening of nearby Ranney Park and its popular toboggan hill.
Lansing pays about 64% of the total, the funds he receives from special assessments and drains tax hikes.
Dan Dekker, a resident of Frandora Hills, said his neighbors are paying up to $11,800 in a special assessment for jobs that seem endless.
“The special assessment invoices we received from the city in January 2020 indicated that the project would be completed in 12 to 18 months,” Dekker noted in an email. “It’s obviously come and gone, and there’s no end date in sight. We don’t know what the end game is.
Dekker said the assessment adds between $400 and $700 to most residents’ summer tax bills — a not insignificant sum.
Ingham County Drainage Commissioner Pat Lindemann knows residents are frustrated, but the situation is one he has no control over. The heist, he added, could be brought to the feet of a familiar culprit.
“The only delays I’ve had – and we’re four to five months behind – 100% of emptying delays are caused by COVID supply chain issues. Period. That’s it,” he said. he says.
“High prices and lack of material.”
Lindemann said the price of the project increased by 20% to 25% from the initial estimate of $36 million due to the lack of raw materials.
He is optimistic that the $11 million shortfall to complete the work will come from federal funds allocated to states through the American Rescue Plan Act. These dollars should appear by the end of the year.
“We’ll try to get some of that,” he said. “The State of Michigan has infrastructure funds that we are going to look at. Failing that, we’ll go to the chart in Chapter 20 (drain code) and see if they have any brilliant ideas to make this work.
Many projects across the country ended up costing significantly more due to lack of materials, Lindemann said. As for the Montgomery drain, it ranks in the middle or “slightly below average” when it comes to price increases.
There’s another complication involving Frandora Hills and the drain. Lindemann estimated that 10% to 15% of the system below the road surface has collapsed. What makes the most sense, he continued, is to repair the roads at the same time as the drainage works are carried out, to minimize inconvenience to residents.
A repaired drain will also prevent between 50,000 and 70,000 gallons of pollutants per year from reaching the Red Cedar River.
“Everybody wants clean water, but nobody wants to pay for it,” Lindemann said. “One way or another, this is a problem that we all have to deal with, and we are all going to have to solve it.”
If the residents of Frandora Hills are unhappy with their assessments, they should raise their concerns with Lansing city leaders, especially Mayor Andy Schor.
“That’s his job,” Lindemann said. “The mayor and the city council allocate the funds to raise the money needed to pay for the work.”
Chapter 20 of the drainage code, he continued, allows the city to raise the funds it needs in the way it needs to.
“I don’t think I’ve met a single person in Frandora Hills who disagrees with the job. It’s just a matter of how you pay for it.
Carla Barnes has lived in Frandora Hills for almost 50 years, long enough to see some things change and some not.
“It was a nice neighborhood, until recently,” Barnes said. The valuation of their modest 1,250 square foot home was nearly $9,000, which she says is “absurd”.
“We were all in favor of taking care of the river – nobody wants it to be polluted. (But) I don’t know how the city council decided on the formula, because most of the water goes on the grass – it does not go on concrete.
Residents attended council meetings and submitted written objections, Barnes said.
“I don’t think anyone paid attention to us. I don’t think they had to.
Some neighbors, Barnes said, even moved out rather than deal with the situation.
Editor’s note: A resident of the Frandora Hills subdivision on the east side of Lansing wanted to know why it was taking so long to fix the Montgomery drain. This story is the result. If you have a question about issues affecting your neighborhood, please email [email protected]