Supervisor discusses pandemic, other local issues

By: Nick Mordowanec | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published June 19, 2020


HARRISON TOWNSHIP — As the COVID-19 pandemic wages on, local municipalities are still attending to other matters.

On June 15, Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest discussed flooding, road reconstruction, recreational marijuana and progress on a miniature station for the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office.

In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent months-long shutdown, Verkest said he didn’t know if Harrison Township experienced things better or worse when compared to other communities. It “varied a great deal” based on essential vs. nonessential services.

Marinas were certainly disrupted, he said, but he hopes there is still enough time for a good season “where everybody can catch up and recoup what they anticipated.”

“It’s hard for me to say on an individual case-by-case basis,” he said. “Some businesses were affected more than others. Because we are uniquely positioned geographically — we’re kind of like a peninsula — the majority of our restaurants are very local. Certainly, we have some that are a destination.”

A water and sewer billing cycle, which amounts to eight or nine weeks, was skipped for residents. Due dates were extended 30 days and late fees were suspended 60 days beyond due dates, as methods to work with individuals on payments.

At press time, Verkest said commercial residents had been billed, while the first cycle of residential bills were expected to be delivered July 1. The Great Lakes Water Authority, which annually offers wholesale rates to local communities for water and sewer service, normally modifies those rates July 1, but this year are delayed until Oct. 1.

“We’re not shutting off anyone’s water,” Verkest said.

As for how the pandemic shut things down, Verkest said it was “very unprecedented” and that he isn’t personally critical one way or the other.

“It was a big challenge, and I would not have wanted to be in the role of governor and make those decisions,” he said. “I think a lot of decisions were spot on, and I think a few decisions were mistakes.”

Sewer discharge into Lake St. Clair in May
Verkest talked about how over 2.4 million gallons of sewage were released into Black Creek May 20, which is located across from Lake St. Clair Metropark. It was attributed to heavy winds and the failure of a major pump station.

Whereas temporary pumps can often help assist situations and provide relief, the pressure of the forced main system in the vicinity overwhelmed the system.

In a report issued to the Harrison Township Board of Trustees last month, Public Services Director Dave Axtell described it as “not an easy decision but the right decision” because it protected residents’ homes.

“It never happened before, and I hope that never happens again,” Verkest said.

On an optimistic note, Verkest hopes sandbagging as a result of high water levels in 2019 had successfully prepared residents this year.

“We certainly have some challenges related to the flooding in the township, similar to last year,” he said. “I think where last year kind of caught us by surprise, there was work done last year that was still helpful this year.”

Street and road improvements
At press time, the repaving of Jefferson Avenue, from 14 Mile Road on the St. Clair Shores border to the area on and around Shook Road to Interstate 94, was not experiencing any problems or delays. Verkest said the original timetable suggested an August completion date.

Construction started in early June on three special assessment district, or SAD, repaving projects, on Pineridge Street, Chartier Street and Ponchartrain Street. The projects are 50-50 matches with Macomb County, with Pineridge, Chartier and Ponchartrain costing about $256,000, $379,600 and $211,600, respectively, before the 50% match comes into play.

Verkest said crews were “making really good progress” and the hope is that each street will be completed by July. He cited an increase of the life of each road, calling SADs “the ultimate in local control.” Residents on other streets have inquired about future SADs, though none were yet scheduled at press time.

Recreational marijuana
In April, the Township Board of Trustees moved forward with an ordinance revision to reflect recreational adult-use marijuana in relation to commercial cultivating and processing. Previously, the township had moved forward with the medical marijuana market in its industrial corridor, positioned spatially between I-94 and Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

“It was a natural progression,” Verkest said, saying those in the medical marijuana business wanted to be in both markets once voters approved recreational marijuana back in November 2018.

Verkest said the approximately $200,000 collected in a two-week period in May due to recreational marijuana applications “will hopefully fill” a gap resulting from about a $250,000 anticipated shortcoming due to the state’s revenue-sharing projections.

Applications are still being collected, with medical business owners using the same template to reapply for recreational permits. Verkest estimated around 21-22 businesses reapplied.

Some businesses have been up and running. Some are in the process of construction and acquiring permits, though they have spent money on designing and engineering. Others have speculated on opening up shop, but there is little activity so far to show.

Sheriff’s station update
The former fire station near South River Road and Jefferson Avenue being contracted for a miniature Macomb County Sheriff’s Office station is making progress.

Recently, a low bidder was approved for about $486,000 to renovate the interior and exterior of the building. The goal is to complete the renovation by the end of the summer, offering locker space and other amenities for up to 14 deputies.

Verkest said the renovation makes sense, considering the fact that several county municipalities have partnered with the Sheriff’s Office to provide police resources and to pool resources without taking on larger costs. He said Washington and Macomb townships have taken similar actions.