A motion to rescind a controlled burn set to take place at Jacobs Drain was defeated at a West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 13.

A motion to rescind a controlled burn set to take place at Jacobs Drain was defeated at a West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 13.

File photo by Deb Jacques

A controlled burn is still on for Jacobs Drain in West Bloomfield, as motion to rescind it fails

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 27, 2021

 A controlled burn may take place at Jacobs Drain as early as November, after a motion to rescind it was defeated.

A controlled burn may take place at Jacobs Drain as early as November, after a motion to rescind it was defeated.

File photo by Deb Jacques


WEST BLOOMFIELD — Last April, the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved what is known as a controlled burn for a property located east of Orchard Lake Road and north of 14 Mile Road known as the Jacobs Drain.

A controlled burn is a “controlled application of fire by a team of experts under specified weather conditions to restore health to ecosystems that depend on fire,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The township’s decision to approve a controlled burn did not sit well with some residents who live near the Jacobs Drain, and some of them had the opportunity to meet with Township Supervisor Steven Kaplan to express their views via Zoom.

As a result of those concerns, the Board of Trustees decided to revisit the issue for further discussion as part of the agenda at a meeting Sept. 13.

The company that was awarded a contract to provide the maintenance for the drain was Cardno Inc., in Brighton.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, Kaplan proffered a motion to rescind the prescribed burn portion of the contract, leaving the rest of it in place.

The motion to “continue the contract with Cardno Inc. but rescind the controlled burn segment of the contract” needed a majority vote to pass.

It turned out to be a 3-3 vote, which means the contract remains in effect as initially approved, and Cardno is still set to manage a controlled burn.

The board members who voted in favor of rescinding the controlled burn segment of the contract were Kaplan, Trustee Jim Manna and Treasurer Teri Weingarden.

Clerk Debbie Binder, Trustee Howard Rosenberg and Trustees Jonathan Warshay voted not to rescind.

Board member Diane Rosenfeld-Swimmer was absent from the meeting due to her job as a nurse, according to Binder.

“I offered a motion to rescind the controlled burning segment of the Cardno contract to eradicate the (buckthorns) and invasive species, and the motion was defeated,” Kaplan said. “So, where does this lead us? It leads us that controlled burning will be implemented, probably in November.”

After originally being in favor of a controlled burn, Kaplan discussed his reasoning for changing his position.

“Simple answer — an abundance of residents who lived near Jacobs Drain had fervent concerns over the safety of controlled burning,” he said.

Kaplan said that, at the meeting, examples were cited of controlled burning being used, and “in every case safely.”

“I understand why board members voted in favor of the controlled burning because the representative from Cardno, our fire marshal, as well as our parks director, Jennifer Tucker, did not have concerns about the safety of the procedure,” Kaplan said. “But from my perspective, if an abundance of people living nearby have vast concerns about the procedure, and there are other methods available to eradicate the invasive species, then we should not resort to controlled burning.”

In an email, Binder stated she remains comfortable with her position on the topic and continues to believe that “a prescribed burning is an appropriate and preferable method of maintenance,” with the alternative being the use of chemicals.

She shared her statement from the Sept. 13 meeting, which reads as follows:

“I understand people hear ‘fire’ and get worried. I do think the education piece is important, and maybe we missed that (regarding educating residents about controlled burns). I don’t make capricious decisions, and I did a lot of my own research. Many of the organizations protecting forests and wildlife strongly support prescribed burn, not only as an effective, but necessary step for forest and prairie health and management, and the wildlife is protected as well. Our environmental, loving parks director, who does not benefit in any capacity, endorses the Township’s support. The question for me becomes safety. I do believe in my fire marshal for planning, and resources that I trust.”

Binder elaborated on her position.

“The Township assumed the long-term maintenance of the Jacobs (and Jamian) drains in an agreement with the Oakland Water Resource Commission. As stewards of the environment, it is our duty to protect the environment, and prescribed burns are encouraged by the state, as well as many other federal, local and private organizations to achieve that goal,” she stated via email. “Both the United States Department of Agriculture and Smokey the Bear promote the benefits of prescribed burns and the many favorable outcomes they offer.”

Kaplan said that during the controlled burning, there will be one fire truck on the premises, with a fire station one mile away.

Earlier this year, Alan Abrahams said he lives “immediately adjacent” to the area where the Jacobs Drain is located and expressed his opposition on a controlled burn.

“We understand the reason is to get rid of invasive species. However, this property is located adjacent to a natural gas main, and there are gas transmission lines underneath this property,” Abrahams said. “Our concern primarily is if you mix fire and natural gas, (you’ve) got an explosive situation. The property borders on residential homes and businesses along Orchard Lake Road.”

Kaplan addressed Abrahams’ concern about a potential explosion.

“That issue was laid to rest, where the experts and staff said, ‘No, no. It’s capped. There’s no chance of any type of explosion,’” he said.

Binder provided more reasons for her confidence in the procedure.

“To ensure that the prescribed burn is conducted safely, our fire marshal has been involved in all levels of discussion from the very beginning. He will be on-site during the prescribed burn, as well as have fire response vehicles available nearby,” she stated. “The area to be treated is only approximately 1.5 acres. … The prescribed burn will take place under optimal weather/wind conditions, flexible to change as needed. I am confident that there has been significant planning put in place to protect the nearby residents, and I trust our fire department to ensure their safety.”

Despite not being in the “burn-danger area,” West Bloomfield resident Michael Steinberg said he is a “daily consumer” of Jacobs Drain.

He shared his reasoning for opposing a controlled burn.

“My dear friend lives 115 feet away from there. We walk our dog there every day,” Steinberg said. “That area has been significantly dry over the summer, so I’m concerned.”

Despite voting to rescind the controlled burn segment of the contract with Cardno, Kaplan is confident that it is a safe procedure.

“I’m satisfied with the safety and validity of the process, but on the other hand, we have intelligent, long-term, caring residents living near Jacobs Drain, and they remain opposed,” he said. “I didn’t feel I could overlook their concerns.”

Up until now, Kaplan said, the maintenance at the Jacobs Drain, which is a protected woodland and wetland, has been “mainly through chemicals.”

He estimated that controlled burns may take place every two to three years.

Kaplan said the contract with Cardno is annual — $11,600 for the Jacobs Drain and $18,400 for the Jamian Drain this year.

Steinberg questions the necessity of having a controlled burn.

“I understand that some people argue that burns are natural and necessary, (but) why mess with something that doesn’t necessarily need to be messed with?” he said.

However, Binder said prescribed burns are performed for important reasons.

“Jacobs Drain has seen a tremendous increase in invasive species, which prevents the native species from thriving,” she stated. “Woodland, wetland and prairie habitats require regular maintenance, and it is our duty to maintain them. Prescribed burns have many positive outcomes to maintain, manage and protect our ecosystems.”

The “positive outcomes” Binder cited include a reduction of hazardous fires as a result of reducing the kindling left by dead plants, shrubs and trees; a reduction in the spread of pests, insects and disease; a reduction in the spread of invasive species; a recycling of nutrients back into the soil; and promotion of the growth of native plants.

Binder also shared what she considers another plus.

“I am confident that a prescribed burn is an effective and optimal tool to ensure the safety of our drain ecosystem, as well as protect the health and promote the prosperity of the co-existing habitats,” she stated.