Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, center, speaks at a Nov. 29 press conference at the Sterling Relief Drain about plans to add green infrastructure to part of the drain. Standing behind her, from left, are Macomb County Commissioner Joseph Romano, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor, Macomb County Commissioner Robert Mijac and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, center, speaks at a Nov. 29 press conference at the Sterling Relief Drain about plans to add green infrastructure to part of the drain. Standing behind her, from left, are Macomb County Commissioner Joseph Romano, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor, Macomb County Commissioner Robert Mijac and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


Grant-funded fixes could make drain site a butterfly hub

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 30, 2018

STERLING HEIGHTS — City and county officials are looking forward to adapting the Sterling Relief Drain into an eventual site of relief for the monarch butterfly population.

At a Nov. 29 press conference, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller and other local leaders announced that the county’s Public Works Office plans to allocate an estimated $1.82 million in grant money toward fixing elements of the Sterling Relief Drain with green infrastructure while repurposing it as a place for butterflies to visit.

“This is going to be really transformational and should be really a beautiful thing, I think, for the neighbors here to look at,” she said.

“And hopefully, it’s going to help all our butterflies and our pollinators as well. But again, principally, this is all about water quality.”

Miller appeared with Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor, Macomb County Commissioners Joseph Romano and Robert Mijac, and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. The announcement was made at the drain, outside the Comcast building along Van Dyke Avenue, south of Metropolitan Parkway.

Two sources offered the grant money. Around $1.25 million comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and another $600,000 or so is coming from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Formed in the 1960s, the Sterling Relief Drain channels stormwater to the Red Run Drain, the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair. According to officials, the renovations will affect about 2 miles of the 5.2 miles of the drain in Sterling Heights. The drain stretches between, and is parallel to, Metro Parkway and 15 Mile Road. The upgrades will happen between Van Dyke Avenue and Schoenherr Road, officials said.

Plans include planting new greenery, including around 5,000 trees and shrubs, to provide aesthetic, environmental and water quality benefits. When complete, the changes will act as a filter to keep thousands of pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment out of Lake St. Clair, Miller said.

Milkweed plants will go there too, which monarch butterflies may use for breeding, Miller added.

“And by us doing that, actually, what’s going to happen here is the monarch butterflies will use this as a butterfly flyway, because monarch butterflies only lay their larvae on milkweed,” she said. “And milkweed has really been disappearing — so much that the monarch butterflies, about 90 percent of the monarch butterfly population, is gone really just in the last two decades.”

As parks and recreation improvements have been added to Sterling Heights over the last couple of years, officials have eyed the Sterling Relief Drain as an untapped location for potential recreation. Earlier this year, Miller and Sterling Heights officials discussed a proposal to put a bike path and a linear park there, though they abandoned that plan after some nearby residents voiced privacy and security concerns over public access to the site.

Miller said this new plan does not include a bike path or park, and will not give the general public access to the drain site, though school groups may occasionally be invited to visit.

Taylor said the plan should improve the quality of life for Sterling Heights residents, and he said he is grateful to Miller for her leadership role in securing the grants.

“As you see behind me, this drain is really an underutilized area. It’s almost parklike here,” Taylor said. “And to have the improvements that are being made for the water quality improve the quality of life for our residents, and doing the innovative landscaping and green infrastructure that she’s talking about, it’s really going to be, I think, transformational for this area.”

Miller said she expects some work to begin right away, with the improvements to come to full fruition within a year. According to the county, the Public Works Office is looking for more grants to upgrade the rest of the drain area.

Find out more about the Macomb County Public Works Office by visiting www.macombgov.org/publicworks.