Upgrading the Sterling Relief Drain is one of the major projects the Macomb County Public Works Office recently oversaw in Sterling Heights.

Upgrading the Sterling Relief Drain is one of the major projects the Macomb County Public Works Office recently oversaw in Sterling Heights.

File photo by Donna Agusti

Miller, county officials summarize Sterling drain work

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 18, 2020

STERLING HEIGHTS — When it rains, it pours — and when that happens, Candice Miller said, it’s her department’s job to make sure it drains, too.

The Macomb County public works commissioner visited the Sterling Heights City Council’s Sept. 1 meeting to give an update on drainwork alongside the public works office’s department Environmental Resources Manager Jeffrey Bednar and Construction and Maintenance Manager Stephen Downing.

Miller said she recognizes that Sterling Heights is large and important, and its success requires things that aren’t always in plain view — and that includes good infrastructure.

“We always talk about our roads, which is very important, of course,” she said. “But we can never forget what’s underground, as well. And so just because it’s out of sight, it doesn’t need to be out of mind.”

Miller said drain inspections have been ongoing over a few years, adding that many underground drains have been inspected, and some have been worked on.

She said the Sterling Relief Drain is among the county’s biggest drains at over 5 miles long. The county has worked on around 2 1/2 miles of it in the last couple of years and paid for the work with grant funds.

Miller said work removed certain sediments, phosphorus and nitrogen; removed hard culverts; and “and let Mother Nature actually do her thing” and allow the ground to absorb water. Workers also planted native species and plants that attract butterflies.

“It’s important that we think about our pollinators and the critters that live here, as well,” she said. “And Sterling Heights is such a beautiful area, and having a lot of natural kinds of things as well, I think, enhances the area.

“And, of course, we need to make sure it drains. We’re in the drain business.”

Funding for the estimated $1.85 million project came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Bednar said. He added that the Sterling Relief Drain, which flows west to east between 15 Mile and 16 Mile roads in Sterling Heights, was originally built in the 1960s. The drain flows into the Red Run Drain, the Clinton River and then Lake St. Clair.

Bednar said the county got a $300,000 grant to work on another part of the relief drain, which is located near Freedom Hill and Schoenherr Road. He said it also applied for another grant through the state for $500,000.

“So we’re working to build the next phase of this project, which would be just downstream of where we completed,” he said.

Bednar talked about the Gibson/Plumbrook Drain, which he defined as “a complex series of a lot of little micro drains.” He said there wasn’t a unified plan for how to maintain that section, so the county met with Sterling Heights, Troy and Rochester Hills to discuss a plan to turn it into “one consistent drain.”

He said the area suffered from bank erosion, which resulted in sand bars.

“We’ve lost a lot of soil along the edges, and this is because it’s an urbanized area,” he said. “The drains are flashy, so they come up really fast, and there’s a really fast velocity … that drags the soil away.”

He said a small dam in the area will eventually need repair and maintenance, and the county also had to break a beaver dam that “might have been about the largest beaver dam that has been broken in Macomb County in a long time.”

Lastly, the officials talked about the Hildebrandt Pump Station, which is located near Hayes Road and Canal Road.

Miller said it was long neglected and needed a pump replacement. She said the county has worked with Sterling Heights on coordinating the projects so that the jobs get done and get done right so they can last at least 20 or 30 years.

Downing said the county investigated that drain in 2019 and deemed it in fair condition with an old electrical system. Then, he said it looked to into the cost of renovation versus replacement.

After discovering that replacement and renovation had nearly the same costs, they decided to install a new pump station. In addition, they planted trees along Hayes Road and put up a new decorative fence.

The project should be done this month, he added. The project ended up costing around $840,000, and it was funded with Sterling Heights drain funds with no additional special assessment, Downing said.

“We also want to leave and make these things look nicer than when we started with them,” he added.

Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko said she is familiar with the Sterling Relief Drain because she goes on walks by it. She said she wanted some fixes to fencing and more attention to how plant life looks from the sidewalk, adding that “it isn’t as attractive, you know, as it could be.”

Schmidt said there is now more standing water at the Sterling Relief Drain, and she wanted to know if anything will be done about mosquito issues. Bednar said the water should drain in 48-72 hours, and mosquitoes “don’t breed until at least after 72 hours.”

Mayor Michael Taylor thanked the presenters for their update.

“I think the city of Sterling Heights, like you, understands that we have to be functional first,” he said. “But if we can do it in a way that improves the quality of life and just makes it look better for our residents and the neighborhoods, we’re always going to look at that, as well.”