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 Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller talks in late 2018 about plans to construct a Sterling Relief Drain Habitat Restoration and Butterfly Flyway project.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller talks in late 2018 about plans to construct a Sterling Relief Drain Habitat Restoration and Butterfly Flyway project.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

Progress to flow on relief drain project

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 21, 2019


When day after day of rain hits Sterling Heights, the Sterling Relief Drain plays a key role in sweeping the water away. 

But after more than a year of discussions and planning, work is finally ready to begin to give part of the relief drain a makeover that should improve its functionality, according to Macomb County officials. 

During a June 18 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, Macomb County officials gave a presentation that offered an update on the status of the Sterling Relief Drain Habitat Restoration and Butterfly Flyway project.

In 2018, county officials, including Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, gave presentations for Sterling Heights officials about an idea to put a linear park and bike path along the drain. But many Sterling Heights residents complained in response, citing concerns over privacy, safety and more. 

As a result, the county changed course, and later that year, officials came up with the current plan — adding more natural vegetation and turning it into a place for butterflies to breed.

The project, which will occur south of Metropolitan Parkway, will be starting construction very soon, according to Stephen Downing, from the Macomb County Public Works Office.

“This is something that’s going to be getting underway here real quick,” he said. “Construction was scheduled to start here in the middle of June. We’ve been in design since late last year.”

Downing said the Sterling Relief Drain is a ditchlike stormwater drain with an additional pipe that spans a little more than 5 miles, from west of Ryan Road to east of Schoenherr Road, at the Red Run Drain. The drainage district covers around 4,300 acres, he said.

The improvements are expected to affect more than 2 miles of the drain, from around Van Dyke Avenue to the Red Run Drain, he added. 

Downing referred to the drain work as a water quality improvement project. Among their water quality goals, project designers hope to remove almost 3,500 pounds of nitrogen, over 600 pounds of phosphorus and over 200 pounds of sediment — which will cause less to be carried off into Lake St. Clair, he said. He said the unwanted contents “can be forced to the top in certain cells for natural filtration.”

Native plant species will be used to beautify the area, help it serve as a “natural sponge” and restore wildlife habitats. Plantings will include around 1,500 new trees and shrubs, he said. 

Downing outlined the latest progress, adding that preliminary designs and surveying are finished. Drain improvement work is expected to start “any day now,” and crews will do the earth work in August and the planting in September, Downing explained. He added that the county sent notice letters to residents with property next to the drain. The county will also post signs near the construction work outdoors, he said.

“We’ll be planting right on through probably till late October, early November, and wrapping up the actual planting process this year,” he said. “The spring of 2020 will be a monitoring period for this project. … Then at that point, we get into installing the restrictor plates, which is how we’re managing the flows within this drain.”

The improvements are made possible through an estimated $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, plus about $602,000 from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant. Downing said the county is continuing to look for more grant money so it can work on more of the drain area.

When it was time for council comments, Councilwoman Maria Schmidt said Sterling Heights has had “much more standing water” than usual, and she asked whether anything will be done to the drain area for mosquito control.

In response, Downing said they have not been able to get into the drain recently, but he said the project’s end result should be an improvement.

“We do not anticipate this project to increase the amount of standing water,” he said. “There should not be an increase, and hopefully there will be a decrease in the amount of standing water.” 

Find out more about the Macomb County Public Works Office by visiting Learn more about Sterling Heights by visiting or by calling (586) 446-2489.

Call Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at (586) 498-1058.