Fiat Chrysler Automobiles volunteers Mike Hatfield and Keith Wallace plant an oak tree at the Sterling Relief Drain Nov. 1.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles volunteers Mike Hatfield and Keith Wallace plant an oak tree at the Sterling Relief Drain Nov. 1.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Trees planted at relief drain

‘Green infrastructure’ installed via grant money

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 12, 2019

 A nearby sign marks the Sterling Relief Drain Habitat Restoration and Butterfly Flyway project.

A nearby sign marks the Sterling Relief Drain Habitat Restoration and Butterfly Flyway project.

Photo by Donna Agusti

STERLING HEIGHTS — As the leaves fall and nature grows colder and deader, Macomb County officials have been working hard to set the stage for more trees, plants and wildlife around the Sterling Relief Drain.

On Nov. 1, county and Sterling Heights officials joined volunteers in planting a tree at the Sterling Relief Drain, east of Schoenherr Road and south of Metropolitan Parkway. The move called attention to officials’ months of effort to finish the Sterling Relief Drain Habitat Restoration and Butterfly Flyway project.

The Sterling Relief Drain is an approximately 5-mile-long area consisting of a drainage ditch with some piping that spans from west of Ryan Road to east of Schoenherr Road. It channels stormwater away from the city toward the Red Run Drain, the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair. 

The $1.82 million project is designed to improve the drain’s efficiency and environmental quality through the planting of new trees, shrubs and other flora to help soak up rainfall and stormwater. New milkweed plants will make the site more attractive for breeding butterflies, officials say. 

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller previously said the county decided in 2018 to go with the idea. Due to objections from neighboring residents, the current plan calls for neither a path nor a park, and the drain won’t be generally accessible to the public.

In a Sterling Heights Television video, Miller said the affected project area will be about 2 1/2 miles long. She also described how the county is adding “green infrastructure” to the drain.

“We’re planting green things: all kinds of trees and shrubbery, etc. And we’re going to put in literally hundreds and hundreds of trees here,” Miller said.

The project also aims to improve water quality by removing sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen from the drain, she added.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the county has been working with the U.S. Forest Service to help double Macomb County’s tree count. 

“These trees are incredibly helpful in those areas in absorbing some of the water to kind of keep as much of the water flow out of our drains, going into the lake itself,” he said.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said the relief drain has been neglected for years, and he is excited to see it become a future butterfly flyway.

“It fits right into our 2030 visioning plan and everything that we as a city have been trying to do to create unique public places,” he said. “And so we’re hoping that one day this can be even more exciting for our residents, but right now we’re going to have new vegetation, new trees. It’s going to help with our tree canopy in Sterling Heights.”

The ecological effort earned the support of around $1.25 million in grant money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and an additional $602,000 in grant money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Macomb County Office of Public Works Public Relations Manager Dan Heaton said most of the fall vegetation plantings should be wrapping up this month. However, he said some tree plantings will have to wait, since those species need to be planted in the spring.

“All the heavy ground-type work has always been done,” he said. “It’s just a matter of doing some final plantings.”

Learn more about the Macomb County Office of Public Works by visiting publicworks.macombgov.org. For more information about Sterling Heights, visit www.sterling-heights.net or call (586) 446-2489.

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