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 Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest delivers his annual State of Harrison Township address Sept. 13 at Gowanie Golf Club.

Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest delivers his annual State of Harrison Township address Sept. 13 at Gowanie Golf Club.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Verkest delivers State of Harrison Township address

Road conditions, flooding top concerns

By: Nick Mordowanec | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published September 20, 2019

HARRISON TOWNSHIP — On Sept. 13, Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest delivered his eighth annual State of Harrison Township address.

Held at the nearly 110-year-old Gowanie Golf Club, the supervisor discussed rising lake levels, successes in local government, and how residents’ biggest complaints still revolve around crumbling roads.

A big area of focus the past 12 months has been flooding. On July 7 of this year, the township hit an all-time high mean water level of 577.7 feet above sea level. Since that date, the level has dropped approximately 9 inches.

In the past 4 1/2 months, the township distributed more than 400,000 sandbags and more than 3,500 tons of sand, bought and deployed over 30 gas and electric pumps, and installed more than 40 test balls — industrial rubber balls of various sizes to block storm drains from flowing backward.

More than $400,000 was spent in that time span, yet it didn’t meet the threshold of qualification for federal assistance.

“The real story behind the high water levels is how our residents responded,” Verkest said. “Thousands of people spent their evenings and weekends protecting their homes, as well as their neighbors’ homes. Some residents who weren’t able to do the heavy work did their part by buying and serving food and drinks to the workers.”

Flooding had a negative effect on underground infrastructure, due to high water levels leading to increased amounts of infiltration into sanitary sewers. The township is working with the Macomb County Public Works Office to offset costs by improving infrastructure and, thus, saving money in reduced flow costs.

This past year, the Coleridge Sanitary Sewer Pump Station was rebuilt.

“The new station has more reliable pumps that are also easier to service or replace, along with a backup natural gas generator,” Verkest said. “This pump station services over 15,000 residents, as well as Selfridge Air Base. If you live in Venice Shores, Huron Pointe or just about anywhere west of North Pointe Parkway, you could not flush your toilet or take a shower without this station.”

Work was also finalized on the Beachwood Stormwater Pump Station, which drains over 1,000 acres in the center of the township. It works in conjunction with the Siesta Pump Station in order to get rid of stormwater while holding back over 3 feet of water from Lake St. Clair during periods of high-water-level activity.

“This infrastructure isn’t sexy, but it has prevented major flooding for the township,” Verkest said, adding that a new $400,000 Vactor — an industrial combination of a Shop-Vac and a power washer — was purchased to clean and excavate sewers.

Verkest is the current acting fire chief, due to the retirement of former Chief Mike Lopez after 10 years in the township. He said a new chief is expected to be announced “very soon.”

While the township is aiming to replace two of three firefighting apparatuses at a cost of $1.6 million, the department is currently short three firefighters. Verkest said the entire state is experiencing a shortage of qualified fire and EMS personnel.

“We have also hired Partners in Architecture, a local architectural firm, to design renovations to Station 1,” he said. “This same firm is also working on plans for a complete renovation to the building at South River and Jefferson, which will become our new mini station for our police. We contract with the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office for 14 deputies, and we couldn’t be happier with the level of service we receive.”

Erik Edoff, the superintendent of L’Anse Creuse Public Schools, spoke of how the district is composed of more than 10,000 students — making it one of the 15 largest in the state.

He called Harrison Township the “heart of the district,” adding that students have become more engaged in the community via learning from county-based departments and volunteering with sandbagging for flooding.

Other points of note from Verkest’s address include: Harrison Township received about $345,000 in licensing fees since last year in relation to “opting in” to four of five medical marijuana businesses, and consideration may be made related to recreational operations; a $156,000 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant will help fund the reconstruction of over 300 feet of shoreline at Waterfront Park; and the Harrison Township Public Library will receive a $100,000 facelift that includes an improved layout, new seating and improved study areas.

Also, in 2019, Harrison Township’s taxable value grew by 4.64%. The township received a “clean, unqualified opinion” in its annual audit, the best grade possible.

The biggest issue remains road funding, however. Verkest said the No. 1 complaint he receives from residents is the porous condition of Jefferson Avenue, from 14 Mile to Shook roads. Due to the Macomb County Department of Roads securing some federal match money for a complete road rebuild, the project is scheduled for the spring of 2020.

But the township needs to come up with $600,000 of its own money to match. The total project cost is estimated at $4.1 million, with the township contributing about 14% — what Verkest called “a major expense” for a community the size of Harrison Township.