Marquette Township Board votes to repair culvert washout

A culvert and ditch near the 700 block of South Vandenboom Avenue. The Marquette Township board agreed to spend $12,500 for slope restoration and repair damage from a washout caused by snow melt and heavier than usual rain this spring. The original slope restoration was part a 2016 joint project between the township's public works department and its road fund. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Township Board voted unanimously at its regular meeting Tuesday to approve an expenditure of $12,500 to repair a washout near the 700 block of South Vandenboom Road.

Several hundred feet along the roadway have been impacted by the washout, damaging the slope on the east side and adversely affecting at least one resident due to erosion and sand clogging some culverts, according to Marquette Township Manager Randy Girard.

The area was part of a joint public works water infrastructure and roads project that was completed in 2016, which was engineered for the township by U.P. Engineers & Architects Inc.

According to a letter from UPEA Project Manager Mark Daavettila to Girard, the washout occurred as a result of snow melt and heavy rain in the spring, which caused a ditch and culvert to fill in with sediment.

Girard said the volume of the water exceeded the capacity of the ditch designed to hold it.

“The restoration slope proved to be insufficient for the velocity that the water was moving and we did have a washout that created some damage. It also plugged some culverts downstream,” Girard said.

Even though the general consensus of the board was that the problem needed to be corrected, several members said they felt the township should not be the only party held financially responsible for the repairs.

“I guess what I don’t understand is, if UPEA said the work was done properly and this was considered extra work, do they not have any culpability in the fact that it apparently wasn’t engineered correctly?” Supervisor Lyn Durant said.

Superintendent of Public Works Kirk Page said the slope restoration project was designed to Michigan Department of Transportation specifications.

“So according to MDOT specs, if your restoration washes out, OK, you have to pay to have it done again. So that is basically the reason for this interpretation,” Page said. “It’s pretty hard to build a road without using MDOT specs, so right or wrong, that’s the situation.”

Durant wondered what protections the original engineering contract had for the parties involved, if any.

“I don’t know if that’s just me, but its a little frustrating. It wasn’t done the right way the first time, somebody has to be responsible,” Durant said. “The county or the drain commissioner or UPEA or somebody’s got to have some skin in this game. It’s not just the township having to pay for it. You have to have some form of … stop me if I am wrong … of responsibility when you sign a contract that something is going to work.”

Township Attorney Roger Zappa said he had not seen the contract for the original engineering work.

“I could look at that, but it’s going to depend on what the terms of the contract are.” Zappa said. “If the contract merely says that it’s going to be built to the following specifications and it was built to those specifications, then you don’t have a whole lot of argument. I guess you could look deeper at that point to see who determined those specifications, and why were those specifications inadequate, that could be an engineering problem.”

Zappa said even if another party is found responsible for the issue, the cost of taking it to court may not be economically feasible for the township due to cost of the repair.

Trustee David Wiegand said he expected the township was responsible for fixing the washout, according to the contract, and that he was disappointed in the outcome.

“Like I say, I am disappointed in the engineering that went into it,” he said. “I would have thought they would have anticipated the need for some riprap coming down that grade and some dams to stop the water from coming down so fast, and I would have thought that they would have anticipated the need to put some riprap around the PRV (pressure reducing valve) box, because how can they expect it to do anything else other than what it did.”

“There may be remedies and solutions out there,” Zappa said. “But I would also add that if it comes down to claiming that the specifications were in-artfully put together, then we would probably have to hire an expert witness to reach that conclusion.”

Trustee John Markes said for the sake of the residents in the area, the township should resolve the current issues, noting that where the money would come from to fix the problem should be secondary.

“The bottom line is we have a resident whose being adversely impacted by this, so eventually we are going to have to resolve the issue, whether or not it should come from this place in the budget or not,” Markes said.

Associated Constructors, the original contractor that completed the project, will make repairs to the area.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is