Stormwater solutions

Marquette Township, road commission discuss drainage issues

MARQUETTE — Marquette Township officials want to work toward educating the public about its stormwater system.

Ditches and culverts were the topic of discussion during a joint meeting of the Marquette Township Board and the Marquette County Road Commission on Thursday.

By and large, the township uses ditches and culverts, which are closed conduits under a roadway or embankment, to direct the flow of water during a storm.

A culvert, Township Manager Randy Girard said, is a vital part of the stormwater system in the township but it is sometimes overlooked by homeowners.

“The issue we have mostly is roadsides,” Girard said. “When we have heavy rains like we had this year, and the volume, we have a lot of flooding. A lot of that comes from the residents’ activity — those with a driveway where they didn’t put a culvert in.”

When a homeowner fails to put in the proper infrastructure in his or her own yard, it can result in flooding of roadways and neighboring properties as well.

Jim Iwanicki, engineer manager at the road commission, said before constructing a driveway, homeowners are required to notify the road commission and obtain a permit, and thereafter that driveway as well as the culvert that may lie beneath it are the responsibility of the owner.

“The property owner is supposed to come to the road commission and the property owner does not come to the road commission,” Iwanicki said. “I guess that’s the biggest issue is that a lot of times they will put in a driveway without contacting us and they feel they don’t need to put a culvert in, or they haven’t seen water in this culvert for years so they fill in the ditch (that is in their yard).”

Oversight of the stormwater system falls to township, road commission and Marquette County officials, but coordination between the three entities is sometimes challenging.

“This has been an issue ever since I have been at the road commission, this isn’t a new issue, and there hasn’t been a good solution across the three groups of government — the county proper, the townships and the road commission,” Iwanicki said. “There just hasn’t been a good way to meld those three responsibilities together.”

Iwanicki said if the road commission has to fix a roadway drainage issue that is being caused by an unpermitted driveway, it has no way to recoup money spent on the project except through the judicial system.

“Generally for us, unless it’s causing a major issue on the road, we are probably not addressing it and digging out the driveway,” he said. “If it is a minor drainage issue and it is causing the neighbor a problem and causing a little issue on the side of the road once in a while, we are probably not addressing it. We have to go to small claims court and it’s not worth us going to small claims court. And that’s where, there again, how do we recover it?”

One option, Iwanicki said, which was rejected by township government in the past, would be to impose a tax levy in order to re-establish proper drainage.

“At that point there was no desire to do a levy re-establishing those things that were built in — building culverts in people’s driveways that were put in without a permit to start with — to do the work and then turn it over to the township so that they could put it on the tax roll,” he said.

Another problem, Iwanicki added, is a change in resident sentiment about property aesthetics.

“You have to remember, when all these roads were laid out, they were laid out with ditches,” he said. “But that is not the expectation of your residents anymore.”

He said if property owners in the township are motivated to get away from ditches for stormwater runoff, going with a stormwater system similar to the city of Marquette might be an option.

“If it’s, ‘We want more of a city of Marquette feel and we don’t want ditches running through our front yards anymore,’ then we need to find a way to fund that,” Iwanicki said. “So then it might make sense to do a stormwater ordinance … to fund the stormwater system in the future.”

The Marquette Township Board will likely take up the subject of stormwater at a future meeting, at which time they may send instructions to the planning commission, Supervisor Lynn Durant said.

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