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Wednesday, January 9,2013

Drain project backed up

Capital Gateway project at a standstill until drain commissioner makes plans, but he says he's waiting on Bernero

by Sam Inglot
Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann said the proposed Capital Gateway project at the old Red Cedar Golf Course has been delayed three or four months because Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has yet to issue an agreement needed to launch a drainage study.

“I can’t get the city to move forward,” Lindemann said in an interview.

Randy Hannan, Bernero’s chief of staff, said the City Attorney’s Office is drafting a “memorandum of understanding” between the city and the drain commissioner. The document will outline the scope of work that Lindemann will undertake and will allow him to move forward with pre-engineering work of the drain. Hannan said after the memorandum is finalized, the administration will send a petition to the City Council for approval. When asked when the memorandum would be finished, Hannan would only say, “Soon.” He also said any notion that the redevelopment is stalled is “completely false.”

The project is poised to be the city’s next prime development. It sits on the vacant 61-acre golf course on the Michigan Avenue corridor, bridging the city’s east side, East Lansing and Frandor Shopping Center near U.S. 127. 

Developers Joel Ferguson and Chris Jerome won’t make a peep about details of how the plans for the residential and commercial project are progressing. They won’t talk about buying the land; they won’t talk about which businesses they’ve been courting; and they won’t talk about any sort of timetable for groundbreaking or completion.

Ferguson said before any of that can go forward, Lindemann needs to assess the existing drain infrastructure and project costs at the site, which is part of an overall strategy to improve storm water runoff in the Montgomery Drain, which filters into the Red Cedar River. 

“That’s the most important thing,” Ferguson said of Lindemann’s task. “Everything starts with him.”

Lindemann says he’s ready to start his pre-engineering assessment of the drainage district, but he’s been waiting on documentation from the city for months that says it’s on board with the project, which he needs before he’ll start any work.

“I guess the next step isn’t me, it’s the mayor,” Lindemann said. “I haven’t seen a signed piece of paper in my hand yet, so I canīt expend the kind of resources necessary to come up with a preliminary scope without that next step taking place. The ball is in the mayor’s court.”

Lindemann said his investigation of the watershed would give him an idea of the cost of fixing and improving the Montgomery Drain. A watershed is an area of land where all of the water that drains off of it or is under it winds up filtering to one area — in this case, the Red Cedar River. 

Although he’s received a verbal agreement from Bernero that the city will work with him on the project, Lindemann said he needs a “letter of commitment” before he’ll start.

Lindemann said when he met with Bernero in late September or early October, he told him he could have the scope of the drain project done by late January. In November, Lansing voters approved selling up to the remaining 48 acres of the park — on top of the 12.5 acres it approved selling in 2011 — to accommodate Jerome’s and Ferguson’s grander vision of the project, which includes student and young professional housing, retail, entertainment and green space. However, Lindemann says the work needs to be done regardless of how the November vote turned out. 

Lindemann said he hasn’t heard anything back from the administration, so he’s keeping his engineers busy elsewhere. The investigation and analysis would take three-and-a-half to four months, Lindemann said, pushing his completion date back to at least late April.  

“We’ve just barely started. It’s at a halt right now,” Lindemann said. “I can’t get the city to move forward. I’ve asked my engineers to cease activity until I get some communication from the city of Lansing.”

When asked about how he thought the development was coming along, Jerome, Ferguson’s partner on the project, said his impression was that “things are moving much faster than anticipated.” 

The Montgomery drainage district stretches from the Red Cedar River in the park north into the neighborhood behind the Spare Time Entertainment Center on East Grand River Avenue and west and east of U.S. 127. Lindemann said his No. 1 goal for the project is to reduce pollution going into the Red Cedar River. 

He said he knows the underground pipe system is in “relatively decent shape,” but he added that there are a few kinks to work out like ensuring no sewage pipes are fed into the drain. He said the project should be “relatively inexpensive” because most of the underground infrastructure is in place. Lindemann said he plans on creating an “extended collection system” by using aboveground, low-impact elements for filtration. 

Low impact elements for helping filter the storm water runoff include constructed wetlands, rain gardens, bioswales and some mechanical structures like underground cleaning filters, Lindemann said. The designs act as catch basins to filter larger items that wind up in parking lots and on the street — like cigarette butts, food wrappers and pop cans — that now end up running into storm drains. 

One example of a project that could involve a bioswale is the boulevard on Michigan Avenue. If the median of grass and trees are were made to be more concave, and storm water was allow to flow into it, then the larger items would be caught at the surface and disposed of. At the same time, smaller particles of pollutants would be caught in a sand-filtration system under the ground. 

Lindemann said all of the low-impact elements would wind up being a lot cheaper than completely redoing the underground pipe system. He also said the aboveground collection system would hopefully aesthetically complement the development planned by Jerome and Ferguson.

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