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Wednesday, February 20,2013

'Total control'

Drain commissioner believes delay with drain project at Red Cedar Golf Course is because the Bernero administration wants more control over it. Bernero says that's 'complete nonsense.'

by Sam Inglot
Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann believes the Bernero administration wants “total control” of his drain project at the former Red Cedar Golf Course, which is why it’s been held in limbo for five months. 

“It’s entirely out of their control, and I think they want to have total control,” Lindemann said of the project to upgrade the Montgomery Drain. The drain, which filters storm water into the Red Cedar River,  stretches along U.S. 127 just north of the Frandor Shopping Center. It’s the first phase in the proposed Capital Gateway development planned on 61 acres at the former golf course led by a development team of Joel Ferguson and Chris Jerome.

Lindemann’s phase is needed to assess the existing drain infrastructure and project costs, he said, which is part of an overall strategy to improve storm water runoff in the area. Once that’s done, the developers plan to use dozens of acres of the shuttered golf course for a hotel, apartments, stores and a revamped public park. 

Lindemann said “comments” he’s heard from people and the fact that the city has delayed so long during what he said is normally a “straightforward process“ give him reason to believe the city is after control of the project. 

Lindemann isn’t required by law to have the letter, but he said it’s the “wise thing” to do “as part of my due diligence process.” The letter authorizes him to clarify the complex web of costs and needs. Without it, he said, a petition to the Lansing City Council as the next step would have a less accurate projection of costs. A petition is required by law that says there are problems with the drain and that “declares a necessity” to fix it, he said. 

Lindemann alleges that there are political and financial reasons the city would want more control. He specifically named Lansing Public Service Director Chad Gamble for playing a role in the delay.

Bernero called Lindemann’s comments “complete nonsense,” Bernero’s chief of staff, Randy Hannan, wrote in an email Tuesday. 

Hannan called the entire project “extremely complex,” which explains the delays. Gamble could not be reached for comment. 

Regardless of what the city may want, Lindemann said, it’s a county drain: No one but the county drain commissioner has the authority to work on it. 

Lindemann believes the city doesn’t like having a county governmental unit working on such a large project in its jurisdiction. 

“I think that people have a hard time playing together,” Lindemann said. “There is a certain kind of loss of power when you have to share in a project like this. Everybody has their little empires — they feel threatened about it.”

And then there are the financial reasons if the city got control of the project, he added. 

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be put in the ground to get this going,” Lindemann said. “They can control how the money is spent and who it’s spent on. I don’t have any evidence of that — the rest of that is speculation.”

Lindemann also speculates that Gamble is interested in the work because “maybe they just want to design the project themselves.”

Ferguson, one of the developers of the Capital Gateway project, said, “They’re working on it,” when asked about the agreement between Lindemann and the city. As for the accusations made by Lindemann, he said, “Pat going with this approach is not doing any good to anyone.” 

“The worst thing that can happen is to have it discussed in the City Pulse … it adds no value,” he said. 

Ferguson isn’t concerned about the delay, even though he said Lindemann’s project was a “key piece” and the first step to the development. He said the drain commissioner and the city need to get together and work it out. 

The day after the Nov. 6 election,  Bernero said the project would go into “warp speed.” Lansing voters had just approved the sale of up to 48 additional acres of Red Cedar parkland for redevelopment. They had already approved selling the other 12.5 acres.  

But Lindemann has been waiting for nearly five months to get approval from the city.  

Lindemann said he told Bernero in September that he was ready to start the drainage study and that he could complete it by January. With January gone and February coming to a close, it might not be until May when Lindemann finishes — that’s if he gets the green light soon. 

Hannan wrote in an email that the entire project at Red Cedar is “extremely complex,” hence the extra time it has taken to move forward.   

“We will take as much time as necessary to ensure that we protect the interests of Lansing taxpayers first and foremost, and our agreement with the Drain Commissioner will reflect that commitment,” Hannan wrote. “The storm water study can commence once we have mutually agreed on the terms of our relationship going forward. We expect that to happen soon, but we won’t be putting a specific deadline on it.”

Lindemann doesn’t believe the process is that complex and said further delays could make the drain project more expensive.

“Well, personally, I don’t think it’s that complicated. They asked me for a letter last September, I gave them the proper letter, and it’s the only way we can move forward,” Lindemann said. “They’re going to wind up making the project cost a lot more money than what it needs to if they continue down this path.

“I swear to God, it’s like they’re stepping over a dollar to pick up a penny.”

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