OSCODA – A recent meeting of the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees focused greatly on the ongoing and upcoming projects throughout the municipality.

This included the water main extension work which has been taking place to assist residents impacted by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination, by hooking them up to the township water supply.

ROWE Professional Services Company Principal/Vice President Rick Freeman said construction has started on Phase II and, at the time of the May 11 board meeting, the project was a little beyond the halfway point for the main water line being installed.

Also at that time, approximately 21 property owners had inquired about what the next steps would be for them to connect to the water services.

“ROWE will be working with the Township in early June to identify a contractor(s) that the property owners can work with to complete the services,” Freeman advised, adding that ROWE has described the process to the residents who have asked.

Plumbing companies will be contacted to determine their interest in working with these property owners, and possibly giving them a discount for the service installations. Once this information is in hand, ROWE will come back to the township for board approval. The details will be shared with the residents, who would then make arrangements with the plumbers to get that work completed.

Freeman said there has been a positive response from the residents about the project so far, and that everything is going along smoothly.

This was augmented by Trustee Martin Gayeski, who said he has been watching the progress on Loud Drive about every other day. “And they’re doing a good job.”

As reported, Phase II includes such work as service lead connections for Loud, Woodland and Interlake drives.

Supervisor Aaron Weed pointed out that this project increases fire hydrant service further up Loud Drive, which helps with fire protection and, hopefully, with the residents’ homeowners insurance.

“In addition to making clean water available to those homes, they’re also getting some additional benefits for that,” he noted. “So, it’s good that we can have that happen for our community.”

In related business, trustees voted 7-0 to proceed with a quiet title for the Woodland Drive section of the undertaking.

“So, what this entails is the township obtaining quiet title associated with the portion of the street on Woodland Drive, to obtain the necessary easements to place the water infrastructure appropriately,” Superintendent Dave Schaeffer explained.

This involves a section that is not under the jurisdiction of the Iosco County Road Commission (ICRC), meaning it is not publicly owned, Freeman elaborated.

“And therefore, we weren’t able to include it in the Phase II project as it stands right now, because we can’t place distribution main on private property with state or federal funds,” he continued. “So, we did a fairly tremendous amount of research. This area is all platted subdivision.”

All of the lots in the vicinity exclude the roughly 20-foot strip in question – which is slightly bigger than a two-track road – that some people use as an access drive to their properties.

“It exists but it doesn’t belong to anybody, based on all of the research that we’ve done with the title companies, the state plat boards and the local surveyors up there. So, the next step for the township to acquire this easement will be through the quiet title process, which we’ll be working with [Attorney Rob Eppert] on, to go through the court system,” Freeman said.

Gayeski asked if this is west of Loud Drive, which Freeman confirmed.

Trustee William Palmer noted that a quiet title can come about when a property is in dispute. Each side puts information together and presents it to a judge, who then makes a decision on who owns the property. It becomes a quiet title because, after that, there’s no other claim that could be made on it.

“When did this come up?” asked Clerk John Nordeen.

Freeman said it occurred during the design of Phase II. It was initially assumed that, once the owner was identified, the township could work with this individual to acquire the easement – but no record of an owner could be found.

Freeman said Palmer is correct, in that this information is presented to a judge. Another step is public notification, because if somebody is aware of who the owner is, they have the right to approach the judge with this. But, if that process is cleared, the township can then take ownership of the property.

Should Oscoda end up as the owner, Gayeski wondered if the township will be required to maintain the 20-foot section as a road.

Freeman said this will not be the case, as the easement document to be drafted will outline that the township only owns this for the right of maintaining the water main.

“Good, that’s what I wanted to hear,” Gayeski commented.

Phase I of the project – featuring a water main extension down Van Etten Dam Road and Forest Drive, as well as a new meter pit installation for Rose Lane – was also discussed at the meeting.

ROWE recommended a change order for John Henry Excavating to include water hookups at a residence in the Whispering Woods mobile home park, plus two properties on Bissonette Road.

“What this entails is the Phase I water service installation to be completed. It’s a change order that’s not to exceed $117,150, and it’s depending on the length of the service and needs for boring,” Schaeffer explained.

He said the majority of the total is the $97,650 for work associated with the Rose Lane water system.

As for some of the additional work, those from John Henry state that they will hold and honor last season’s pricing on these.

“How many homes are we talking about?” asked Palmer.

Freeman said what it involves for Rose Lane, from the meter pit that was installed in Phase I, is running a two-inch service down the center of the road for the mobile home park.

He couldn’t say for certain, but he thinks that somewhere in the range of 15 trailers will be connected.

Freeman added that the only mobile homes being connected are those which are currently occupied. “We’re not doing vacant lots within the trailer park, or vacant trailers.”

He reminded the board of the two addresses on Bissonette, as well, for which the service hookups are estimated at $4,400 each.

“The $97,650 is the number we had worked with John Henry last summer on, for that project,” he continued.

The only thing not incorporated last year in any of the prices was the fact that the water main is on the south side of Bissonette. So, boring underneath the road in two locations is required, and the cost for each of those is $2,950.

“And that still leaves us a little bit of a contingency, around $5,000, for any unknown costs,” said Freeman, pointing out that the change order is still within what was budgeted.

“That two-inch water main, Rick, is that going the full length of the trailer park?” Gayeski questioned.

Freeman said yes, and that the park’s well system is currently at the northern end. The line is basically going to run down the center and, about halfway down, there is a vacant easement lot that goes out to Forest. A loop will be made there, so it’s not a dead-end line.

A master meter will be out at the road at Bissonette, and the township will issue one bill to Whispering Woods as a whole, which the park will then distribute among the residents.

“And then, obviously, we’ll be disconnecting their wells,” Freeman noted.

As for the property owners on Bissonette, he said that, assuming they accept the project, John Henry Excavating will be able to start as soon as the crew can mobilize. “It sounded like he was available to start work on this right away.”

“This will complete all of Phase I, then?” asked Gayeski.

Freeman answered yes, that he believes this will complete everything the township had looked for on Phase I.

“It’s nice to see that John Henry’s holding the same price for the connections as he had last year,” Palmer remarked.

The motion to approve the change order on the contract for Phase I water service installation, in an amount not to exceed $117,150, passed unanimously.

In similar topics, Freeman said there had yet to be formal notification, but it appears Oscoda did not get funded for this round of the Community Development Block Grant-Infrastructure and Resiliency (CDBG-IR) program.

As reported, township officials adopted a resolution at their Feb. 10 meeting, requesting $1,700,000 in funds via the CDBG-IR program for the water main projects. If awarded, they agreed to a local match of $346,000.

The intent for the grant was to place new water main along Oscoda Street, from west Cedar Lake Road to the cul-de-sac; Van Etten Drive, cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac; Oak Lane, Cedar Lake Road to cul-de-sac; Oscoda Street, Cedar Lake Road to North Huron Road (US-23); Beech Street, Cedar Lake Road to North Huron Road; and Green Street, Oscoda Street to Beech Street.

For the communities that were successful with the CDBG-IR effort, Freeman said they had until May 19 to respond back with letters of interest.

“Based on that, then, we would be in the queue for funding in that program possibly for next year,” he said. If, for some reason funding is not gathered up under those letters of interest, it is possible that funding could come back to the township yet this year. “But we’re not sitting back waiting on that.”

Therefore, the board has agreed to pursue other opportunities, such as an Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant, which was to be discussed in greater detail at the May 26 board meeting.

Freeman pointed out that ROWE will investigate why the township wasn’t approved for CDBG-IR funds, and how they can ensure Oscoda is considered in the next round.

In separate business, he went over Phase III of the Iosco Exploration Trail (IET) project which, as previously noted, has been broken up into smaller segments to assist with the local match percentage. The trail realignment near Foote Village has been reviewed and approved by both the ICRC and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Freeman said efforts are being coordinated with the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources and ICRC on site control letters for the grant applications needed by Oct. 1. In addition to researching all possible funding sources, ROWE is working with the township on scheduling public meetings by Oct. 1.

The reduced route for Phase III of the non-motorized path will connect to the second phase at the Oscoda Area Schools complex, and go to the west limits of Foote Village, past Rea Road.

Freeman said the path will essentially cross over just before Desi’s Taco Lounge. It will run along the shoulder on the south side of River Road, to across from the Dam Store, and Phase III will terminate there.

He added that it was recently confirmed that all of the criteria have been met for the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant application, to proceed with resolution of same in July. “And then we will know more direction at that time on whether the application will move forward with the township’s funding local share in place – as was last presented – for possible construction in 2021, if the money is secured.”

In related matters, Schaeffer requested that the board increase 2020 appropriations for parks and recreation, by $12,230, for ROWE’s work on Phase III.

He said a lot of this has to do with the re-work of the actual plans. When the first plan was submitted to MDOT, they came back with a slew of comments associated with why the project wasn’t going to get funded. “And we had to hash out several alternatives. ROWE, actually, had to meet with MDOT in Lansing to go over very specific issues that then had to get reworked into the plan.”

Schaeffer reminded trustees that this was an adjustment based on the local contribution, which had an original minimum match of 20 percent.

“Even though that was the minimum local contribution, MDOT further explained that that was not competitive,” he went on. In addition to contending with the MDOT comments, the trail was reduced in order to come up with a more competitive local match.

Therefore, a lot of ROWE’s time was spent attending the bike path meetings within the local community, as well as working with MDOT in Lansing to be able to rework the plan and get it to where it’s at now.

Freeman added that there were three alternatives they had to try to resolve around Desi’s and the Dam Store. The original concept was to go across Desi’s parking lot, behind the Dam Store. “Meeting with property owners, we found out that the information from before did not indicate that behind the Dam Store was their septic field. So we could not put the trail over the top of their septic field.”

With that, he said ROWE then came through with a couple of different alternatives of going behind and through Foote Village on the gravel roads. “That was rejected because, again, it was putting the trail on a roadway that could also intermix with vehicles.”

Freeman said ROWE and the IET committee didn’t feel that it was an issue, but MDOT did.

As for the latest, aforementioned plan for Phase III, he noted that ROWE also had a couple of meetings with the ICRC.

Freeman said, at face value, the extra hours put in by ROWE seem like a lot. But there were three or four iterations, and several items going back and forth that needed to be resolved to get to the point that things are at today.

“Rick’s being kind here but we were, quite frankly, put through the ringer by MDOT,” Palmer expressed.

He said a meeting was held where IET committee members and two MDOT representatives congregated at Foote Village to look at the situation and what they had to deal with. But, when it came time for Oscoda to submit grant applications, it seemed as though MDOT had a problem with something at every turn.

“And so then we would have to go back to ROWE and have them look into it and make some adjustments, submit that to MDOT, they would kick it back again. They would never tell us what needed to be done; they would just tell us, well, you can’t do that – and they were on site and were aware,” Palmer contends.

He commended ROWE for what it is charging the township, since the company had to rework things that were already done – and do so several times in a row – to try to accommodate MDOT.

“And we’re still not there, but they’ve gotten us close,” he said.

“If there was some way we could bill MDOT for these additional costs, that’s where they should go. But, unfortunately, we can’t do that,” Palmer continued. “That’s just my feeling about this whole situation; that MDOT has just been a nightmare for us to work with, especially since they were on scene with two of their people to see what the situation was.”

“Is there any indication as to why they’re behaving this way?” asked Trustee Timothy Cummings.

Freeman said much of it has to do with the fact that MDOT’s personnel has changed. The trail project has been several years in  the making, with lots of adjustments along the way. The MDOT staff that were in place when this all started, have since moved on.

“At that time also, we had a governor that was supportive of these endeavors. The current administration is not necessarily supportive of non-motorized trails, so, it has not remained a priority for MDOT,” according to Freeman.

He said township officials have remarked previously that, every opportunity MDOT had to be vague in what they wanted to see, they did.

“So, basically, what we ended up doing is getting local concurrence on an alternative, and that’s where a couple of meetings with the ICRC led to the resolution that got it resolved,” Freeman went on.

He said that everything was then presented to MDOT in Lansing, per the trail and design guidelines, so there was nothing that didn’t fit the criteria for non-motorized trails.

“And we also laid out several other locations throughout the state where similar activities and actions were undertaken and, once we presented it that way to them, they really didn’t have any alternative but to approve what we were laying out there,” Freeman said.

He added that he thinks the township is at a point where, if funding becomes available through the TAP grant and it matches up with the local commitment that’s already out there, they will finally have a project that can move forward with construction.

The motion by Palmer to approve the appropriations increase passed in a 7-0 vote.