County looks at wetland property for new impound lot

The St. Clair County Sheriff Department wants to build an impound lot behind the St. Clair County jail. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

The St. Clair County Sheriff Department wants to build an impound lot behind the St. Clair County jail. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

PORT HURON TWP. — The St. Clair County Sheriff Department wants to build a lot on wetlands to house seized vehicles.

The county is waiting for permits from the state Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Capt. Ron Muxlow said the department leases a building to house impounded vehicles. In addition to paying to store evidence, Muxlow said the structure is deteriorating.

“The roof is caving in, and the landlord of the location we are leasing isn’t willing to put any more money into it,” Muxlow said. “The amount of money we are paying to store vehicles long-term is not beneficial. It would be better for the county to have its own impound.”

The wetlands are behind the Day Treatment Night Watch facility at 1238 Michigan Road in Port Huron Township.

The idea for turning the property into an impound lot was first pitched in 2011.

Jennifer Posey, an administrative analyst with the county, said several departments were looking to use some of the space for secure evidence storage.

County administrator Bill Kauffman said the county has not considered any other locations for the impound lot.

“This is one we have always had in mind,” he said. “Ever since the treatment facility was developed, the property behind it was planned for the facility’s expansion if needed and some type of storage or impound lot.”

Another factor in developing a new impound is its proximity to the sheriff department and jail.

“The land was chosen because it is right next to the sheriff’s department, so they can keep an eye on it,” Kauffman said. “It’s on property the county owns, so we would no longer have to lease space for this use.”

Muxlow would not disclose the location of the current lot, but he did say it is in south Port Huron.

With the type of vehicles held there, Muxlow said the department wouldn’t want it to be public knowledge.

“Our initial plan is to have an impound yard for vehicles being held for investigative purposes, vehicles involved in a felony or traffic crash and vehicles we are required to hold for the prosecutor’s office,” Muxlow said.

Undersheriff Tom Buckley said the department spends around $10,000 a year to use the storage building. The department pays $600 a month to lease the space, and the property’s owner receives a percentage from the sale of the vehicles at auction.

“The building we have rented has between 20 and 30 vehicles in it on any given day,” Buckley said. “We have at least five more in storage at one of the tow yards we use.”

Posey said the county owns 3.25 wetland acres, but 1.95 acres would be affected by the impound lot.

As the location is wetland property, Kauffman said it has taken years to resolve all the issues with the DEQ and EPA. However, the county has received only verbal approvals and is expecting the wetland use permit by the end of the month, Posey said.

The impound lot will be enclosed and at the back of the property. Since the treatment facility is at the front end of the road, its two rain gardens that are used to filter storm water will not be affected, Posey said.

In order to use the land for development, the county had to mitigate its use of the wetlands. That means the county designated another location that would be permanently preserved as a way to offset any impacts to the wetlands.

Some of the county-owned property already has been placed in a conservation easement and will never be developed, Kauffman said.

“The EPA and DEQ have received all the reports on that site,” he said. “We have to get the official approval on the mitigation site. Until we have the actual permit in hand, we won’t be going out for bids for the construction project.”

Katie Fairchild, environmental quality analyst with the Michigan DEQ, said the permitting process began in 2012.

“When we are reviewing an application for a project we look at a site’s specific conditions, the amount of wetlands that will be impacted and whether there are feasible alternatives,” Fairchild said. “On this particular project, we agreed that what they were proposing was permitable.”

According to Fairchild, the DEQ received authorization from the EPA on Wednesday to send a copy of the draft permit to the county.

If the county agrees to the conditions, Fairchild said county officials would sign and submit the draft permit back to the DEQ and establish a financial assurance to make sure the conditions of the permit are completed.

After that, the county would be able to move forward with the project.

“We do have estimates for clearing the site, leveling it and putting down the gravel,” he said. “I believe we are waiting for the permit in order to have an engineer then develop the drainage plan and all the specs related to the rest of the development.”

Posey said $152,000 was set aside in the public improvement fund as an estimate for the clearing and grading of the site.

Development that includes fencing and the construction of the building would be funded by the sheriff’s department and the prosecutor’s office. Those estimates have not been made because the county is not proceeding with bidding the project until a permit has officially been issued.

Kauffman said the county would cover the costs for preparing the site.

“It is my understanding they will be using drug forfeiture funds to finance that portion of the construction,” Kauffman said. “County funds were set aside many years ago to take care of the phase one development.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 16, 2015)

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