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A drainage district is a legally established area of land that drains to a common outlet. Drainage district boundaries are determined by the natural topography of the land and rarely correspond to political boundaries such as townships or counties. Common words for drainage district include watershed and drainage basin.
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County drainage districts are separate public corporations with their own financial records. Each drainage district is supported by a Drain Assessment that covers the cost of maintaining the drainage system. County drains are not maintained by Berrien County general fund taxes.
The law requires that assessments be based on benefit as determined by the Drain Commissioner. All properties within the drainage district are assessed considering factors such as size of parcel, land use, proximity to the drain, and location of the property within the district.
The Berrien County Drain Office has maps and aerial photos that can show the location of your property and the county drains within the drainage district. These documents will be available on the Day of Review. Even if your property does not touch the county drain, storm water flows toward this county drain as an outlet regardless of the land’s elevation.
All property owners within a drainage district receive an assessment, unless specifically exempted by law. In addition, the municipality, Berrien County, the Berrien County Road Commission, and the Michigan Department of Transportation (as appropriate) also receive an assessment for a portion of the maintenance costs. The Drain Code does not exempt most non-profit or religious properties from assessment.
Although the work for which you are being assessed may have been completed prior to your purchase of the land, the Drain Code requires that assessments be levied to the property, and assessed to the current owner of record. In most cases, the work performed will benefit the property for years to come.
Petitions may be filed to construct a new county drain or to improve an existing county drain to alleviate flooding or drainage issues. Petitions may be signed by landowners, municipalities, the Berrien County Road Commission or the Michigan Department of Transportation. After a petition is filed, the Drain Code requires a Board of Determination hearing to determine if the project is necessary or not. Without a petition, the Drain Commissioner can only perform maintenance activities on the county drain.
To obtain a petition to circulate, contact the Drain Commissioner’s office. A staff member will prepare the appropriate documents that will be needed to start the petition process. Instructions are provided with the petition and staff members are available to answer questions for the petition process. Once the petition has been signed with proper signatures, the petitions are returned to the Drain Commissioner’s office for action.
The Board of Determination is a three-member board appointed by the Drain Commissioner. The Drain Code requires that the board members all reside in the county. However, The Board of Determination members must be “disinterested” meaning they cannot own land in the Drainage District or within any municipality with lands in the Drainage District.
The role of the Board of Determination is to receive testimony and evidence at a public hearing to determine:
The Board of Determination does not determine the scope or cost of the project, and does not determine how much property owners and municipalities will be assessed for the project. The Drain Commissioner makes these decisions after the engineering is performed, but before construction occurs.
The decision of the Board of Determination does not have to be unanimous, but the decision does require a majority vote. The vote is by the members of the Board of Determination, and not by the attendees at the meeting.
If you are unable to attend, you can provide the Drain Commissioner’s office with correspondence, pictures or other information that you would like presented to the Board of Determination. Please make sure that the Drain Commissioner’s office receives this information with sufficient time to provide it at the meeting. The Drain Commissioner will read all correspondence at the Board of Determination during the public testimony part of the meeting.
Yes. Any person aggrieved by the decision of the Board of Determination can appeal the decision in the county circuit court within 10 days after the Board’s decision pursuant to MCL 280.72a. Municipalities also have the ability to appeal the decisions under MCL 280.72. You should consult your attorney with further questions as to the appeal process.
Drainage easements are obtained for specific uses such as storm water conveyance, in open ditches, underground tiles, a floodplain or as access routes for operating, maintaining or repairing a County Drain. Drainage easements are not to be considered public areas and are not open to the public.
Property owners retain land ownership, but are restricted from building permanent structures that may interfere with or reduce drainage and/or temporary storage capacity or may impede drain maintenance of surface or subsurface systems within the easement area. This includes, but is not limited to; swimming pools, sheds, garages, patios, decks, fences or other permanent structures or landscaping features.
Easement width varies from drain to drain depending on the drain’s size and type. Some easements are of an unspecified width.
Easements obtained prior to 1956 were not required by law to be recorded with the Berrien County Register of Deeds office and are considered properly recorded if they are on file in the County Drain Commissioner’s office. It is important to check with both offices to determine if a drainage easement exists on your property.
The statutes and regulations affecting the activities of the drain commissioner are as follows:
An illicit discharge is any discharge to the storm sewer system that is not composed entirely of rain water or groundwater. Examples include dumping of motor vehicle fluids, household hazardous wastes, grass clippings, leaf litter, industrial waste, restaurant wastes, or any other non-storm water waste into a storm water system.
An illicit connection is the discharge of pollutants or non-storm water materials into a storm sewer system via a pipe or other direct connection. Sources of illicit connections may include sanitary sewer taps, wash water for laundromats or car washes, and other similar sources.
To spot an illicit discharge or connection:
If you see an illicit discharge or connection, report it to your community. The Illicit Discharge and Connection Ordinance, adopted by your community, gives them legal authority to inspect and sample discharge, as well as enforce sanctions for violations.
Please visit our Freedom of Information Act page.