Michigan man charged for trying to fix neighborhood flooding

NOW: Michigan man charged for trying to fix neighborhood flooding


KEELER TOWNSHIP, Mich. - A neighborhood off Big Crooked Lake in Keeler Township is dealing with flooding. It’s not because of the lake, but a drainage system on the other side.

Dorothy and James Wright have lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and for 30 years they have dealt with flooding due to leaves and branches clogging up this drain.

They say the county isn’t doing anything and that’s why they took the matter into their own hands.

When it rains “the whole thing is all covered with leaves,” James Wright said.

Lakeshore Drive in Keeler Township Michigan floods but 73-year-old James Wright has a system.

“I used to come out at 2,3 o’clock in the morning and I used to grab a hold of it and I do that and all the water will go down,” Wright said.

Doug Gerstner lives two doors down and he uses a rake to clear the drain.

“You take off your shoes and you start searching for the drains because the key is to get the leaves and branches off and then the water will start to go down a little,” Gerstner said.

It’s something, the neighborhood has tried to get fixed for years. Gerstner said the county, “won’t just recognize that they need a different type of drain cover so they have a dysfunctional system and despite hearing multiple times from multiple neighbors, they don't want to hear it.”

Until James simply had enough. Last year he took some of the county-owned drain covers to a welding shop to create bigger holes.

“After I chopped big holes in that, we never had a build-up of water like we usually get,” he said.

But then this summer his neighborly good deed was turned into a crime.

“They asked me to turn myself in because I had a warrant for me for destruction of property,” he said.

According to the Van Buren County Prosecutors Office, James Wright plead guilty Wednesday to malicious destruction of property.

It was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. He was fined $1,925 and got 6 months on probation that will be discharged once the fines are paid.

“I was just shocked that a government would find a 73-year-old person that’s lived in the neighborhood 35 years that all he wants to do is help protect his neighbors and decide to make that a criminal offense,” Gerstner said.

“I have no reason to run,” Wright said. “I feel I am in the right. Road and drain commissioner isn’t doing anything. Bill Case hasn’t really done anything. After 30 years, are you going to let your house flood? No, you ain’t going to do that on account of somebody else’s ignorance.”

And it turns out the county replaced the altered drain covers with the same ones that caused problems in the first place.

James said he’s still having the same problem.

“We’ll just continue out here with our rakes and do what we do to support each other and hopefully not have a bigger problem,” Gerstner said.

James said he plans on going to the next township meeting to show his pictures and these written statements from several neighbors about the problem.

ABC57 reached out to the Van Buren County Drain Commissioner for their side of the story multiple times but have yet to hear back.

Later, Joe Parman, the Van Buren County Drain Commissioner let ABC57 know in a letter:

"The Van Buren County Drain Commissioner has no jurisdiction over flooding on Lakeshore Drive, Big Crooked Lake, Keeler Township. The drainage system in reference is not a legally established county drain under the Michigan Drain Code of 1956, MCL Chapter 280. The Drain Commissioner only has legal authority over county drains established under the Michigan Drain Code. The Drain Commissioner and Drain Officer were not part of the Van Buren County Road Commission's project, replacement of the catch basin grates or prosecution of Mr. Wright."

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