Easement would preserve wetlands but remove city control of property
BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
An easement agreement proposed by North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy would cede control of much of Depot Park from the City of the Village of Clarkston to the conservancy.
It would also protect and preserve a vital natural resource, said Emily Duthinh, NOHLC president.
“Depot Park is a jewel of Clarkston,” Duthinh said at the Aug. 27 City Council meeting. “We would like to partner with you to preserve these wetlands.”
The quality of the wetland is going down, with invasive plants and trash building up, she said.
“If you don’t take care of any natural property, it goes to weeds. It needs to be stewarded,” she said.
“That’s what the land conservancy does – we know plants.”
Approving the easement agreement would be a big decision, said City Manager Jonathan Smith.
“Probably the single largest decision this council will make,” Smith said. “The wetlands filter our drinking water – it’s incredible to think about the need to protect that.”
The proposal will need careful review, said Council member Jason Kneisc.
“This is a huge amount of land to hand off,” Kneisc said. “Signing it over in perpetuity seems crazy to me.”
Council member Joe Luginski was in favor of beginning the discussion and was interested in seeing a draft of the conservation easement, but had reservations.
“I am a firm believer in controlling your own destiny,” Luginski said.
Resident Dave Marsh, who is running for city council in the fall, said more research is warranted.
“There are pros and cons – I’d like to hear some of the cons before moving forward,” Marsh said.
Under a conservation easement legal agreement, the land would remain the property of the city but development would be permanently limited, Duthinh said.
“You could not build on wetlands in future. You can’t build on wetlands anyway,” she said.
Costs would include transaction fees, survey, and title search. There would be no membership fee, but the city would pay for stewardship services by NOHLC.
“NOHLC doesn’t have funds for stewardship,” Duthinh said.
NOHLC previously worked with the city and other groups to control invasive species such as phragmites in the park, but more work is needed. City DPW workers currently conduct a phragmites control program in the park. If the easement is approved, NOHLC would take over that responsibility, with funding from the city, she said.
The plan would affect the wetlands in the park, not the playground or city hall property. Wetlands make up about 80 percent of the 39-acre park, extending from the playground to Lakeview Cemetery, she said.
“It’s five times bigger than what most think of,” she said.
Three streams flow through the park – the Mill Race built by Henry Ford, by the playground; Clinton River, running under the Bart Clark Bridge at the south entrance to the park off M-15; and the stream running between Deer Lake and Middle Lake.
The board of the NOHLC, which was founded in 1972 and protects more than 1,500 acres in 59 preserves, already gave concept approval to the easement.
If the city grants concept approval, the next step would be for the city and NOHLC to draft a conservation easement agreement, and prepare environmental and baseline assessments, stewardship management plan, goals, costs, and timeframe. The city would also survey the easement boundaries, conduct a title search and appraisal, and negotiate stewardship goals and sustainable funding. Responsibilities of the city and NOHLC would be negotiated in the easement process, Duthinh said.
“The city and NOHLC would share responsibilities about what gets done there,” she said. “Creating a conservation easement would cement our partnership. We are asking if the city is interested in further collaboration.”
The proposal will be sent to the city Planning Commission for their input. If the planners recommend approval, it would return to the City Council.