By Mary Hall
Tubbs Road in Scio Township, designated a state Natural Beauty Road in 1987, when residents Bob and Mimi Harris and Karlene Yohn successfully applied for the recognition. Under this Act, road commissions can designate county roads having “unusual or outstanding natural beauty” as Natural Beauty Roads.
One has only to walk the 1.3-mile road running between Huron River Drive and Stein Road to understand why. The canopy of trees, the black squirrels and deer all around, the small creek to the east and the Huron River to the south, all make one feel as though a horse-drawn carriage might come around the next curve at any moment, said a local bicyclist who travels the road frequently.
In 2013 Scio Township approved a Special Assessment of $85 per township parcel for 10 years, to create a fund for repairing, improving and maintaining local public roads in the Township. A Scio Township Local Roads Advisory Committee, chaired by Lew Kidder, was charged with evaluating local roads and establishing standards and a schedule for repairs and resurfacing roads as needed. Tubbs Road was scheduled for resurfacing in 2016 according to resident Anne Knott.
The Scio Township Board of Trustees was behind this project. When residents came before the board with concerns that their lovely road would be “manhandled” by the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC), the board laid out a plan in the hopes of ensuring this did not happen. The plan included conservative tree trimming, replacing the guardrail along the river, reaming out an old culvert and adding a new one, and adding new asphalt at the intersection of Tubbs Road and Huron River Drive.
To that end, a foreman from the WCRC was to be on-site to supervise the work and make sure things were done according to plan. Later, Scio Township Manager, Bryce Kelley, was charged with ensuring a township representative would be on-site throughout the project to ensure the construction followed the agreed upon specifications.
According to Knott, this never happened. In addition, she said Lew Kidder promised the residents the opportunity to review the WCRC engineering plan for Tubbs Road resurfacing and again said this too never happened.
Of major concern to the residents, Knott said, was the tree trimming. Tubbs Road is lined by trees that create a canopy, not only keeping it cool during the summer months, but giving wildlife a place to call home. The township decided to hire a private arborist, who, according to Knott, “wasn’t just good, was FABULOUS!” There was minimal cutting and the canopy was saved.
Another reason Knott and other residents of Tubbs Road feel it is important to keep the trees is that the roots of trees actually soak up water in a process called evapotranspiring, and a single mature oak tree can evapotranspire more than 40,000 gallons of water per year. To address the lack of drainage on Tubbs Road, The WCRC proposed removing trees, opening the canopy and allowing the sun to dry the road. Their position is that the sun drying the road is just as important as Evapotranspiring.
A new guardrail was installed along the Huron River because the prior guardrail was buried by years of dirt being added on top of the road and leaving only approximately three inches of the rail above ground. Knott reports that within days of it being installed, a car came down the hill, around the curve, hit ice, and had it not been for that guardrail, could have slid into the river. This is evidence by a two foot by four-inch piece of rubber fender stuck in the guardrail as if to memorialize this incident.
Crushed limestone was applied to the surface in late November but with the first thaw in late February that was accompanied by heavy rain the limestone gave way on portions of the road that are not level, and “Due to drainage issues, water cut through the road and created huge divots and crevasses in the road. This made it dangerous for walkers and bikers especially, and less than pleasant for those who live on or make deliveries to Tubbs Road. The condition of the road is considerably worse than it was before resurfacing,” said Knott.
She also added that the original plan called for culverts to be created to assist with drainage. One culvert, however, didn’t work for long. Like the existing culverts, it became clogged with the first rain. “It’s a bandaid at best,” said Knott. “The next big rain we get, it will just happen again. How much do those repairs cost? Could that money have been better spent to do the job correctly in the first place?”
Finally, there is the issue of asphalt. Originally, Knott explained, the WCRC wanted to take down the towering chestnut tree where Tubbs Road and Huron River Drive meet, a green apron with a turnaround, used often by bikers to stop and rest, and catch a little shade. The WCRC wanted to take that tree out and pour asphalt from Huron River Drive all the way up to the beginning of the guardrail, not at all in keeping with the Natural Beauty guidelines. Knott states that when residents got wind of this plan, they put a stop to it. The original statement from the township was to asphalt just the beginning area of the apron, however, to date, there is no new asphalt.
According to Knott, a drainage study was performed by Kris Enlow of Beckett & Raeder, with recommendations to recontour some areas to slow down and retain runoff. To date, Knott reports there has been no follow-up even though residents were willing to cooperate.
Incoming WCRC Managing Director Sheryl Solderholm Siddall had this to say about the Tubbs Road situation, “It’s a tricky situation when we have a road with a drainage issue and residents that don’t want trees taken out.”
Communications Coordinator Emily Kizer added, “the water on the roads needs sun to help it dry out. While it’s true that the roots do soak up water, they also cause water to stand, which means they need ditches on that road to aid in drainage. The residents don’t want that.”
When asked about the drainage study that had been performed, neither Siddall nor Kizer were aware of it. However, Siddall did add that the residents were free to do whatever they wanted to do on their own property to help the drainage situation.
The WCRC reports that except for routine maintenance, funding for the smaller dirt roads mainly comes from the special assessment and is limited. As it stands right now, Tubbs Rd. is not scheduled for more work by the WCRC.
On a brighter note, Siddall states that Anne Knott or any resident of Tubbs Rd. can put this item on the agenda of their township’s next board meeting and go through them to get their concerns addressed. She states that just because they are not on their list now doesn’t mean they can’t go through their township board and get support to get back on the list in the future.
Communication may be the key to making everyone happy regarding Tubbs Road and other roads like it. It is something Siddall, Kizer and others at WCRC are working on to help everyone in the county better understand why they do what they do when they do it.
Sheryl Soderholm Siddall will be taking over as Managing Director effective June 20th, 2018 due to Roy Townsend’s retirement.
For the State of Michigan’s guideline on what type of road can be designated a Natural Beauty Road and how it must be maintained, go to: www.michigan.gov/documents/NBR_guidelines_designation_23596_7.pdf