By SCOTT AIKEN – H-P Staff Writer Published: Thursday, November 3, 2011 1:07 PM EDT ST. JOSEPH -
Christopher Quattrin sees Berrien County’s approach to storm water management as unsustainable and far too expensive at a time when citizens and governments struggle to make ends meet. To bring change, the 47-year-old St. Joseph man said, he is running as a Republican for the office of county drain commissioner. Quattrin, who has more than 25 years of experience as an engineer, is challenging incumbent Roger Zilke in the August GOP primary. Fixing drain problems by burying new and larger networks of pipe must give way to better solutions when possible, he said.
Quattrin points to the escalating rate of spending through the drain commissioner’s office. The county total of bonded debt for drain work was $390,000 in 2002. By 2009, under Zilke’s tenure, the total had increased to $1.5 million, and spiked to $10.2 million in 2010. Most of the money borrowed to pay for drain projects is repaid, with interest, by landowners who benefit from the work over a period of up to 20 years. Zilke, of Baroda, was first elected drain commissioner in 2004. He has said major drain projects are sometimes needed to correct problems in some drainage districts caused by years of neglects. Most projects are initiated by citizens who petition the drain commissioner for repair work as specified in the state Drain Code. An independent three-member board of review studies the request and holds a hearing, then decides if repairs are needed. The scale of work and whether to move a project forward are decisions made by the drain commissioner. A bidding process is used to award contracts for work. But rebuilding a drain, often by installing new pipe underground, is very expensive, Quattrin said, and will mean high maintenance costs in the future. “He’s playing Whack-a-mole with water,” Quattrin said of the drain-building boom of recent years, a spending level that cannot be sustained.
Quattrin said he favors a more cost-conscious approach to drain problems, involving residents and local governments to determine what is considered affordable. As a value engineer, Quattrin said he has years of experience calculating the cost of projects, some running into hundreds of millions of dollars, with an eye to staying under budget. He leads a group of professionals in the Consulting Services Division at MC2, a company formed in 1965 that specializes in cost engineering and estimating systems for commercial development. Quattrain has worked on teams responsible for major construction and engineering projects in Michigan and other parts of the country, among them Comerica Park, Ford Field, Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.
His experience includes engineering work in field management, design, cost estimating and consulting. Many communities today use an approach to storm water management that, when possible, incorporates relatively low-cost features such as bioswails and rain gardens that filter water and allow it to sink into the ground, Quattrin said. Weirs, low dams that temporarily back up water to allow some to soak in, are also being used. Reducing the speed and volume of runoff also cuts down the amount of silt and pollutants carried into streams and, ultimately, Lake Michigan, he said. If elected, Quattrin said, he would work to see that area engineering companies get fair consideration for drain projects. Much of the engineering work, totaling $837,000 in 2009 and 2010 combined, went to Spicer Group, Lansing.
Quattrin, who is divorced and has children 7, 9 and 11 at home, and a daughter in college, said a personal reason for running for the drain commissioner’s post is his desire to be home more with his family. Quattrin said he travels extensively in his position with MC2. He grew up in St. Joseph, obtained a bachelor’s degree in math at the University of Detroit and a master’s in business management at Nazareth College, Kalamazoo. He studied architectural engineering at Andrews University, and received a master’s degree in civil engineering at University of Detroit Mercy.