ST. CLAIR COUNTY — St. Clair County Drain Commissioner Bob Wiley is facing a challenge from someone uniquely familiar with the job he currently holds.
On Nov. 3, Wiley, a Republican, will be opposed by Yale Democrat Fred Fuller, who previously served three terms as St. Clair County’s drain commissioner.
A Fort Gratiot resident, Bob Wiley was elected drain commissioner in 2008, succeeding Fuller; and reelected to the post in both 2012 and 2016.
Before assuming his duties at the drain office, Wiley was employed as Fort Gratiot’s building inspector, and as a part-time marine deputy.
“I hit the ground running when I was first elected,” Wiley said. “At that time, there was a lot of work to be done.
“I was aggressive and worked hard and now many of those jobs have been completed.”
Early in his tenure, Wiley investigated and helped develop a plan to eliminate the continuing discharge of raw sewage from the Village of Avoca into St. Clair County drains.
In addition to keeping the county’s drains cleaned out, Wiley said he has been active in wetland mitigation and preservation efforts.
He alluded to his involvement in the preservation of 80 acres of St. Clair County wetlands, referred to as the “Veterans Memorial” wetlands preserve.
“I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish,” Wiley said, “but I know there is more work to do. That’s why I’m running again for another term as drain commissioner.”
Wiley, who describes himself as a “conservationist,” differentiates himself from Fuller on methods used to clean out the county’s drains.
“My opponent prefers the natural approach, but you can’t get the drain back to its original dimensions when you do that,” Wiley said. “My goal is to open up our drains, keep them flowing and avoid flooding.”
Wiley hopes his performance over the past 12 years will be rewarded again by the voters.
“I enjoy what I’m doing and I find a lot of satisfaction in this job,” he said. “I hope the people of St. Clair County see me as being hard-working and focused on getting and keeping our 400-plus drains flowing.”
After serving 12 years as the county’s drain commissioner from 1997-2008, Fred Fuller decided to not seek reelection in 2008.
Fuller had most recently been employed by Huron Consultants, a Port Huron environmental and civil engineering firm.
“I decided to run for drain commissioner again because I think it’s time for a change,” Fuller said. “It’s a powerful office, because the drain commissioner has the ability to directly assess taxes, but has no boss and answers only to voters every four years.”
Before his first tenure as drain commissioner, Fuller was a staunch opponent of an Intercounty Drain Board’s plan for full-scale dredging of the Mill Creek.
Instead, Fuller supported more natural river restoration methods to improve the creek’s flow.
Fuller continues to espouse those methods and opposes Wiley’s preference for removing trees along the banks of local creeks and drains.
“Trees anchor the banks and help prevent erosion,” he said, “while their shade helps control the growth of aquatic weeds.
Fuller hopes his environment-friendly message continues to resonate with St. Clair County voters this time around.
“I’ve always been concerned about environmental issues,” Fuller said. “But I’m also fiscally conservative.
“I believe that at this time we need to reduce costs and taxes until this economy recovers.”
Fuller said flooding has become a particularly serious problem in St. Clair County.
“For whatever reason, we have been experiencing more frequent, intense rainstorms and rising lake levels,” he said. “As drain commissioner, I did my best to prepare for future storms by working to preserve flood plains and wetlands, and to require detention basins. I feel some of that progress has not been continued.”
Fuller said that with new development, stormwater is going directly into storm sewers and discharging into streams more quickly than before, when it was absorbed by pre-existing forests and fields.
“One of the simplest and least expensive ways to lessen flooding is to preserve our floodplains and wetlands,” Fuller said. “Another is requiring new developments to construct larger detention basins to detain stormwater runoff and discharge it slowly into streams and rivers.”
While generally opposed to full-fledged dredging, Fuller agreed that there are situations where it is appropriate.
“There is still good reason to dredge in areas that are flat,” he said. “But not in areas where there are still trees.”
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.