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Benton Harbor gets another $3 million to clean up Ox Creek

BENTON HARBOR — Cleaning up Ox Creek in Benton Harbor is getting a $3 million boost from the federal government.

Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad announced last week the money was earmarked to clean up the creek in a recent nonpartisan Omnibus Bill that was supported by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and former U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.

Muhammad said the money will be used in conjunction with $958,000 of Spark Grant money received in February to start renovating Hall Park, which includes part of Ox Creek.

He said the city is working with officials from the University of Michigan, who have done studies on both projects.

“One of the things they’ve learned and shared with us in the study is that renovating Hall Park without addressing Ox Creek is like shooting yourself in the foot because of the flooding, the contamination. It just spills over,” Muhammad said Monday.

In October 2021, Benton Harbor city commissioners made the cleaning of Ox Creek a priority for recreational and economic development. The resolution included having a lighted bike path along the full length of the creek, from Main Street in Benton Harbor to Napier Avenue in Benton Township.

After state and federal officials toured the creek in May 2022, city commissioners in July approved accepting a $75,000 grant from the Benton Harbor Brownfield Redevelopment Authority to pay for the study that was done by the University of Michigan.

On Monday, Muhammad said the study was used to procure the $3 million grant from the federal government. He said this is just the start of cleaning up the creek.

Muhammad said the city is in discussions with state, federal and U-M officials to figure out the best use of the money. He said one of his goals is to have kayaking, canoeing and fishing return to the creek.

“Benton Harbor has been struggling for a long time. It’s going to take time to restore that which was broken,” Muhammad said. “These are the types of small wins and victories to piecemeal project by project (and) ultimately to make Benton Harbor a great place to live, laugh and recreate.”

In December 2018, Berrien County Drain Commissioner Christopher Quattrin asked Benton Harbor officials for their support to add the part of Ox Creek that runs through the city to the Yore & Stoeffer Drain – which starts in Bainbridge Township and runs through Benton Township before draining into Ox Creek.

Muhammad said that idea was put on hold because the creation of a drainage district could mean increased property taxes for the surrounding property owners.

“It’s a last resort,” he said. “After the city of Benton Harbor passed the city income tax in 2017, I said before and I said after that it was a lesser evil. The greater evil would be to do nothing. But I also said in the same breath that I had no intention to come back to the taxpayers asking them to pay more unless it was a dire emergency. And I have not been back.”

Muhammad said he wants to work with state and federal officials to get more of the project funded through grants.