By: Benjamin J. Gohs, Associate Editor
Nearly $865,000 in grants have been tentatively granted to Charlevoix County for its proposed non-motorized trail – but what some see as good news was not enough to ease worries of cost overruns.
“We do have a conditional commitment from the Michigan Department of Transportation for $565,900,” Maxwell said. “We scored, we went from 340 to 350 for our DNR Trust fund Grant for $300,000.”
Maxwell said the local municipality matching funds from several townships and Boyne City and the Charlevoix County Community Foundation totaling $70,288.
“Additional match needed is approximately $18,000, which we’ll have that put together,” Maxwell said. “The work’s been done. We’re this close to having this done and we need a action on some action items.”
Howard Haselschwardt and Lucas Porath with Northwest Design Group, the firm which has worked on the designing phase of the non-motorized trail, gave an update and overview of future needs regarding the trail.
“The scope is a separate non-motorized path from Spring Water Beach Road to the Evangeline/Bay Township line to West Michigan Ave. in Boyne City. It’s 3.2 miles. Total cost is $954,500 – that is a concept estimate, of course,” Haselschwardt said. “It is our opinion that right now you should be making some decisions … Charlevoix County should be the lead agency for this project … and enter into a cooperative agreement with the City of Boyne City.”
He added, “The reason these things are important are because these grants are two very different funding sources. The City of Boyne City’s Transportation Enhancement Grant is a portion of federal gas tax money and it’s got lots of strings attached to it as most grants do.”
Haselschwardt said that money is earmarked by the United States Congress for non-motorized trails and cannot be used for paving roads.
The trust fund grant will require the county signs an agreement with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“Someone needs to act like owner,” Haselschwardt said. “In order to execute and build the thing there’s got to be one agency to take the lead and it has been my understanding is it is the expectation of all parties that the county will eventually be that agency and that makes good sense.”
Haselschwardt suggested that, because there are different sources of funding to build the trail and day-to-day business that needs to be handled, the county appoint or designate someone to oversee the operation.
“Sometimes our clients in other municipalities will decide to appoint a three-member board or committee or something to handle intermediate decisions,” Haselschwardt said. “It’s up to you how much authority you give a person or a committee.”
Haselschwardt said the county can contract a construction firm and pay out of county funds to be reimbursed by the grants at a later date or the contractor can be controlled by MDOT and the state will pay the contractor, send a bill to the county and then the county will pay for the work out of their coffer to be reimbursed by the grants.
“There are a lot of complexities in these two grant funds,” Haselschwardt said. “Since most of the project is outside of Boyne City … I think maybe the City of Boyne City expects the county to be the lead agency here.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Joel Evans said the county has already pledged up to $55,000 for trail maintenance and he is concerned about the cost to the taxpayers.
“How much is this going to end up costing us?” he said. “I think we’re pretty much in consensus that we want this trail but we don’t want to spend any money on it. I know there will probably be some more little costs on it but we didn’t know how much more.”
Haselschwardt said these numbers are only estimates.
“The real answer is no one knows today. That’s the real answer and that’s the nature of projects like this,” he said. “You also have to understand these grant agencies in their agreements there’ll be a clause, there always is, that the grantee will agree to any cost overruns.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Bob Drebenstedt said the county is getting a lot of grant money for little matching funds.
“We’re talking about pennies here that we’re going to be out to entice more people to come up here,” he said. “We’re a tourist county and this will bring more tourism into the county.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Shirlene Tripp (R-District 1) agreed wit Drebenstedt on the importance of the trail.
“This will be an awful nice asset to the community,” she said.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen asked the designers about the accuracy of the estimate of the trail costs.
“This cost estimate is based on conceptual design work that we did. That means that the design is only conceptual. We haven’t done detailed on the ground survey work and detailed design work,” Haselschwardt said. “As you move through a design process for any project … you first start out and say we need so many square feet and say that’s going to cost so many dollars a square foot.”
He added, “Our next step in engineering work is preliminary design where we’re doing right-of-way surveys and fine tuning exactly where it’s going to go.”
Haselschwardt said at this step their estimate can be plus or minus 20 percent which could mean $200,000 higher or lower.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Richard Gillespie (R-District ) asked which right-of-way is going to be used.
Haselschwardt said he wasn’t sure, but that the Charlevoix County Road Commission prefers it be built in the 66-foot and not the 99-foot.
“There’s much displeasure over the 99-foot right-of-way,” Gillespie added. “We don’t have the big show of hands of property owners who don’t mind this crossing through their front yards – in the right-of-way or not, and that is why I opposed it the other day and why I continue to.”
Gillespie said he has been asking, since last January, for a list of those property owners for and against the trail.
Haselschwardt said that is an important next step in the design process.
Evans said he wants the county’s civil counsel to look over the resolution to contract with Northwest Design Group to finish the rest of the design work before the county moves forward.
Drebenstedt said putting off the decision would not make any sense since it needs to be finalized by the beginning of December.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Ron Reinhardt (R-District 3) said the county was led to believe that once the county agreed to pick up the costs of future trail maintenance they wouldn’t have to spend any more money.
“We need to have time to think about this because I can tell you in my district I’m going to be damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” he said, adding that he wanted time to make a decision on a matter of this magnitude. “I’m not against the trail. I don’t like (that) now there could be more money that we may have to spend.”
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain said the commissioners should be pleased with the opportunity to leverage state and federal dollars at little or no cost to the taxpayers is a great thing.
“I can understand this board’s concerns with unknowns,” he said. “But, we have always knew the board is where the buck stops. You guys have the power of the purse … you have the power to pull the plug. We’re not at that point at all.”
Cain added,” We’re willing to to our part and we’re hoping that you will continue to do your part.”
Reinhardt said he is OK with going forward as long as the county does not have to commit to spending more money.
Christensen said perhaps the parks and recreation committee could pledge the $18,000 in funding – the money would come out of the county’s general fund since the committee no longer has it’s own fund – as a placeholder while private matching funds can be sought. The monies are not due until October of 2012.
The commission voted 5-1 to fund up to $17,512 to cover a fund-raising shortfall should it be necessary; and to contract with Northwest Design Group to complete the rest of the engineering.
Gillespie, who was the lone nay vote, said he supports public projects but fears the project has neglected some vitaltasks such as garnering the support of proposed trail route property holders.