By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
Charlevoix County Commissioners voted 5-1 to approve a reimbursement contract with the state for the first phase of the Boyne City to U.S. 31 non-motorized trail.
The vote came several weeks after commissioners had tabled the decision pending perusal of the agreement by their civil counsel—but not before a lengthy discussion concerning funding, future costs and other concerns unfolded.
“I don’t like people that own one acre and a house telling somebody that owns 200 acres what to do with their property,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner Ron Reinhardt (R-District 3). “It’s happening all the time and it’s getting worse.”
Reinhardt said he would like to see Boyne City assume responsibility for any cost overruns on the trail.
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain addressed the board.
“It’s not been an easy path. This has probably been one of the most discussed projects in Charlevoix County in our region and it has really big implications for us—really big positive implications with regards to economic development,” he said. “This is a tool that will bring up the quality of life in Charlevoix County. It will be a tool that people will look at when they decide whether they want to move to Charlevoix County, whether they want to bring their businesses to Charlevoix County, whether they want to visit Charlevoix County.”
He added, “This is a big step. And, like any big steps, it makes people nervous, it makes people scared.”
Bob Taylor, Bay Township resident, told the board they needed to talk to the residents along the trail route before they move forward.
Taylor bristled at board civil counsel Bryan Graham’s statement that signing the agreement with the state eliminates the point of hearing public comments on the trail.
“I don’t agree that this is the final decision whether the trail should be completed,” Taylor said. “Funds should be used in repairing roads and buildings and are required for storing equipment and office space and other requirements.”
The bulk of the trail will be paid for by state grant monies which can only be used for non-motorized trails.
Taylor said he is not against the trail, but feels it would be better built as an attachment to the road in order to spare people’s property.
Proposed trail route property owner Bob Waldie told commissioners he and his neighbors gave findings of a survey of opinions on the proposed trail to county officials but have not yet heard those results addressed.
“I think it’s important they either acknowledge our survey or they do one of their own before they just go out and say ‘We’re putting a trail in and to hell with the people on Boyne City-Charlevoix Road.’”
Waldie said the survey showed people along the proposed route overwhelmingly support a trail attached to the road.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Shirlene Tripp reiterated the position she has held all along that the trail is good for the people of Charlevoix County.
Tripp said she attempted to contact the people along the trail route much earlier in the process but was told by the road commission to hold off until “the time was right.”
Graham discussed the matter of the DNR’s requirement that the trail route be owned by the county. Graham said he did not believe an easement granted by a property owner was the same as the county owning the land.
Trail officials said the DNR has indicated an exemption will be provided to accommodate for the easement issue.
Officials from NDG said they plan to contact the nearly 60 property owners along the proposed trail route seeking their signatures on an acknowledgment form from the Charlevoix County Road Commission which would allow the trail to be built within an additional swath of property outside the general 33-foot governmentally-imposed right-of-way along the highway.
Traditionally the government claims ownership of 33 feet of property on either side of state highways, but the trail may need to be built farther out—within an additional 14.5-foot area beyond the 33-foot right-of-way.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Rich Gillespie—the lone “no” vote on the matter—voiced some concerns about the proposed trail including other projects he feels are more necessary. He also voiced concern over the placement of the trail.
“Our priorities are out of order,” he said. “These right-of-ways should have been signed first, not last; for that reason I cannot support it.”
Gillespie added, “If it was attached I’d be right on board with it 100 percent.”
Scott McKenzie of Boyne City said he is astounded that the trail has taken “this long” to get to this phase.
“It’s very easy for us to get tied up by the hypothetical what-ifs, but my fear is that that derails this project,” he said. “One of my other concerns is about the economic value that this brings to our communities.”
McKenzie said, in the long-term, the trail is a “no-brainer.”
An audience member who owns property along the proposed trail route said the opinions of those who live on proposed route should be weighted more heavily than those who do not.
Several other Boyne City officials including Boyne City Commissioner Tom Neidhamer and Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Baumann also voiced their support of the proposed non-motorized trail.
Reinhardt asked who would be responsible for cost overruns and was told the county would be the responsible party.
“I believe the entities that benefit the most should come up with any cost overrun,” Reinhardt said.
Cain said he is sure if there is a cost overrun that all the parties involved would get together to find a solution.
Cain addressed the worst case scenarios put forth by numerous officials and members of the public.
“In every situation I can’t even think of one where any of those fears came true,” he said. “People in some circumstances, unfortunately, have the worst case scenario in their mind that all these bad things are going to happen. What I have found in reality is, when these trails and sidewalks and things go in, they’re the ones who use it the most and say ‘why did we ever oppose this in the first place?’”
Cain said this proposed trail is an opportunity to improve Charlevoix County.
Cain reminded the board that Boyne City put its name and credibility on the line to apply for a grant that will fund over half of the proposed trail phase.
“If you do the project right you have nothing to worry about,” Cain said, referring to board concerns over some of the state’s stipulations in the grant agreement. “In the millions of dollars in grants that we have done over the last 10 years we have not had one dollar that we had to pay back to the state.”
He added, “You have quality people, quality staff, quality consultants that’ll help you get through this process—don’t be afraid it.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen said he has three concerns about the trail issue.
“A lot of these questions—shame on us—we should have had answered before the day before we signed the contract, so that’s one concern I have for this board,” Christensen said. “Another concern I have is that the credibility for Charlevoix County is kind of on the line here. And, the third concern I have is we’re kind of leaving Boyne City in a lurch here because they didn’t come to us; we came to them.”
He added, “To pull the rug out from under it at the last minute I personally don’t think that speaks well for the county in any future reference that we might have or any other grants we might pursue.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Bob Drebenstedt agreed with Christensen that going this far in the process only to pull out would be counter-intuitive.
Phase one of the trail is 3.2 miles, from Boyne City to Park of the Pines, and must be completed by summer of 2014.
Funds have been pledged by the following entities in the following amounts to help fund the non-motorized trail:
The $565,900 figure is a grant the county hopes to get from the MDOT enhancement act program—the funds have been applied for and conditionally approved.
The $300,000 figure is a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant that has also been applied for and conditionally approved.
Boyne City has applied for an MDOT Transportation Enhancement Act Grant in the amount of $565,900