By Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
The Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 to apply for a $300,000 state grant to help pay for the second phase of the Boyne City to U.S. 31 non-motorized trail.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Richard Gillespie was the lone nay vote on the matter that followed a nearly 40-minute discussion consisting of a flurry of concerns, opinions and questions that consumed the public hearing on the matter.
“I’m just wondering if Boyne City could possibly maybe have a larger amount that they’re going to put into the bike path,” said Roger Conaway. “A city that is larger than most cities except Charlevoix, I feel that Boyne City is lacking in a couple of things: Boyne City does not have a bike trail to get to this bike path yet. They’ve got a white line out here on the highway, which is ludicrous and bogus as far as any children being on the bike trail, so-called.”
He added, “Being that they want us to have a trail out in the countryside, it behooves them that they would put some more money into it.”
Bob Taylor asked if any of the residents along the trail route had been give any updated information on the plans for the trail.
“I’m curious, has something been given out to us in reference to the paperwork and so forth that goes with this?” he said. “It looks like you’re about to listen to us for a few minutes and then put it in place.”
Taylor said the public should have been given advanced notice of the public hearing.
Charlevoix County Commission Board Chairman Joel Evans said that the Charlevoix County Parks and Recreation Director Ross Maxwell had illustrated where the trails will go with a map at a recent meeting.
“That may answer your first question,” Evans said.
Maxwell said for the last four months he has had the maps at parks and recreation meetings.
“I don’t know anything about this and you’re going to vote on it tonight,” Taylor said.
Evans countered that the board was only voting on whether to apply for another Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant.
“We weren’t funded for phase two last year, which supposedly was going to go from Waller Road to Camp Seagull—6.2 total miles, $2.9 million,” Maxwell said.
Taylor said he had a problem with the fact that the county was working on securing funding for phase two while phase one was not completed.
“We have the right-of-way acknowledgments out right now for all the property owners acknowledging the easement back in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Maxwell said. “We’ve got 20 percent of them back so far and they’ve all been positive, and we’ve offered to go meet individually with the property owners.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen said Maxwell had also proposed the plan to Charlevoix County subcommittees and the full board before.
“The purpose of a public hearing is to accept public comments and input. I think, by virtue of that fact, it behooves the public to inform themselves, and this information was certainly available, as Mr. Christensen indicated, at other meetings,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner Larry Sullivan (R-District 6).
“Mr. Maxwell has indicated that he is always willing to talk to people and provide information to them. If the public hearing is run as a public hearing where the sole purpose is to accept public comments we stay away from the bantering back and forth and the debate which can degenerate into arguments … and I think if we run our public meetings in that manner we could move forward in a more expeditious manner and the public could certainly avail themselves to the opportunities prior to the meeting to talk with those individuals.”
He added, “Short of doing that, a second method of running a public hearing would be to have the appropriate staff person provide a brief summary and overview of the project … then open it up to public comments.”
Taylor said too much occurs behind the scenes of the county board to do things Sullivan’s way.
Charlevoix County Commissioner George T. Lasater (R-District 1) asked which phase of the trail the right-of-way forms had referred to Maxwell responded that they dealt with phase one.
“So nothing has been sent out for phase two?”
Maxwell affirmed Lasater’s question.
Conaway said he had been told there might be a variation of the trail route and asked if the trail would be on the west side of Boyne City-Charlevoix Road for most of the route.
“We moved it to the other side of the road on the Boyne City side. Boyne City-Charlevoix Road will be on the Susan Lake side of the road and basically starts before Waller Road, comes down U.S. 31 right-of-way to the Boyne City-Charlevoix Road,” Maxwell said. “Last year the project (as proposed) crossed the Boyne City-Charlevoix Road and that wouldn’t have been good. And, there’s not as many driveways to deal with. It’s on the Susan Lake side of the road for approximately 3.3 miles. It’s ending at Quarterline Road.”
Speaking of phase I, Conaway said the opposite side of the road coming out of Boyne City has the least number of driveways and fewer trees would need to be cut down.
Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Baumann said he feels those working on the trail are doing a good job.
“In response to one of the earlier comments, private fund by Boyne City groups and supporters of the trail have raised $30,000 in private funding for this,” Baumann said. “And, I think Boyne City people will continue to support the trail financially … and I think this is a great project and we need to keep moving on it.”
Baumann said the reason the right-of-way letters were not sent until recently were due to waiting on the Charlevoix County Road Commission to OK the wording on the letters.
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain said Boyne City has been a strong advocate and partner of the trail.
“We support all the sections along the way,” he said.
“I think this is a great opportunity that the county has and it really dovetails well with the governor’s plans to create trails throughout the State of Michigan. He sees it … as an economic development tool that’s really going to help the state in the future.”
Cain added, “As much as I like the wheelway and the trail in Gaylord, I’d much rather have them coming by our front doors and our merchants … so we encourage you to go forward with this project.”
A property owner near Young State Park said he would like to meet with county officials over his concerns about the trail.
Maxwell said as soon as the snow is gone the parks and recreation officials will begin meeting with concerned property owners.
“It’s important that people know they’re not going to see a bike trail going across their property, that’s not going to happen,” said Evans.
Lasater wanted clarification on how the process will work if people oppose the trail.
“Let’s say we have 99.9 percent of the people sign off and say it’s OK but we have that one property owner … who does not want it on his property, what happens then, what do we do? Does that stall the whole program?” Lasater said.
Maxwell said the trail will be built in the road right-of-way.
“It shouldn’t be built on private property,” Maxwell said.
Evans asked if there are places where the right-of-way isn’t big enough.
Maxwell said he wasn’t sure about that.
According to Reinhardt, the trail can be built within the 66-foot road right-of-way but if it were to go farther up into the additional right-of-way it would require permission from the landowner.
“It was purchased for highway use only,” Reinhardt said.
Maxwell said he believed the attorney general’s opinion was that highway use included non-motorized trails.
Conaway claimed that the attorney general’s opinion only applied to the first 66 feet of right-of-way and not the additional 16.5 feet.
Christensen said he did not disagree with Reinhardt’s assertion but he did clarify that the document in question from the road commission was not for approval to build trail on people’s property in the right-of-way but to allow the road commission to temporarily move equipment onto people’s property while building the trail.
Gillespie said he supports the project but feels the “cart is before the horse” since all property owners have not been contacted.
Reinhardt said he also supported the trail but was concerned that bike riders and walkers would not be paying fees to use it in the way that snowmobilers and four-wheeler riders pay registration fees.
Conaway expressed concern that not enough people know they can have their property reassessed after the trail is built which, in effect, could mean lower taxes on the portion of their property wherein there is an extended right-of-way.
“I think that there is such a thing, and I mean this in a kind way, that there is such a thing as personal responsibility,” Evans said. “If you’ve got questions concerning your property on the assessment then you need to go … to the township or equalization department or the assessor.”
Sullivan said the county should contact assessors where the larger than normal right-of-way exists along the trail route and ask them to look into it and make adjustments as necessary.