By Benjamin Gohs
Two major announcements came out of the St. Marys Cement-Fisherman’s Island State Park land swap community advisory committee meeting last week.
The first announcement dealt with the decision to eventually release the information regarding the citizens committee findings; the other, talk of $2 million to $5 million worth of amenities, infrastructure upgrades, and concessions by St Marys, including a sizable increase in Lake Michigan frontage for the park should a swap occur.
“The report that myself and Ann Chastain (co-facilitator) are preparing at the end of this to summarize the meetings and outcomes, that report will be released to the public,” said Professional Meeting Facilitator Bill McGinnis of Milwaukee, Wisc. “It will spell out for the public what the interests were, what the concerns were and exactly what the feelings of the committee were and how it made its decision.”
St Marys Cement (former, see story on page 7) Operations Manager Dirk Cox said the company made the decision to release the report in an effort to remain proactive and open with the community about the potential land swap.
“I think the process is meeting or exceeding expectations,” said Cox. “There is a diverse range of opinions: some consensus, some disagreement, some majority opinions and some minority opinions.”
He added, “How can you go wrong when you have a group of people all focused on one issue?”
The committee was originally expected to meet three times but the Aug. 27 meeting was its fourth concerning potential pros and cons over St Marys’ consideration to trade a nearly 220-acre parcel of its land for 190 acres of Fisherman’s Island State Park.
“There will be at least one more … and the company is very supportive of that. They said we want the people on the committee to be comfortable and making fully-informed choices,” McGinnis said. “We explored what’s known and not known about a potential land swap. There have been a lot of rumors out there and we wanted to make sure everybody knew what was true and what was not true.”
He added, “Effectively, we have done that and I think everybody is comfortable that they know what it is. The company hasn’t said they want to do ‘X.’ What they said is, here are possible ways a land swap might look, and there is a great deal of flexibility from the committee.”
According to McGinnis, there are three major categories of issues the committee is interested in:
• Boundaries of land that would potentially be swapped, and how that affects trails, creeks, streams, wetlands, treed areas and the usability of the park
• What St Marys might be willing to do to help improve the park or make modifications that might be necessary in a land swap
• Whether St Marys would be willing to do other things in the community that might be beneficial
“Two weeks ago we went through what very specific boundary issues were important to people on the committee and we have a group that is pursuing that in more detail and will come back with recommendations on what could happen,” McGinnis said. “And, we’re to the point where we’re going to talk about other things that might be done to improve the park or provide assistance to the community in a broader scale.”
While McGinnis said there will certainly be one more meeting, he added that there may be more.
“I’m not in charge of the meetings,” he said. “I just run the meetings. The committee is really in charge and I need to get them to a place where they are comfortable in making decisions as to whether they think a potential land swap would or would not be a good idea for the community.”
McGinnis said he increased the number of meetings because it was obvious to him that the committee was not ready to make any decisions.
“Nobody is interested in jumping into this,” he said. “They want to have a thorough understanding, they want to be competent, and they are looking into the community’s best interests.”
The next article in this series will take a look at the technicalities of making a land swap with a piece of public property.