FishPass or Parkland? Traverse City Resident Fights Project
“This is Round 3 of a 15-Round fight and I look forward to every round.” - Rick Buckhalter
The Traverse City man suing the City to stop the FishPass project says he feels like he scored a victory after a judge put the project on hold.
Construction on FishPass was supposed to start Monday. But it’s not happening – at least for now.
Back in December the court denied Rick Buckhalter’s motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the project – but the court took the issue up again last Friday. This time Judge Thomas Power expressed concern that there may be misrepresentations about the FishPass effort, and he wants more information. It came after trees that were supposed to be saved, now appear to be marked for removal.
And Friday’s ruling may not have happened, if Traverse City resident and former County Commissioner Tom Mair hadn’t noticed the trees were spray-painted last Wednesday. He notified the court. “We’ve got an injunction to prevent anything from happening… so we’re safe for the time being. “
FishPass is designed to replace the Union Street Dam and protect native fish, while keeping out any invasive species. It’s a roughly $20 (M) dollar project, which includes federal dollars and grant funding. The city has been working with the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission for years to make it happen. The City already held a virtual groundbreaking in October to mark the unofficial start of construction.
Mair says removing trees that may be over 100 years old, to replace them with steel pilings to re-enforce the riverbank, doesn’t make any sense. “What the city has done is marked all the trees to be cut. That’s what’s holding the bank from erosion. That’s why there is a bank, because the trees and roots of the trees hold the bank in place.” He, too, says Friday’s injunction is good news. “It saves everything. We saved 63 trees from end of life. They’re still here and they should stay here.”
Buckhalter adds, “This is one of the most important parks in the city. It’s a neighborhood park. It’s where neighborhood boys have their Huckleberry Finn moment. I’m not doing it so much for myself but I remember what it’s like to play around as a kid and have a special place like this.”
The ultimate goal, Buckhalter says, is to see this issue put to a vote of city residents. He says the area is city parkland, and the city charter calls for a vote before disposing of parkland – which is what Buckhalter feels is being done with FishPass.
“We had planned on doing a referendum last June. The Governor had the no-contact order and we couldn’t get signatures. I had made inquiries to the City and the State. When the City took the action to allow the Corps of Engineers to enter the property and build it, that was the trigger we needed to do the referendum. But we couldn’t because the Governor extended the order. This should have been on the ballot in November but we couldn’t. We had to go to court because there was no other way.”
The City Manager tells 9&10 News that the City Attorney will be filing a new communication with the court with additional information. So far there has been no other comment from the City.
It’s not clear yet when the case will be back in court, but a trial date on Buckhalter’s suit is set for May. It’s likely the parties will revisit the issue before then.