Peninsula Township and Peninsula Fire Department seeking land for Fire Station 3 on north end of Old Mission Peninsula
Intersection of Center Road and Swaney Road | Jane Boursaw Photo

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At the Peninsula Township Board meeting this week, township officials read a resolution into the minutes that opposes the transfer of M37 (Center Road) from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to the Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC).

The resolution cites several reasons why the Township is opposed to the transfer, including inaction by the Road Commission to address several road issues on the Old Mission Peninsula, the possibility of M37 funds being diverted to roads elsewhere in the county, and the fact that M37 is a Pure Michigan Scenic Byway, which must follow guidelines set by a legislative act.

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The Peninsula Township Board is requesting that all issues regarding the transfer be stopped, that a 30-day comment period and public hearing be published, and that all tree cutting on Peninsula Township shoreline roads be stopped until the resolution is honored.

County’s Removal of Trees on Bluff Road, Peninsula Drive Caused Erosion

One issue with the Road Commission’s maintenance of Peninsula Township roads occurred two years ago in 2017, when more than 300 trees were marked for removal along Bluff Road. Despite the fact that Township residents organized and circulated a petition to thwart the project (read more here), a good portion of those trees were cut. A similar issue took place on Peninsula Drive a year earlier in 2016.

“When those trees were cut along Peninsula Drive and Bluff Road, we told the Road Commission that removal of that vegetation would cause serious erosion problems,” says Peninsula Township Supervisor Rob Manigold. “We told them at the time that the road was eventually going to go into the lake. We thought it would be a little longer before that happened, but with the rise of the water and the erosion that’s taken place along Peninsula Drive and Bluff Road, we thought it was important to put that (in the resolution).

A Terrible Thing for Peninsula Township”

In a Nov. 19, 2019 Traverse City Ticker story by Beth Milligan, Road Commission Manager Brad Kluczynski notes that the county is able to “execute local projects at a cheaper rate than MDOT, resulting in a more efficient use of funds and potential leftover monies for other projects.”

But that comment is a matter of concern for Manigold. “The county would actually have a serious amount of money that comes in from M37 that could be used elsewhere in the county,” he notes. “Quite frankly, I’ve been getting a lot of calls about road maintenance and roads not being plowed adequately, and if we take more money away from M37, it would certainly be a terrible thing for Peninsula Township.”

Peninsula Township Treasurer Brad Bickle agrees. “If the transfer from MDOT to the Road Commission goes through, they’re going to take moneys that would have been spent for maintaining and improving this vital highway and spend them elsewhere,” he says. “In (the Ticker story), they just reinforced that when they take it over, they can do what they want. That’s not really what the spirit of that should be.”

Old Mission Point Park and Lighthouse Park are State Parks

Manigold notes that Peninsula Township was never asked or informed about the transfer of M37 from MDOT to the Road Commission, and it’s not a done deal. He adds that MDOT and the Road Commission have gone on record noting that because Mission Point Lighthouse and Old Mission Point Park are no longer state parks, M37 no longer needs to be a state road.

“That’s just not true,” says Bickle. “I don’t think they’ve been communicated to correctly, but we’re going on record here to say that (Old Mission Point Park) is still a state park. M37 needs to stay with MDOT, and they need to suspend going forward with this until they have all the real facts in front of them on this matter. Someone in one of these two agencies ran a few stop signs, so we need to put this thing in neutral, revisit the facts of the matter, and reconvene, maybe have us at the table and talk about the realities, miscommunications and misinformation.”

Peninsula Township’s Resolution Regarding M37

Here is part of the resolution which Peninsula Township has submitted to MDOT and the Grand Traverse County Road Commission:

Whereas, analysis of erosion along Bluff Road, East Shore Road, and Peninsula Drive shows that storm damage from wind action along with near all-time high water has accelerated erosion along the entire shoreline; and

Whereas, in 1986, the all-time high water levels caused a substantial loss of beach and the tow of the banks was eroded, creating a steep bank that was unstable; and

Whereas, a number of bank stabilization efforts attempted to address the erosion problems but no major programs were implemented to restore the banks to a more stable slop; and

Whereas, the township master plan and zoning ordinance were revised to address new construction, and the zoning board of appeals was able to address existing structure problems; and

Whereas, during the long period of low water, shoreline vegetation re-established itself along the shore, but the steep banks remained; and

Whereas, in 2019, high water levels, which are projected to remain over the winter and into next summer, have exposed the shoreline to vegetation loss and accelerated erosion, including slumping of the slopes to within two feet of the driving lane on Bluff Road; and

Whereas, bank stabilization is necessary for the protection of roads where the steep bank has slumped due to erosion; and

Whereas, responsibility for bank stabilization rests with a number of agencies and persons both within and beyond the road rights-of-way; and

Whereas, the township zoning administrator and Grand Traverse County Road Commission staff toured Bluff Road and Peninsula Drive on October 31, 2019, to look at erosion problems and discovered that many sites have current or future bank failures as evidenced by slumping and “alligator cracking of the pavement”; and

Whereas, the staff person told the zoning administrator that the road commission does not have responsibility for fixing the problem; and

Whereas, the GTCRC cut a number of trees in the Bluff Road right-of-way to remove trees that are shading the road and causing asphalt to deteriorate due to moisture retention; and

Whereas, the road commission staff discussed the placement of guard rails in places where the top of the bank was within the shoulder of the road with township staff but no action was taken; and

Whereas, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) made a proposal on August 19, 2019, to the GTCRC to turn jurisdiction over M37 to the road commission; and

Whereas, the road commission accepted the concept on October 20, 2019, according to the Record Eagle; and

Whereas, transferring jurisdiction of M37 to the Grand Traverse County Road Commission is not in the best interests of Peninsula Township for the following reasons:

The transfer is inconsistent with the township master plan’s goal of keeping M37 as a free-flowing road with improvements in the future so that agricultural products have access to markets;

M37 is a Pure Michigan Scenic Byway, which provides for special maintenance and improvement programs as required by Act 69 of 1993, as amended, specifically sections 2, 3 and 4;

M37 serves Old Mission Peninsula State Park and Lighthouse Park;

Maintenance and operating funds will be diverted to other primary roads in the county as proposed by MDOT in a letter to the GTCRC manager dated August 19, 2019;

The transfer would eliminate the opportunity for transportation enhancement or other grants that are only given to state trunk line highways; and

Whereas, Act 69 of 1993, as amended, effective Dec. 30, 2014, requires a 30-day comment period and an opportunity for a public hearing before the department may make additions, deletions, or changes in the Pure Michigan byway system;

Now, therefore, be it resolved:

  1. The Peninsula Township Board of Trustees requests that Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners to oppose any deletion of M37 from the Pure Michigan byway system; and
  2. The Peninsula Township Board of Trustees requests the Michigan Department of Transportation to withdraw the offer to transfer jurisdiction of M37 to the GTCRC; and
  3. The Peninsula Township Board of Turstees requests the GTCRC to withdraw its acceptance of the offer to transfer jurisdiction of M37; and
  4. The Peninsula Township Board of Trustees requests that the Michigan Department of Transportation publish for a 30-day comment period followed by a public hearing in Peninsula Township as required by Section 7 of Act 69 of 1993, as amended, effective Dec. 30, 2014; and
  5. The Peninsula Township Board of Trustees requests that Grand Traverse County Road Commission to stop all tree cutting on all Peninsula Township shoreline roads until the above requests are honored.

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