"Road Closed" sign at the corner of Boursaw Road and Bluff Road | Jane Boursaw Photo
"Road Closed" sign at the corner of Boursaw Road and Bluff Road | Jane Boursaw Photo
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(Jim Raphael, a resident of the Mission Hills subdivision off Bluff Road where the road has been closed since January 2020 due to erosion, made the following presentation at the Peninsula Township Board meeting on Sept. 14, 2021. At that same meeting, the Board approved a resolution in support of re-opening Bluff Road, and the resolution was then forwarded to the Grand Traverse County Road Commission. Read more about the Bluff Road closure here. – jb)

Comments before the Peninsula Township Board of Supervisors
September 14, 2021

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Good evening. I’ve had the opportunity over the past 18 months to interact with some of you about the Bluff Road problem as a member of the Mission Hills BOD (Board of Directors). I am no longer on the board, and am speaking this evening strictly as a private property owner and taxpayer.

I ask that you support the resolution on Bluff Road before you this evening — at least in some form. Personally, I would like to see stronger language. The time has come for the Township to demand, not just request, that the Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) take action to fix the road.

More importantly, I hope that your consideration of the resolution this evening is just a first step forward in the Township’s active involvement and leadership on this matter.

One of the comments I’ve heard repeatedly from local residents over the past months is: Where is the Township? Why aren’t our elected officials doing something about the Bluff Road situation? It appears, at times, that fixing Bluff Road is being treated as a neighborhood problem, not a Township problem. Mission Hills and property owners north of our subdivision have been left to do the heavy lifting with the GTCRC. What little progress has been made with the GTCRC on the road closure has been a direct result of the work of a few private property owners and the Mission Hills HOA (Home Owners Association).

This needs to change. As one of the very few north-south throughway roads on the Peninsula, Bluff Road should be viewed by this Board as an important public good, serving the entire Township, not just a piece of local neighborhood infrastructure. Our local road system is much like the Township’s fire and emergency response system; even components that seem to serve a relatively small portion of the population are critical in creating a robust public good for everyone. You spent considerable resources building and manning a third fire station last year quite clearly with this philosophy in mind. I urge you to approach the Bluff Road problem in the same spirit.

Under other circumstances this would not be necessary, especially if the GTCRC was being run by competent professionals working with good will and in the best interest of the general public. Unfortunately, that is not the case at present. We are dealing with a management team bent on pursuing its own agenda, which basically is to shovel as much money as possible (including the road millage) into showcase megaprojects and high profile primary roadwork at the expense of local road maintenance here and around the County. The Bluff Road disaster is a direct outcome of the GTCRC’s current, lopsided mission.

Unless you become much more active in protecting our interests, starting with Bluff Road, Peninsula Township will continue to lose out. We have fewer miles of primary roads than many other Grand Traverse County townships (and certainly don’t want roundabouts), but pay more in road millage and other taxes than most. Those funds are not going to be coming back home under the current GTCRC regime.

There is much that might be done about the road closure at the Township level, but there is no time to go into detail this evening. Let me conclude by making several suggestions:

1) Consider paying for an independent engineering assessment of the Bluff Road condition and repair plan, based on GEI’s first phase study. GEI’s follow up work (phases two and three of the study) appears to be increasingly compromised by the manipulation of GTCRC management. Final GEI recommendations should be verified by a second source, especially if Township taxpayers are going to be called upon to help finance any of the road stabilization and repair, including drainage.

2) Actively search for outside funding for Bluff Road. This could include COVID relief funds still available at the state and county level; and STORM Act funds reportedly available in 2022. My wife Carol and I have met with a number of local and national elected officials about funding possibilities. But our voices are insignificant. The Township has standing, and would be much more effective than us in making the case for funds.

3) Begin planning next steps in the event the GTCRC decides to abandon the road. That is the obvious goal of the Commission’s senior management, if not the Commission Board itself, and you need to be prepared for that possibility. If abandoned, Bluff Road will become yours, or eventually will be turned into private property. Is that what you want?

I am happy to follow up with you on these thoughts, if it would be helpful.

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SUPPORT YOUR INDEPENDENT LOCAL NEWSPAPER: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

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