Letter about the Mouth of the Gratiot River
Dear Friend of the Mouth of the Gratiot River,
For more than a year, Keweenaw County (KC) has been negotiating the purchase of the mouth of the Gratiot River
(mogr) from Lake Superior Land Company (LSLC) for a county park. The mogr parcel contains about 100 acres, including 4,000 feet of
lakeshore and 3,000 feet of the Gratiot River. The park is to be used for hunting, fishing, agate picking and primitive camping for
kayakers. KC was awarded a $441,000 (75%) grant from the Michigan Natural Resources
Trust Fund for the purchase, and in late September a grant of $147,000 (the other 25%) was approved by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act
(NAWCA). The intent of both grants is to provide public recreational access and to protect the scenic and natural resources of the land, a perfect match,
with the intent of creating a county park.
|The mouth of the Gratiot River, where it flows into Lake Superior, could
become a Keweenaw County park through a potential grant from the Michigan
Natural Resources Trust Fund. (Aerial photo courtesy Neil Harri, DNR pilot)
The day before the sale was to close, Keweenaw County Commissioner Frank Stubenrauch
noticed in the paperwork provided by LSLC that an easement (drafted on Sept 21) was to be part of the deal. The easement,
benefiting the owners of Section 12 (NE of the park), bisects the park and includes a bridge across the mouth of the Gratiot River. Apparently, the easement is not yet official; it may be withdrawn if it would kill the sale of the mogr to the county. Unannounced inclusion of this deal-altering easement violates standard good-faith negotiating standards.
Following is a list of pro and con results if the easement and resulting bridge are included in the sale.
The easement will:
- Provide unlimited access to Section 12. (see #4 below)
- Increase the tax base. (see #6 below)
The easement will:
- Jeopardize the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant of $441,000. (Trust Fund representatives will be visiting soon to assess the impact of the easement/bridge.)
- Cancel the NAWCA Grant of $147,000. This is fact: If the easement/bridge is part of the sale, the county loses $147,000. (see also 3a and 3b below)
- Preclude subsequent land acquisition and public access in the Gratiot River area.
- KC is but one partner in the Phase II of the UP-wide NAWCA application. If NAWCA is lost, it could cancel the entire UP-wide Phase II grant
(KC/mogr is an important partner, an essential reason for the approval of the Phase II grant), including the Eagle Harbor Township purchase of Long Lake.
- If NAWCA Phase II is lost (in whole or in part), Phase III and beyond is also lost (About every two years, with subsequent funding likely due to successful earlier phases, new funding requests are made).
- Allouez Township, Trout Unlimited, the North Woods Conservancy, The Mott Foundation, The Conservation Fund, The National Wildlife
Federation and several other foundations and agencies have demonstrated interest in a larger Gratiot River Watershed Park
(GRWP). The purpose of the GRWP would be to maintain public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and other recreational uses -- and for forestry. The keystone parcel to this effort is the mouth of the Gratiot River. If there is a bridge across the mouth, this interest and these funding sources will dry up.
- Provide for a bridge across the Gratiot River. Bridge construction,
maintenance and use have a variety of direct and indirect impacts, both upon the land and upon the quality of park visitor experience.
- The easement provides for unlimited residential, commercial, and industrial use of 3 miles of currently unimproved county road (exiting Five Mile Point Road at Calvary Cemetery) and a bridge. This road and bridge would service up to 22 lakefront homes and unlimited other uses (residential subdivision, factory, retail space, etc.) in the 470 acres of Section 12, in perpetuity.
- The Gratiot River would be at risk because of the bridge: road salt, oil-gas-rubber runoff, possible hazardous waste spills, auto accidents, bridge
washouts and all other potential incremental or catastrophic pollution events.
- Degrade or eliminate the values for which the park was conceived and funded:
- Coaster Brook Trout Fishery
- Primitive camping
- Natural Resource Protection
- Semi-wilderness experience
- Provide for the sprawl development of Section 12, a remote tract far removed from all other developed land. Whatever increase in the tax base may occur will be erased by the cost of extending basic and emergency services to this tract.
This unilateral action by LSLC controverts logic and precedent. The easement was drawn up by Crystal Falls attorney Steve Tinti (retained by but not an employee of
LSLC), apparently in philosophical opposition to the idea of landlocked property.
There are at least two facts which negate this logic: 1) Section 12 is not landlocked. As established at trial, the Section 12 owners do have access to their property, albeit not for the unlimited purposes they desire. Section 12 owners and the public can and do drive to their property and the mouth of the Gratiot at will. What the seven surrounding landowners have denied the Section 12 owners is a 33-foot-wide, paved easement with utilities across their respective properties for unlimited residential, commercial and industrial purposes. 2) The Section 12 owners knew before they purchased their properties that no easement to it for subdivision existed, but they bought anyway and have attempted to coerce an easement from the surrounding owners without regard to the law, the truth, the constitutional rights of others or the public good.
If LSLC insists upon including this easement in the sale to the county, 1) the grants will be lost in whole ($588,000) or certainly in part (the $147,000 NAWCA grant), or 2) the purchase will not happen at all (in which case the parcel will be sold to the highest bidder and developed, resulting in no public access or use), or 3) the purchase will be made, and the county park will have a road through the middle of it with a necessarily large bridge across the mouth of the Gratiot River, bearing heavy, unlimited-purpose traffic to Section 12 for the benefit of a select few at the expense of the public good.
Keweenaw County must insist that including the easement/bridge in the sale violates the sales agreement, which was negotiated in good faith, and is simply not acceptable, for all the reasons listed above and more.
Please contact your township supervisor, county commissioner, KC Chairman Frank
Stubenrauch, State Rep. Rich Brown and Congressman Bart Stupak and urge them to refuse to accept this easement/bridge as part of the Mouth of the Gratiot River County Park purchase.
Monday, October 8, is the KC Board Ways & Means meeting at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse in Eagle River. This is where this topic will be discussed at length. It will also be discussed and voted on at the regular county board meeting on Tuesday, October 9m at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse.
PLEASE COME TO BOTH THESE MEETINGS, and bring your friends and neighbors! If you can only attend one meeting, come Monday.
North Woods Conservancy President
Allouez Township Resident and Taxpayer
Learn more about the author of this guest column, John Griffith.
Visit the Keweenaw Now discussion forums to comment on this
|Note: Views expressed by our guest columnists are not necessarily the views of Keweenaw Now.
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