Traverse City News and Events

City Commissioners Approve FishPass MOU, Tree Ordinance

By Beth Milligan | Nov. 5, 2019

Traverse City commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Monday for the proposed FishPass project at the Union Street Dam – one of several key approvals commissioners will need to grant as the project moves closer to actual construction. Commissioners also approved a long-discussed city tree ordinance - which will go into effect November 14 - but delayed decisions on proposals to leave city in-street pedestrian signs up year-round and to rename a portion of Sixth Street.

The FishPass memorandum of understanding (MOU) is a 10-year agreement that outlines the “roles and responsibilities” of partners in the $18-$22 million project, including the City of Traverse City, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC). The agreement states that the city will be responsible for acquiring any necessary easements from neighboring property owners to construct and operate FishPass, will maintain ownership of the facility, and will be listed on all construction permit applications. All scientific collection permits for the experimental fish-passage system will be issued by the DNR, which is also responsible for blocking all fish passage up the Boardman River until the Union Street Dam is removed and FishPass is completed. GLFC, meanwhile, is responsible for obtaining funding for the project.

All partners are required to self-insure against any potential liabilities, and agree to meet annually to review the progression of FishPass. Data collected by scientists at the site will be published and shared between all partners, who will also report to a FishPass Advisory Board comprised of representatives from national and international agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and U.S. Geological Survey, among others. The partners are also expected to approve several additional agreements that will cover the operations, maintenance, and scientific objectives of FishPass.

A long line of public commenters asked commissioners to either delay approving the MOU or to oppose the motion entirely Monday, citing concerns ranging from a perceived absence of public input on the project to a lack of environmental studies on its scientific basis to outstanding questions about funding and what fish species will be allowed to pass up the Boardman River. But commissioners disputed many of those concerns, citing several years of planning and public input meetings that led up to Monday's vote.

"We have experts working on this project, they worked on this project for years," said Commissioner Tim Werner. "I don't know what's behind this eleventh hour effort to delay the project...I'm baffled by what's going on." Commissioner Amy Shamroe agreed a "very long process and a long discussion" preceded the MOU vote, and said the FishPass project "is something that has been carefully studied." Commissioner Roger Putman, citing the unanimous approval of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians for the MOU, said he believed the Tribe should have "the first voice in this matter. I think that their deep-rooted respect for the earth, land, and waters is without question, and it would be in my humble opinion disrespectful to ignore their position and leadership in this matter at this point."

Commissioner Brian McGillivary also said he believed the existing deteriorating Union Street Dam posed a bigger risk than FishPass, and that he believed the project would be "a great opportunity for this community to host a laboratory that would do research, so that we don't have to keep pumping thousands and thousands and thousands of gallons of poison into our streams and rivers (fighting sea lamprey)." He continued: "Why would we want to continue that being our way of addressing sea lamprey, when there's a possibility for us here to participate in the development of other alternative means to prevent the passage of invasives up the river?" McGillivary concluded: "I just don't see the downsides here...I think the opportunity here is much greater than the risk that's involved."

City commissioners Monday also approved a revised city tree ordinance that's been discussed by leaders for over a year. The ordinance sets minimum tree canopy requirements for properties in city limits – which range as low as 10 percent in downtown to as high as 50 percent in rural residential areas – with the canopy minimum enforced anytime new construction or expansion takes place. Owners who can’t meet the minimum can pay instead into a city tree planting fund. Other changes require at least 50 percent of tree plantings to be species native to Michigan and healthy trees within water setbacks to be preserved. The policy provides exception for Cherry Capital Airport, noting that “compliance is not required for trees which are removed for an aeronautical use,” and that “planting of trees that will grow above the height limits established in the airspace of Cherry Capital Airport…or (that) creates hazards to aviation shall be prohibited.”

The ordinance also requires residential properties to have one tree for every 4,000 square feet of lot size, with typical lots in Traverse City averaging 8,200 square feet (or two required trees). As with commercial properties, the ordinance requirements are only triggered in the event of new construction or expansion/redevelopment on a residential parcel. Shamroe expressed concern the policy would be "punitive" to residential development, but City Planning Director Russ Soyring indicated most residential properties already exceed the requirements and would not be impacted by the change. McGillivary said he didn't believe the ordinance was perfect and likely had some "things that can be improved upon," but called it "better than what we currently have." The policy was adopted by a 5-2 vote - with Commissioners Richard Lewis and Werner opposed - and will take effect November 14.

Finally, commissioners Monday delayed decisions on proposals to leave city in-street pedestrian signs up at crosswalks year-round and to rename a portion of Sixth Street near Munson Medical Center. The former request was referred to the city's traffic committee to analyze and bring back a recommendation on to city commissioners within 30 days. For the latter proposal, commissioners lacked enthusiasm for a request from Munson Medical Center to rename Sixth Street between Madison Street and Beaumont Place to Decker Drive, in honor of founder James Decker Munson. The hospital sought the name change to avoid confusion over that particular section of Sixth Street, which has been physically rerouted due to hospital construction and is no longer a contiguous part of Sixth Street.

Commissioners indicated they might support giving the stretch of road a different name in the future, but were lukewarm on Decker Drive, pointing out it was derived from a middle name and likely wouldn't carry significance for residents. Citing the late hour at the time of discussion - the commission meeting went past 10pm, a three-hour running time - the group decided not to debate the street name further and to let the discussion drop for the time being.

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