Traverse City News and Events

City Commissioners To Revisit Sealant Ban, Intersection Changes, Stormwater Rules

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 19, 2019

Traverse City commissioners tonight (Monday) will revisit a potential citywide ban on coal tar sealants, consider changing configurations at several intersections in the city, and vote to adopt new stormwater rules, among several topics on a busy agenda.

Commissioners approved a resolution earlier this month stating city departments won’t use any coal tar-based sealants going forward – products used in paving driveways, parking lots, and roads that contain hazardous chemicals linked to elevated cancer risks. But commissioners also expressed their interest in expanding the ban citywide, prohibiting private companies from using the products as well. The commission requested that City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht draft a resolution to that effect that they could vote on tonight. However, Trible-Laucht is recommending delaying the motion to allow for more time to research how such a policy would be implemented.

Trible-Laucht says she has “several questions and concerns” about how a community-wide ban would be enforced. Areas that still need to be worked through include outlining a process for testing questionable materials to prove they violate the ordinance, identifying a company that can conduct such testing in Traverse City, and determining how to handle a violation if one is identified. “Should (the material) be required to be removed? Encapsulated?” she wrote in a memo to commissioners. “Would removal exacerbate or spread the material even more than the initial application? Will the ordinance be enforced through random sampling of locations that may have used the product in the past, or on a complaint-driven basis for those locations where the product is applied going forward?”

Taking more time to research those issues is not believed to pose a significant danger to the community, as many companies have already moved away from using coal tar sealants and several major commercial stores have stopped carrying those products, according to Trible-Laucht. “Our initial inquiries indicate that this product is not being used by contractors and vendors the city uses and also that it is not available to be purchased by the general public at area retailers,” she wrote. If commissioners agree to a delay on a citywide ban to give Trible-Laucht more time to research her concerns, she said she will work with The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay to study the outstanding issues and create a draft resolution that could return to commissioners for a vote in the future.

Commissioners tonight will also vote on several traffic orders that could change the configurations of multiple city intersections. Among the proposed orders – which have been tested out on a temporary basis and would become permanent with commission approval – is a ban on left turns from Hall Street onto Grandview Parkway near Hotel Indigo. With new crosswalk signals installed along Grandview Parkway, city staff recommend banning left turns from Hall to avoid cars turning directly into the pedestrian crossing near the volleyball courts. In a related effort to ensure safety at the crosswalk, the city is recommending turning parking lot RB near the volleyball courts into a one-way flow of traffic (east-bound) to avoid traffic congestion near the pedestrian crossing.

Other recommended intersection changes throughout the city include:

> Installing new stop signs around the newly reconstructed Immaculate Conception Elementary School, including at all four sides of the Second and Cedar streets intersection to create a multi-way stop and on Vine Street at the intersection of Vine and Cedar.
> Adding new stop signs along the alley north of Eighth Street, including at Boardman Avenue, Wellington Street, Franklin Street, and Railroad Avenue.
> Installing a new stop sign on Centre Street at the intersection with Hastings Street – an upgrade from a current yield sign that’s recommended “due to increased traffic volume on Hastings Street,” according to city staff.
> Installing a “weight limit 42 tons” sign on the South Cass Street Bridge, adding “bus stop” signs on the west side of Airport Access Road between Indian Trail Boulevard and Westminster Road, and adding a “no parking” sign on south side of East Front Street between Munson Avenue and Indian Woods Drive.

Commissioners tonight will also consider adopting new city stormwater rules, which would go into effect August 29. An ad hoc committee of commissioners has worked for the past year on rewriting the ordinance, which now incorporates city guidelines for stormwater controls – currently listed in a separate document – into the ordinance, along with soil erosion and sedimentation control requirements mandated by state law. The changes are meant to allow developers to easily access all environmental regulations and guidelines in one place. The ordinance would also require annual certification from stormwater facility owners, and reduce a compliance window for addressing violations from 10 days to 5 days.

The ad hoc committee also studied the possibility of establishing a stormwater utility in Traverse City that could collect fees – usually based on the amount of an impervious surface a property owner has – to pay for city stormwater system improvements and maintenance. But the committee is putting off any recommendation on pursuing such a utility for the time being, citing the complex legal questions surrounding the issue. While Traverse City is estimated to have stormwater maintenance bills totaling in the tens of millions of dollars over the coming decades, several communities in Michigan have faced – and lost – lawsuits when they've introdouced stormwater fees. Legislation has long been discussed to make it easier for municipalities to establish stormwater utilities, but has not yet gained support among Michigan lawmakers.

“We are not at a point where we’re ready to recommend anything as it relates to a stormwater utility,” City Commissioner Richard Lewis, who chaired the ad hoc committee, recently told city commissioners. “There’s a lot of other action out there. We’re waiting to see what the state’s going to do.”

Pictured: City stormwater drain

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