Traverse City News and Events

City Commissioners To Talk FishPass, Pedestrian Crossings

By Beth Milligan | Nov. 2, 2019

Traverse City commissioners will consider approving a memorandum of understanding 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 will also consider a proposal to leave in-street pedestrian signs up at city crosswalks year-round and a request from Munson Medical Center to rename a city street, among several other items on the commission’s agenda.

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 in the project, 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.

The MOU also clearly outlines the core mission of FishPass and asks members to commit to supporting its goals. “The mission of FishPass is to provide selective connectivity of fish species on the Boardman (Ottaway) River,” the document states. “To achieve this mission, FishPass has three overarching objectives: (1) develop and implement selective bi-directional fish guidance, sorting, and passage techniques and technologies; (2) determine protocols for implementing selective passage solutions within the Boardman (Ottaway) River and throughout the Great Lakes Basin; and (3) set solutions in a global context so the approach can be exported. Altogether, FishPass will be a world-class technology and research center in a park-like setting.”

City Manager Marty Colburn says the MOU is designed to facilitate “cooperation and communication” among project partners, putting into writing their “commitment…to develop agreements which support the operation and maintenance of FishPass and the Union Street Dam.” The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians approved the agreement this week. Colburn says he will be returning to commissioners at future meetings for approval of a right-of-entry to allow FishPass’ construction on city property, as well as related documents allowing the project to proceed. The city is simultaneously reaching out to the public to try and address any lingering concerns or questions about the project: GLCF has posted a draft 35-page report addressing a majority of the 207 questions submitted by residents online and at public meetings this fall about FishPass. A full report will be presented at a public open house in January.

City commissioners will also consider a request from Commissioner Tim Werner Monday to keep in-street pedestrian signs up at city crosswalks year-round. Staff typically remove the signs in mid-November for the winter, a move driven by concerns that plow trucks will hit the signs. But Werner says taking the signs out sends the wrong message to both drivers and pedestrians.

“We’re trying to encourage a walkable community, and many of us live here twelve months a year,” he says. “It’s disappointing to me to say, ‘No, we have to take the signs down.’ When we take the signs down, the rules (directing drivers to yield to pedestrians) still apply, but that’s not widely understood.” Werner says keeping the signs up would not only remind drivers they still have to watch out for pedestrians during winter months, but also give pedestrians more confidence in crossing. “I think pedestrians are more comfortable stepping out when the signs are there,” he says.

As for potential damage, Werner points out the in-street signs are clipped by drivers even during summer months, saying it’s just part of the nature of running the program. “Maybe a few will get hit and destroyed, but then we just have a plan to replace a few each year,” he says. “I’d rather us do it and figure out how to make it work better, instead of just taking them down.”

Finally, commissioners Monday will consider a request from Munson Medical Center to rename a portion of Sixth Street to Decker Drive. The request would apply to the section of Sixth Street located between Madison Street and Beaumont Place, which due to hospital construction has been geographically rerouted north. Steve Tongue, vice president of facilities at Munson, says the hospital “concluded it would make no sense for the street segment to retain the name Sixth Street because it will be located well north of Sixth Street and only accessible by either Beaumont Place or Madison Street.” Naming the road Decker Drive would honor founder James Decker Munson, whose “beauty is therapy” philosophy has been a “driving consideration” for Munson as it’s renovated its campus over the last decade, according to Tongue, adding that the founder’s “legacy to the community is clear.”

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