Road Commission Updates: Roadkill Clash, Bluff Road, Signal Upgrades
By Beth Milligan | April 27, 2023
The Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) board will discuss an ongoing clash with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources over how deer carcasses and other roadkill are disposed of their 6pm meeting tonight (Thursday). The board will also discuss Bluff Road – including whether fencing should be installed around the recently decertified stretch of roadway – and several traffic signal projects at key local intersections.
The GTCRC and DNR are at odds over how dead deer and other roadkill along local roadways should be disposed of – with the GTCRC temporarily halting collecting carcasses until the issue can be resolved.
GTCRC Manager Brad Kluczynski says road commissions across Michigan have been picking up deer carcasses since the 1970s after the DNR stopped doing so. “They’re their deer, and we don’t get any money from it,” Kluczynski says. “But we have no problem doing the service.” When GTCRC receives a call about roadkill in urban or residential areas, staff will collect the carcass and travel to a remote area – typically a heavily wooded gravel or seasonal road – and put the carcass near the side of the road in the public right-of-way to decompose naturally. Local farmers have also sometimes given GTCRC permission to use fields for disposal.
But late last year, the DNR told GTCRC to stop putting carcasses on state land. Kluczynski says drivers weren’t placing roadkill on actual state property, only the public right-of-way along roads adjacent to state property. But the DNR said it would ticket drivers for littering/dumping if GTCRC continued the practice, Kluczynski says. The DNR suggested GTCRC put the carcasses in its own dumpsters, or dig a pit to bury them, but local trash collectors have told GTCRC they won’t take the bodies and using a pit will create environmental issues under state regulations, Kluczynski says.
“The only real solution is to do exactly what the DNR has told us and move (the roadkill) to the outside of the road (where the deer was hit),” he says. “The problem is that you’re moving them closer to people’s homes. It’s not healthy to have them sitting around in residential areas where kids are playing. The smell can also get bad.” Kluczynski says that GTCRC collects a significant number of deer carcasses, so leaving them on the side of roads will quickly become noticeable. “We’re picking up 500 deer a year,” he says. “In the busy season, it can be 20 deer a week.”
GTCRC has asked for permission in writing from the DNR to continue collecting and disposing of carcasses as it has traditionally, Kluczynski says. However, he says the DNR has been nonresponsive to attempts to resolve the issue. In a statement to The Ticker, DNR Public Information Officer Ed Golder said: “Nothing in the law prevents road commissions from removing animal carcasses from roadways under their management. Once removed, those carcasses should be disposed of properly. We have had complaints of carcasses being dumped on state-managed public land in Grand Traverse County. The DNR’s goal is to avoid this kind of illegal activity.” For his part, Kluczynski says GTCRC is obeying state laws and isn’t doing anything differently than it’s always done or that other road commissions do in Michigan. Until the issue is resolved, GTCRC is pausing picking up local roadkill.
“I can’t have my drivers getting tickets and having problems just for doing their jobs,” Kluczynski says. “Until we’re able to get something in writing, we’re just able to do the bare minimum (moving carcasses off roads to decompose nearby). I want it to be well-known that it’s not us. We’re ready to go back to doing this tomorrow if we can get it resolved.”
After a deteriorating section of Bluff Road on Old Mission Peninsula was recently decertified by GTCRC – a move that indicates the road is no longer being actively maintained – GTCRC leaders are working with Peninsula Township officials and residents on what will happen next in the corridor. In addition to approving a resolution indicating that GTCRC will “work collaboratively” with Peninsula Township to find funding sources to fix and reopen the road, board members tonight will also discuss the possibility of upgrading the current snow fencing along the closed area to a more substantial permanent cyclone fencing.
Kluczynski says bids for the fencing came in “insanely high,” with three cost estimates submitted of $37,013.65, $41,942.55 and $67,724.67. At those rates, GTCRC would need to split the fencing costs with Peninsula Township if the project were to go ahead, he says. GTCRC is not required to install different fencing, and some neighbors appear opposed to it, he says.
Kluczynski notes the Bayshore Marathon will use a part of the decertified stretch of Bluff Road this year, but says that’s out of GTCRC’s control. The corridor is now considered public right-of-way for walking, biking, and running for individuals at their own risk, he says, though vehicle traffic can be ticketed if the Sheriff’s Office chooses to enforce the current closure to cars.
Finally, road commissioners will vote tonight to approve an $828,810.55 contract with J. Ranck Electric, Inc. for a project to upgrade two traffic signals on South Airport Road at the Veterans Drive and Garfield Road intersections. Kluczynski says the signals are at the end of their lifespans, and the upgrades will provide more reliability and visibility at the busy intersections. The project will require some temporary closures at those intersections, similar to signal modernization work that has occurred recently at Chums Corner.
Road commissioners will also approve a contract tonight with the same company to remove the traffic signal at the Cherryland Center on Garfield Avenue. Kluczynski says the signal is “severely decayed” and needs to come down. If traffic to the Cherryland Center significantly increases going forward as new business uses come online, GTCRC will do a traffic study to determine if a new replacement signal needs to be installed. If that occurs, the Cherryland Center would be required to split the signal costs with GTCRC, according to Kluczynski.Comment