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Bill would allow sale of state land

September 4, 2009
Patty Ramus

For the last five years, Lloyd Good only has had to walk a half-mile from his driveway to go hunting or take a stroll through nature.

He accesses state property that's located northeast of his Oscoda Township home. He's often joined by friends who come up from downstate to hunt with him and he knows of several neighbors who also use the land.

"It's a great area to walk and view wildlife," he said.

Good and his wife don't want to see part of the land they're so accustomed to visiting to be sold and developed, which could become a reality if a proposal currently in Senate committee receives support.

In June Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, introduced House Bill 5058, which passed the House by a 74-35 vote on June 25 and was referred to the Senate committee on appropriations on July 15. The bill would require the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to convey about 475 acres of public land in Iosco County to golf course developer, Boyd "Stan" Aldridge. The revenue would be credited to the game and fish protection account of the Michigan conservation and recreation legacy.

Sen. Tony Stamas, R-Midland, introduced the nearly identical Senate Bill 730 on Aug. 5. In Stamas' bill, the revenue would be credited to the general fund. The bill was referred to the committee on appropriations. Sheltrown said he plans to work with Stamas to have an amendment included in the Senate bill that would require the land to be reverted back to the state if a golf course is not built within five years.

The legislation has become a source of contention between those who see the proposal as a chance for economic development in the region and the DNR and land users who don't want to lose the property because of its recreational opportunities.

According to Mary Dettloff, DNR public information officer, the acreage area mentioned in the bills is located north and east of Van Etten Lake and just south of Kings Corner Road. It's part of an 800-acre contiguous block which is used for recreation purposes.

Dettloff said the DNR is opposed to selling the land because the department hasn't designated the area as surplus which can be disposed of through auction, land transfer or trade. A sale of the property would result in a loss of land for recreation use as well as future timber revenue. Species of concern, including the secretive locust, also are on the land.

"There's many, many reasons why we don't think this is a good idea. It's not to say we oppose economic development in that region - we don't. It's just with that particular parcel of land it's not a good fit," she said.

Sheltrown said he originally asked the DNR to identify parcels it wanted so Aldridge could purchase them for a land trade, but the department wasn't open to this. He then went through the process of introducing the bill to have the land be conveyed by legislature, which is allowed in the state constitution. A sale of the 475 acres shouldn't affect recreational opportunities because the department is continuing to purchase land in other areas.

"I can tell you at 20 percent unemployment, anything to create jobs has to be looked at seriously. I have to do what I can to create employment opportunities for people," he said.

Aldridge has attempted to work with the DNR for the past three to four years to acquire the land. He plans to use the land as the location for a 18-hole replica of the St. Andrews golf course in Scotland. The land is adjacent to Lakewood Shores Resort, which is home to three golf courses owned by Aldridge. The shape of the property works well for the planned replica, said Craig Peters, general manager and director of golf at Lakewood Shores.

Peters said the course draw people to Northeast Michigan, especially from the Illinois, Ohio and Canada markets.

"St. Andrews, for those golfers who are avid golfers, is the holy grail of golf," he said.

Oscoda Township officials are in support of Aldridge's efforts. On Aug. 10, the township board of trustees voted 6-0 to adopt a resolution of support for the replica golf course plans. Trustee Rick Binkowski was absent from the meeting. While the resolution did not specifically mention Sheltrown's or Stamas' bills, Supervisor Jim Baier said the township also supports the legislation to convey the land.

Baier has heard that the course would bring 60 seasonal jobs in the area, which is something not to be taken lightly with the current economy.

"I don't see any negatives," he said of the project.

The Goods started a petition drive at the end of June in opposition of the bills. As of Tuesday, Lloyd Good estimated he had nearly 1,500 signatures. The Goods oppose the bills because the land belongs to the people in the state; they disagree with the land being sold to a private individual without going through normal procedures and there's no need for another golf course, he said.

"I can tell you 60 part-time jobs, I don't believe, is worth 475 acres of state land," he said.

Good said they plan to present the petition signatures should they get the opportunity to testify before the committee in Lansing.

Michigan United Conservation Clubs also oppose the bills. MUCC members are concerned with the manner in which the land is being sold, and that nearly 500 acres of quality land used for hunting and wildlife habitat would be sold for development, said Dave Nyberg, MUCC government and public relations manager.

"Taking the decision capability (from the DNR) and forcing a sale to a special interest ... really is just bad public policy," he said.

Stamas said when he introduced his bill, he had heard from officials who were supportive of the legislation. He has since heard comments from people who have concerns. He's waiting to see what the community wants to do before deciding whether to further support the bills.

"I think that's important for myself and my colleagues," he said. "I think they're going to be looking to say 'OK is this something the community wants or supports?' If there's a real strong division I think this is something where they'll say 'Why should this move forward?'"

Patty Ramus can be reached via e-mail at pramus@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687.

 
 

 

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