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Wetland study to test South Bay project

ALPENA TOWNSHIP — A wetland assessment study in the coming weeks could determine if a pair of proposed projects move forward in Alpena Township.

The assessment will be on property being considered for an extension of the Alpena Bi-path and a park near the 45th Parallel on U.S.-23 South.

The group South Bay has worked hard over the last six years to improve the highly traveled section of U.S.-23 south of the city proper, has spearheaded many cleanup initiatives, and has created a small park a short distance from the highway. One of the group’s largest visions, though, is to increase use and spur development in the area. The group’s members believe having the bi-path lead to the park near Squaw Bay would help accomplish that. Plans are to name the park Peter Pettalia Memorial Park after the former state representative who died in September 2016.

In order to do so, however, there are likely hurdles to overcome, because officials believe there are protected wetlands in the areas where the bike route and roadside park are proposed.

The study, which South Bay President Larry Clark said should take six to eight weeks to complete, will help determine if the presence of wetland can be overcome or not. If the assessment shows the projects are possible, a land evaluation would be done and then a wetland use permit application would be filed with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which would have final say on the use of the land.

“If there are no blatant issues, we’ll proceed with survey work and submit the application to the DEQ,” Clark said. “They could also come back and say there are too many endangered species or find something that we know will cause us not to get our application approved, and then we’ll move in another direction.”

South Bay has a purchase agreement in place with a property owner near Squaw Bay where the park could be built. Clark said that purchase is contingent on getting the needed permit to move forward with the projects.

The Charter Township of Alpena Board of Trustees amended its budget to provide South Bay enough money to have the assessment done. The board allocated $5,000 for the assessment and other, smaller projects the group does each year. Township Supervisor Nathan Skibbe said the bi-path extension and park would be great additions to the community and he is eager to see the results of the study.

“This is pivotal, and the initial step in even knowing if moving forward is even feasible,” Skibbe said.

At the last board meeting, Clark asked the trustees to pass a resolution of support for the project, which is included in the township’s recreation and master plans, but the board felt it was best to wait to do so until the wetland assessment is complete.

“It would have been difficult to do a resolution of support until we know this is viable,” Skibbe said. “That is one of the reasons the study is so important, because we are still trying to get all of the pieces in line and, in order to do that, we need to know where the project stands.”

Clark said the township board had passed a resolution of support previously and was disappointed it didn’t again. He said having the township involved is a must, should South Bay get to the point to where it needs to seek grant funds for construction.

Skibbe said that, if the assessment clears the way closer to getting a wetland use permit, the township would reconsider the resolution. He said the township also needs to know who would cover the cost of paying for the park’s upkeep once it’s built.

“Legacy costs and maintenance matter, and are always the utmost of concerns,” Skibbe said.

Clark said South Bay is aware of the township’s concerns and is working to find a viable way to address them.

“It is something we are working on and intend to have in place before we begin to apply for construction grants,” Clark said.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.