Township wants an island

Officials reaching out to feds for rest of Thunder Bay Island property

Courtesy Art Thunder Bay Island is seen in this photo provided by the Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse Preservation Society. The Charter Township of Alpena already owns a portion of the island, including its lighthouse, but township officials are working with the federal government to acquire the balance of the land. An application is being sent to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, with hopes the feds will release the property to the township for no cost.

ALPENA TOWNSHIP — The Charter Township of Alpena Board of Trustees voted 7-0 Tuesday to approve a resolution supporting efforts for the township to acquire a portion of Thunder Bay Island it doesn’t already own.

The next step is an application to federal government.

The township currently owns a portion of Thunder Bay Island and officials have been working with the Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and others for about two years to have the feds sign the remainder of the land over to the township at no cost.

Township Supervisor Nathan Skibbe said the island and its lighthouse have rich histories dating back to before the development of Alpena. A desire to preserve that history and continue to allow public use of the island prompted the township to move forward.

“It gives us an opportunity to secure and lock in a local treasure for its cultural and historical resources,” Skibbe said. “Thunder Bay Island is Alpena before Alpena was Alpena. The history that surrounds that island is amazing. If I didn’t take the opportunity to lock in this local treasure, I would have been remiss.”

Skibbe said there was a snag in the plan until recently: An old boathouse on the island is in poor shape and a safety hazard. If the township had acquired the land previously, it would have had to pay for the boathouse’s demolition and to have it hauled away.

Now, the Bureau of Land Management has budgeted money for that project, which helps clear the way for the possible transaction.

If the township obtains the land, Skibbe said, it would continue to be open to the public. There may also be opportunities for development that would help lure tourists and locals to enjoy the area, he said, such as a docking system that would allow boaters to dock and explore.

“There is a long-term vision,” he said. “We just don’t want to rush into something without doing our due diligence and making sure all of the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. But, yes, there is a lot of potential for the island.”

Thunder Bay Lighthouse Preservation Society President Jim DesRocher thanked the trustees for supporting the land acquisition effort and added that, with activities such as glass-bottom boat tours of Thunder Bay and kayaking, the island is ripe for more activity and interest.

“We can’t get grant money for docking or anything until the rest of the island is in the township’s hands,” DesRocher said. “If that happens, we will be able to apply for funding for things, and that is why this was so important to us.”

Skibbe added that, if the township is granted the property, it will cost the township a little more than what is already budgeted. In the last five years, about $19,000 has spent on items associated with the island, mostly on insurance.

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


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