2007-01-18 / Front Page

Debate Over Access to Newton Twp. Baseball Field May Head to Court

By Ryan Schlehuber

The ongoing debate between Newton Township and Gould City resident Dale Laidlaw over access to the township's baseball field may be settled in court, however, the township's attorney will make one last attempt to locate documentation of an existing easement through Mr. Laidlaw's property, over which the public has traditionally accessed the field.

Meeting Wednesday, December 13, the township board gave the goahead to attorney John Wood of Manistique to seek legal recourse, but Township Supervisor Bob Brotherton said Mr. Wood hopes to find an easement already documented in the deed, which would resolve the matter without the expense of a court hearing.

"We want to make sure we understand the history of the property before we go into any legal action," said Mr. Wood. "Even if or when we file a lawsuit with the Circuit Court, we will still try to continue talks [with Mr. Laidlaw] to resolve this."

Mr. Laidlaw purchased the 1.88 acres from the Road Commission about five years ago, and the public must cross it to get to the ball field. He stores personal items in a storage shed on the property argues that public use of his land creates a liability issue.

"I didn't know that my property was the only way to get to it [the ball field]," said Mr. Laidlaw, who contends that the township has ignored two other property owners adjacent to the ball field that could provide access, but has continued to pursue infringing on his property.

"They want 15 feet of my property," he said. "I only have 30 feet on the south side of my building. They take that and it limits my marketing ability for that property."

Mr. Laidlaw told The St. Ignace News Tuesday, January 9, that he would like to see Newton Township involve the other property owners to be able to come to a reasonable compromise.

Mr. Laidlaw refused the township's offer to purchase an easement in November. The board refused Mr. Laidlaw's counteroffer later that month, in which he proposed to purchase the five-acre ball field for $5,000 and let the township remove the fencing. Property is worth about $3,000 per acre in the area, according to Newton Township Clerk Alice Zdebski.

"I'm trying to work on it with them, but they're set in their minds," Mr. Laidlaw said.

The ball field was used in the summer for pick-up games and was proposed to be used for an annual township game, however, the day before the township game, Mr. Laidlaw placed a large cable across the entrance with a sign that read "No Trespassing," said Mr. Brotherton.

Mr. Laidlaw said he put up a blockade on his property because of the risk of someone being injured.

The Newton Township board, said Mr. Brotherton, hopes to resolve the issue before the start of this summer.

In other business, the board will allow George McNeil to change the name of the street he lives on from Richardson Road to McNeil Road, as long as he gets approval from all of the residents who live on the road to do so. Only one other person lives on the road, said Mr. Brotherton.

Mr. McNeil must now seek approval from Mackinac County Road Commission. He will be responsible for paying for any street signs that need to be changed, if the Road Commission approves his request.

Mr. Brotherton said that if other residents want to change the name of their streets, they can do so, as well, but they must follow the same procedure.

James Dohn and Jerry Belcher were appointed to two-year terms on the township Board of Review, while Steve McGuire was reappointed for another two years.

Mr. Dohn and Mr. Belcher replace Don McNeil and Kirt Grinnell. Mr. Grinnell was named as an alternate.

The Board of Review meets three times a year, in March, July, and December.

Mr. Brotherton informed the board that Lucille Kenyon, a member of the historical society in Portage Township, is interested in starting a historical society in Newton Township. Township Clerk Alice Zdebski said she will contact Ms. Kenyon to inform her that members of the board and residents may be interested in working with her.

"I believe we have a lot of history here and we have a few residents that can contribute a lot to it," said Mr. Brotherton, who also hopes to build a historical society building at Gould City Park through community donations and available grants.

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