2017-05-18 / Front Page

Traffic Shift, Blight Brought To CityAttention

By Erich T. Doerr

Concerns about downtown business traffic and blight dominated discussions at the St. Ignace City Council meeting Monday, May 15, with a 42- minute closed meeting with the city attorney to discuss the lack of passenger service from the old Arnold Dock.

With Star Line’s purchase of Arnold Transit assets last winter, the old State Dock #1 in the center of town is no longer being used for summer passenger service, and at least one downtown business owner contends downtown shopping has declined as a result.

With the coming of summer, Star Line moved its St. Ignace passenger operations from that dock to its main dock at the north end of town, adjacent to Shepler’s, and to its railroad dock at the south end of town, adjacent to American Legion Park.

Peggy Morse, owner of Gifts Galore, said she was concerned about the lack of foot traffic by moving passenger operations from the center of town. The old Arnold dock is reserved for cargo and horse transportation and special lake cruises. In speaking with the boat company about the issue, she said she was told it had no plans to run passenger traffic from that dock this summer.

City Manager Les Therrian said the city is planning to speak with Star Line to seek cooperation about the issue, and councilmembers Luke Paquin and Paul Fullerton suggested writing a formal letter to the ferry company.

Apparently, the city had asked for a written legal opinion on the matter from Mr. Evashevski, and then went into a closed session to discuss it.

Any city options to regulate how a boat line operates would be limited to zoning. The city has no franchises with Star Line or Shepler’s, the two companies that provide passenger service from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island.

Blight

Mr. Evashevski also spoke with the council about blight issues in the city, especially those related to the former Rivera Motel property on North State Street, noting that city building inspector Brian Olsen is ready to look over the structures. Mr. Evashevski wants the inspector to make a list of the concerns before the city explores solutions with the owner.

The city can enforce its dangerous buildings, nuisance, and blight ordinances, and could condemn and demolish the buildings, if the owner won’t abide by them. Councilmember Paul Fullerton said the city needs to move forward on disposing of the buildings because they are a public hazard.

“It’s been an issue for years,” Mayor Connie Litzner added.

Steven Paquin, also the city’s assistant fire chief, noted the owner had contacted the St. Ignace Fire Department about burning the buildings as a training exercise, but he said the process can be cumbersome as it requires tests for safety and removal of dangerous substances and pollutants, such as asbestos, beforehand.

Evergreen Shores Paving

Mr. Therrian brought two issues before the council related to an upcoming Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) road and water main project in St. Ignace Township that will stretch from St. Ignace’s North Airport Road into Evergreen Shores, ending at North Mackinac Lane. The project will see I-75 Business Loop torn up for repaving, which will allow the city to replace cast iron water mains with ductile iron. The water mains under the road belong to the city’s water system, although they are located in the township. Team Elmer’s of Traverse City will be carrying out the work, with engineers from C2AE and the city overseeing it.

Mayor Litzner and Clerk Rene√© Vonderwerth will sign the contract with MDOT to replace the mains as part of the project. St. Ignace Township will pay the cost of the replacement, estimated to be $250,000, which allows for some unforeseen difficulties, such as excavation of bedrock. The city’ agreement with the township to provide water service to township customers requires the township to cover such projects.

Mr. Therrian said a start date has not been set. Mr. Fullerton is concerned the project could begin before the city’s annual car show. The event’s cruise of custom and antique cars passes through the proposed work area. Mr. Therrian said the project would try to keep at least one lane open at all times during the project.

Taxi Regulations

Police Chief Mark Wilk came before the council with updated information about what the affect of Michigan Public Act 345 of 2016 regulating taxi, limousine, and ride sharing services will be on the city’s taxi ordinance and the way it is enforced. The new state policy overrides the city’s existing policy in all areas except those related to horse and carriage operation. Equine transportation options are not among those regulated by the act.

When the act took effect near the end of March, the state took over all aspects of the application process, inspection, and regulation of taxi services. Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) will now oversee the policy’s enforcement. State licensed mechanics, not police, will inspect vehicles. Mr. Wilk said the new state policy was geared toward increasing regulation of new ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Ride sharing drivers will need to have their driving records available to passengers, and vehicles will need visual identification.

Mr. Wilk said the state law overrides the city ordinance, but suggested the city be prepared to reinstate it if the state reverses course in the future and gives legislation of taxis back to its cities. City police will still be able to stop taxis and ride sharing vehicles if there are concerns related to the status of the vehicle, such as deflated tires, bad exhaust pipes, and broken taillights, just as they could with any other vehicles.

Launch Ramp

Council diverted money brought in from the city’s Hazelton Street public boat launch, at the end of Johnson Street, to the city’s general fund instead of its marina fund. The money will be used to offset Department of Public Works maintenance of the facility, including mowing the grass and cleaning out both the bathrooms and the fish cleaning station. The city was losing about $2,500 annually on this upkeep before the change to the budget.

Council also raised launching fees, the first time in about 20 years, it contends. The daily fee to use the ramp will increase from $5 to $6. The seasonal rate will now increase from $30 to $50. The new prices will be effective Saturday, July 1, as it was considered unfair for the city to implement the policy immediately. The signs displaying the rates at the marina will be amended to show the change.

Local resident Steve Ingalls asked if there would be a charge for parking at the launch site if not using it for boating. The site is a popular spot for watching sunrises and other morning activities. The council responded there would not be a charge.

Other Business

The council’s streets committee met earlier this month to discuss how the city has been using its funding from its road millage passed in 2013. The millage began collecting money in 2014 and has raised $333,000 for the city over the last three years. The city has spent $605,640 on road improvements in the time since, with the difference being offset by grants and agreements with other local communities such as the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Moran Township. Mr. Therrian showed the council a list of planned road projects the city has coming up through 2020. In 2017, the city wants to pave West Goudreau Street and the section of Marley Street between Goudreau and Portage streets. It will also propose a deal with the Sault Tribe to do some paving work on Ojibway Trail. Mr. Therrian said where it can, the city avoids paving a particular street unless all infrastructure work related to what is underneath it has been completed.

Councilman Luke Paquin asked about the status of new lights for the city’s public pier adjacent to Dock 3, as the current ones have been broken for a while owing to weather damage. Mr. Therrian said the city is talking with a vendor about replacements.

St. Ignace Public Library Director Skip Schmidt is planning to retire in September. He updated the council that the library board has begun the search for his replacement. It will seek a candidate with a relevant degree and previous experience.

Mayor Litzner thanked him for his good service and Luke Paquin acknowledged that the community would miss his contributions.

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