By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.-The township offices were packed June 5 as residents lined the halls leading to a standing room only meeting where the board discussed the Iron Belle Trail.
Many in attendance were residents voicing objections to Route A, after the board took Route C out of consideration last month, also due to opposition, the majority of which comes from those living along the route.
Lloyd Christiansen, a resident on Hummer Lake Road, which comprises part of the proposed Route A, was the first at the meeting to oppose that potential connection to the Iron Belle Trail.
“I’m against this path coming down across 23 drives, two private drives and this portion is only 20 percent of the overall route,” said Christiansen in kicking off the trail discussion, which would be roughly 2 hours of a nearly 5-hour meeting that ended just before midnight. “My driveways is on a 50-degree angle, I’d have to make sure bikes aren’t coming and then make sure cars aren’t coming. On Leece Road, you’re gonna lose eight or nine 100-year-old oak trees and there are wetlands that have to be bridged.”
Suzanne Saylor, a Sashabaw Road resident, voiced a similar concern.
“If they are on my side (of the road), they take half a mile of my property and take trees down,” she said. “People are already on my property thinking it’s state land… I moved to the country to be in the country, not on a trail.”
Safety, privacy and cost concerns were echoed by other residents of Route A, which proposes establishing 7.6 miles of trail in the township along Baldwin Road to Sherwood Road to Sashabaw Road to Hummer Lake Road to Mill Street, at an estimated cost of $5,851,400.00.
Paul Barber said the route goes across 125 driveways and asserted that if it were to be installed, “someone would get killed.”
The route was one of four options residents were surveyed on last year regarding a connection to the Iron Belle Trail hiking route, which in total will traverse 791 miles across the state, from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula.
Other proposed routes on the survey included Route B, which would take Seymour Lake Road to the ITC corridor to Granger to Hadley to Hummer Lake to Mill for 9.7 miles and a total cost of $7,918,510 and the 8-mile Route D, from Baldwin to Granger to Hadley to Hummer Lake to Mill, estimated to cost $8,127,205. Route C, a 7.7 mile route proposed to mostly use the ITC corridor, the least expensive route at a cost of $4,968,900 and the safest route as the majority would go not alongside roads but use utility easements next to private property, was the most popular on the survey, with 40 percent of 558 respondents giving it their support. However, the board passed a resolution last month removing the route from consideration after opposition from residents living along the route, including Trustee Scott Broughton, who brought the resolution to the board.
Residents along Route A were also asking for their route to be removed from consideration, citing the precedent already set, which also raised frustrations from several at the meeting who voiced their support for a trail in the township. Many of them also cited concerns about safety, chiefly the dangers of people currently biking and walking on gravel roads as vehicles speed past. Others noted there are people who don’t walk or bike in the community at all because there is no safe place to do so, or are forced to drive somewhere else to walk their dogs or ride their bikes.
“What boggles the mind is why you don’t have a route and why you took one off for one person or a few people,” said Hank Szlenkier. “You’re supposed to represent everybody.”
Julie Witherspoon, a Hummer Lake Road resident, suggested board members go down each proposed path, see the driveways each would cross, and determine impact.
“Come up with something different, or maybe forget the whole thing,” she said. “You know these people care. Be careful about a decision, it affects a lot of people.”
Following the public comments, Trustee Dana DePalma started a board discussion on the trail routes by noting that she voted against taking Route C off the table out of a desire to be fair to all residents.
“I have questions about insurance, maintenance costs, how it will be paid for, do we have to take property,” she said. “I don’t know if I want a route because my questions are not answered.”
Trustee Bob Marshall said he would recuse himself from a resident’s suggestion that he be on a trail subcommittee because after visiting the proposed routes, he is opposed to all of them.
“I look at (the trail) as ‘wouldn’t it be nice?’ but not as a priority,” he said. “This trail is not essential. I’m not inclined to invade someone’s privacy or home use based on ‘wouldn’t it be nice.’ We will piss off somebody and I don’t see that as a benefit to the community.”
Treasurer Terri Darnall agreed, saying it was “not essential, a great add-on,” but she wouldn’t want it.
Clerk Candee Allen and trustees Kris Kordella and Scott Broughton all appeared non-committal to trail routes A, B, and D, saying they wanted more questions answered.
Only Supervisor Kathy Thurman was firm in currently supporting a route through the township.
“I’m in favor of a connection to the Iron Belle Trail,” she said. “I don’t think we should ignore 500 people in favor (of a trail).”
She also acknowledged it is difficult to get concrete costs without a route being chosen.
The board ultimately agreed by a 6-1 vote, with Marshall voting no, to form a trail subcommittee consisting of Thurman, Kordella, and Darnall, as well as four township residents as yet to be named, to compile questions and research answers to all of the components involved in building and maintaining a trail beginning June 6, 2017 through Nov. 20, 2018.
Thurman said she was unsure if the subcommittee would examine specific routes or just trails in general.
“The trail could be anywhere basically,” said Thurman. “Even a route that is not on the survey.”
The board will approve residents that will sit on the committee. Thurman hopes to bring recommendations for subcommittee members to the July board meeting.