By Shelby Stewart
Brandon Twp.- By a 7-0 vote on Oct. 5, the township board of trustees nixed a possible segment of the Iron Belle Trail through the township. The unanimous vote came after hours of citizens comments, deliberation, subcommittee presentations and questions asked of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources who also attended the meeting that attracted several hundred to the Brandon High School Performing Arts Center.
At issue was support for a possible segment of the Iron Belle Trail connecting Brandon Township on a state project which seeks to establish two continuous trails, one for biking and one for hiking, from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula.
Deliberation centered around routes chosen to utilize existing trails in the state to which new trails could connect and be the safest for trail users, the environment and least expensive for communities.
The biking trail is proposed to traverse 791 miles, includes the Polly Ann Trail in Oxford and Orion, and would include at least seven miles of trail in Brandon.
The trail consideration gained traction over the past months often splitting the community with pros and cons. Data collection was key in the decision as a seven person trail subcommittee, was convened earlier this year to research the answers to numerous questions surrounding a proposed township connection.
On Sept. 21, a 92 page report was made available on the township website and the township office. Information from the report was also discussed during meeting.
However, key in the Oct. 5 meeting were comments from representatives from the DNR who emphasized the trail would not be completely funded by the DNR and the state contrary to the board of trustees understanding.
Kristen Bennett, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Iron Belle Trail Coordinator, responded to the township decision and financial issues after the meeting.
“We were disappointed that the final decision was a no vote in Brandon Township, but the segments of the Iron Belle are dependant on willing and enthusiastic partners,” she wrote. “Each community on the route will be expected to maintain and manage their section. This is not feasible for every community at this time. The DNR will be meeting with other communities on the route and communities adjacent to collectively determine a new route.”
Following Thursday’s meeting five of the seven board members expressed their reasons for the no vote.
Trustee Robert Marshall, penned a three page letter to The Citizen expressing his reasons for denial.
“I do not believe that the role of government is to provide recreational frivolities at the detriment to the safety of the community and at the risk to individual property rights and privacy,” he wrote. “The community’s right to a safe and secure environment, without the invasion of a property owner’s privacy and land use far outweighs the recreational desires of a few individuals.”
Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman, who also responded in a letter to the editor this week, said finances was key in her decision.
“I thought that this trail could go through without spending (township) money,” she said. “Because of the cost and because of the lack of support, I will not be able to support this project.”
Trustee Dana DePalma also cited financial reasons for not wanting the trail, as the costs to the township would be uncertain.
“I tried to stay neutral,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to take people’s land, and each route would have done that.”
Township Clerk Candee Allen, listed several unfinished projects that the township already has such as the skate park, the Brandon Township community park and the safety path on M-15 among others.
“Brandon Township has several projects that need to be addressed before we add more projects,” she said.
Kris Kordella, trustee followed the survey offered to the residents.
“The Citizen vote/poll had Brandon residents against trails 54 – 46 percent,” he said. “This is a clear majority, and it is my job to represent the majority. Also, it was very apparent by the high level of activity and how well organized and fact based the no voters were that it made my decision much easier. The DNR, and many Lansing and Oakland County elected officials and bureaucrats misled the township board into believing it wouldn’t cost us anything, not one single dime, to build the trail. Nothing was further from the truth as we, after much coercion, found out at Thursday’s meeting. The unfortunate part about all this is had we known the truth two years ago, the answer for a trail would have been a quick and easy no (at least for me). Which would have eliminated much unnecessary hardship for all involved and monies not well spent.”
Treasurer Terri Darnall and trustee Scott Broughton have not yet responded for comment.
Following the decision several area residents responded the township board of trustees no vote on trails.
“Our officials love to disappoint the county on a regular basis,” wrote Aaron Chester. “This project could have been a marginal improvement for our township, and yet the board votes in the interests of the few, among the interests of themselves. We have had lack luster leadership in our area for the longest time. We pay some hefty taxes for how little we actually receive for it. The board should be ashamed of themselves, but yet they will always lack introspection.”
Long time area resident Jonathan Schechter responded considers trails as the future for the township.
“A profound display of willful ignorance was displayed by some of the trustees and many of the citizens at the meeting,” he wrote. “Brandon Township will regret their action, denying the trail and blocking hope for connectivity to the future. Questions still need to be asked and answered as to why route C was really removed so early on, it being the most practical, most popular and most sensible route using an existing “rails-to-trails” pathway and corridor. The issue of “public safety’ as the given reason does not pass the sniff test.”