By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- A proposed route for the Iron Belle Trail in the township has come to a dead end.
Route C was the least expensive, most direct, and most popular by survey of four proposed township connections to the Iron Belle Trail, a state project which seeks to establish a continuous trail from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula.
The township board, in a split vote at their May 1 meeting, approved a resolution by Trustee Scott Broughton to eliminate Route C from consideration. Broughton, whose property was on the proposed route, was joined by Clerk Candee Allen, Treasurer Terri Darnall and Trustee Bob Marshall in voting to remove Route C as a possible Iron Belle Trail connection. Supervisor Kathy Thurman and trustees Dana DePalma and Kris Kordella voted no on the motion.
Prior to the vote, several residents spoke in favor of keeping the proposed route in consideration, while several wanted it taken off the table. Thurman requested a show of hands for those in favor and opposed, and counted a slight edge to those wanting route c— 19— as to those against it— 17.
“You can’t have a group of people that is large hurt a smaller group,” said Sue Osterland, co-owner of Common Scents and whose property is adjacent to the ITC corridor, in her comments to the board prior to the vote. “Let’s find a better alternative that doesn’t go right beside people’s homes or business.”
Jason Schaefer, a township resident who spoke in favor of route c, noted however that any route passed would affect some and benefit more. “Of the four options, you want to experience a trail in a rural environment and not a glorified sidewalk next to the road,” he said, referring to recent discussion of possibly putting a trail connection alongside Seymour Lake Road and M-15 in the township. “No matter what happens, some will be unhappy. This route is by far the best and the least expensive.”
Route C would have begun at the eastern border of the township with a small portion of Baldwin Road, continuing northwest with a large portion of the off-road ITC corridor (the former Detroit United Railway electric railroad line) until the corner of Kent and Granger roads in the village. ITC Holdings has electric transmission lines running through the township and has multiple easements in the township (and the state). The company has previously indicated they would support the Iron Belle Trail being developed on the easements they own, which are adjacent to private property. The Iron Belle Trail has two routes, one for hiking and one for bicycling, both of which would go from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula. The bicycling trail is proposed to traverse 774 miles and would include existing trails, as well as establish new trails, including Brandon, Groveland, and Atlas townships, as well as the Village of Ortonville.
A survey conducted by Brandon Township officials last year seeking input on four possible Iron Belle Trail connections here found that of 558 respondents, 40 percent preferred route C, the safest and least expensive of the four routes. The 7.7 mile route had an estimated cost of $4,968,900, or $647,877 per mile.
Several township board members who visited properties adjacent to the proposed route following the survey results expressed their reservations after hearing and seeing the concerns from residents who live along the route, some of whom had outbuildings in close proximity to where the trail would go. Broughton noted this in his resolution and also cited concerns from police and fire officials about access to the trail. Broughton concluded that the resolution should not be misconstrued as a referendum on future participation in the Iron Belle Trail, but is restricted to “any further consideration of the use of the ITC corridor, also known as route c, for inclusion in a public trail system.”
In his comment after the reading of the resolution by Darnall and during board discussion, Broughton said simply, “We’ve talked this to death and I’m done with it.”
“I have several concerns,” said Trustee Bob Marshall, who voted to eliminate route c from consideration. “A minority of residents are directly impacted by route c, but its in an untenable location for them, whether its their back yard, front yard or next to their garage. We have eminent domain if there is a pressing need. Is this (trail) a pressing need? No. It would be nice to have, but it’s not a pressing need.”
He also cited concerns about adequate access to the trail for public safety personnel.
“I’m not opposed to trails in the township,” said Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Greg Glover, commander of the Brandon substation, on Tuesday. “However, we are not equipped to patrol those trails. They would need to be wide enough to not only get a police vehicle down, but also ambulances… My only issue is can we get up and down the trail. I am all for a trail system that gives you that up north scenic nature feeling, but with that is a cost. I’m not opposed as long as it can be policed in some way. We are struggling to meet the call demand with the man power we have now.”
Glover added that crime on the trail is not a major concern as there is a “small” amount of crime that comes with a trail system, and not usually on the trail, but in parking lots where trail users leave vehicles.
Thurman cited studies at the meeting that converting abandoned rail lines to trails reduces crime and said she believed it was not in the township’s best interest to take a route off the table.
Darnall said if route c was the best trail route, “we can do without it.” She, along with Allen, have previously voiced concerns about trail cost, as has DePalma, although she voted to keep route c in consideration while the township continues to study the financial aspects, including long-term maintenance.
Dave Van Dis, who led a petition drive which garnered 1,600 signatures last year in support of a connection to the Iron Belle Trail in the township, said that the community had been afflicted by the disease of “NIMBY” (Not in My Backyard), and suggested that those who had garages or porches close to the ITC easement had built them illegally. He also noted that there were people using the ITC property itself illegally, by riding 4-wheelers on it, and hunting.
Other proposed routes for the Iron Belle Trail have included A, which is 7.6 miles from Baldwin to Sherwood to Sashabaw to Hummer Lake to Mill Street, estimated to cost $5,851,400.00; Route B, which is Seymour Lake to the ITC corridor to Granger to Hadley to Hummer Lake to Mill for 9.7 miles and costs $7,918,510; and Route D, from Baldwin to Granger to Hadley to Hummer Lake to Mill Street and stretches 8 miles for $8,127,205. Not on the survey, but discussed by board members, has been possibly placing the Iron Belle Trail in the township alongside Seymour Lake Road and M-15.
“I’m passionate about some sort of trail being available in our community,” said resident Andrea Austin. “Devices are taking over our lives and our children’s lives… We are so lucky to have this (the Iron Belle Trail) proposed to come through our township. I can’t stress how important it is to our family to make it happen.”
“I’m very disappointed in four of you, it’s shortsighted to shoot this down,” said Schaefer, who noted that other proposed routes will also have detractors, possibly many more than those who were opposed to route c. “This was the least invasive option. Now we have to worry about cars hitting people.”
Marshall said he understood the disappointment expressed by residents.
“We haven’t ruled out trails altogether,” he said.