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Enviro-Mich message from "Anne Woiwode" <anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org>

For immediate Release - March 16, 2002

Smart Growth and Recreation Groups File Suit to Stop Road and Bridge through
Boardman River Valley:  Local, state, and national organizations sue the
Grand Traverse County Road Commission to prevent construction of the
Hartman-Hammond road and bridge

Kelly Thayer, Transportation Project Manager		Ken Smith, Chair
Michigan Land Use Institute 				NMEAC, 231-947-3280
231-882-4723 ext. 13 • web site: www.mlui.org

Monica Evans, Chair					John Nelson, Chair of the Steering Committee
Traverse Group of the Sierra Club, 231-325-6812	Coalition for Sensible
Growth, 231-941-1099

Susan Boyd, Board President
All the Way to the Bay, 231-929-2959

James Olson, Co-Counsel for the Plaintiffs	Howard Learner, Co-counsel for
Olson & Bzdok, Traverse City				Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago
231-946-0044						312-673-6500

Traverse City, MI — Five local, state, and national groups opposed to a
$30-million highway proposal that fails to ease congestion, promotes
haphazard growth, and pushes pavement into the waters of a prized trout
stream announced today the filing of a lawsuit that seeks to block the
Hartman-Hammond road and bridge project near Traverse City.

The groups filed suit Friday, March 15, in Grand Traverse County Circuit
Court against the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, which is proposing
the massive transportation project over the objection of voters and the
Traverse City City Commission.

The complaint was filed on behalf of the Coalition for Sensible Growth, the
Michigan Land Use Institute, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action
Council, the Sierra Club, and All the Way to the Bay. Together the groups
have thousands of members in the Grand Traverse region and more than 23,000
members statewide.

“The Grand Traverse County Road Commission’s highway project would harm some
of the premier waterways and parklands in our region and offer no solution
to traffic congestion,” said Helen Milliken, a board member of the Michigan
Land Use Institute and a Traverse City resident for more than 50 years. “We
need creative solutions that are effective and fit with our community’s
up-north character and high quality of life.”

The lawsuit contends that the road commission is violating state law by
failing to consider reasonable alternatives to relieve traffic congestion
and avoid extensive environmental damage to rivers, wetlands, and parks. The
road commission seeks to build a 200-foot-long bridge and create a new 4-
and 5-lane highway around Traverse City, about a half-mile south of the
Grand Traverse Mall. The proposal’s roots reach back 15 years. In 1987,
Grand Traverse County voters rejected a multimillion-dollar road package
that included the Hartman-Hammond-Three Mile road and bridge among several

The plaintiff groups have worked diligently since 1997 to alert the Grand
Traverse County Road Commission to the shortcomings of its proposed
road-and-bridge project and to advance an alternative called “Smart Roads:
Grand Traverse Region,” which would move traffic while conserving the
environment and taxpayer dollars. Hundreds of regional residents contributed
to the creation of “Smart Roads,” local groups fashioned the public’s ideas
into a plan, and a noted Chicago-based transportation planner strengthened
it. The “Smart Roads” approach remedies traffic problems by widening and
connecting the Beitner-Keystone corridor to Hammond Road, improving public
transit, and providing space for bicycling and walking.

“Smart Roads is an incremental, conservative idea with broad public
 support,” said John Nelson, chair of the steering committee of the
Coalition for Sensible Growth, based in Grand Traverse County. “It calls for
fixing what exists and making step-by-step improvements, rather than
building a huge highway through our open spaces, including the lush Boardman
River valley.”

Rather than listen to the public, the Grand Traverse County Road Commission
spent six years and more than $1 million trying to justify its plan to build
the road and bridge. The groups’ core objections have been that the
Hartman-Hammond project:
·	Threatens the region’s prized places. The project would fill at least 5
acres of wetlands and harm wildlife habitat along the Boardman River, a
blue-ribbon trout stream. The new road also would dump thousands more
vehicles each day at the entrance to Traverse City State Park on Lake
Michigan, delivering high levels of noise, air, and water pollution.
·	Fails to solve congestion. The road commission’s own studies show its
project would send 27,000 vehicles a day through the Boardman River Valley,
creating one of the region’s busiest corridors and overloading adjacent
local roads. The Traverse City City Commission for years has opposed the
project because of the lack of relief and the added traffic the project
would bring to the city.
·	Promotes sprawl. The road and bridge project would encourage poorly
planned new development, and the resulting damage to natural resources, even
farther away from Traverse City than where the current sprawl problem

After the plaintiff groups publicly raised objections in 1999 and 2000, two
federal agencies formally challenged the accuracy and quality of the road
commission’s final environmental study of the project. Despite these
concerns, the Federal Highway Administration approved the project on August
9, 2001. The plaintiff groups filed a procedural challenge to the federal
approval on Sept. 27, 2001. The Federal Highway Administration upheld its
decision in a memo issued February 13, 2002, leaving the groups no other
option than to sue.

“The fight to protect the Boardman River from this bridge and the sprawl
that it will cause is a priority for the thousands of Sierra Club members in
Michigan,” said Monica Evans, chair of the Traverse Group of the Sierra
Club. “They understand not only how rare and precious the Boardman River
valley is, but how important it is to draw a line here by stopping this
bridge. Generations of Michigan citizens will thank us for taking on this

The legal action in Grand Traverse County stems from a long-standing,
strong, and growing local commitment to manage traffic and growth issues
while protecting and enhancing the region’s natural features, which define
the area, prime the economy, and provide countless recreational

Across Michigan, a trend is emerging among citizens, grassroots groups, and
local governments who are opposed to high-cost, environmentally destructive
highway proposals and are crafting and advancing low-cost, environmentally
sensitive alternatives. Unsatisfied with one-size-fits-all highway design,
Michigan residents since 1999 have defeated more than $3 billion worth of
ill-conceived highways, including the U.S. 23 realignment in northeast
Michigan, the U.S. 131 extension north of Cadillac, and the proposed
Interstate-73 between Jackson and Toledo. Some of the plaintiff groups
assisted in those efforts, and they continue to work with residents to fight
grandiose highway bypass proposals in Petoskey and Grand Haven, as well as
the proposed $1.3 billion widening of seven miles of I-94 in Detroit.

“Residents in the Grand Traverse region and across Michigan are demanding
that any new or wider highways complement community character, protect the
environment, and enhance the overall quality of life,” said Kelly Thayer,
transportation project manager at the Michigan Land Use Institute. “The
Grand Traverse County Road Commission has failed to consider the public’s
reasonable recommendations. Instead, the road commission has remained
focused on the same proposal that voters soundly rejected more than a decade

In greater detail, the lawsuit contends that the Grand Traverse County Road
Commission is violating the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) by
failing to consider all available, common-sense alternatives to its proposed
road-and-bridge project. The road commission is violating MEPA by proposing
a massive project that will to pollute, impair, or destroy the water,
wetlands and other protected natural resources of the Boardman River and
Mitchell Creek and their tributaries and wetlands. The project also violates
MEPA by interfering with wetlands, groundwater and surface water quality and
the common law public trust protecting the public’s right to canoe, fish,
and recreate on and along the Boardman River and Mitchell Creek and their
tributaries and wetlands and by proposing to use, disturb, or interfere with
waterways, parklands, open space, farmlands, conservation easements, and
associated recreational uses and activities.

“This lawsuit removes the fate of the Boardman River and the Grand Traverse
community from the control of the road commission and its partner government
agencies, and puts it in the hands of the court,” said James Olson, of Olson
& Bzdok, in Traverse City, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “The burden will
finally be on the road commission to prove why on earth it should get away
with sacrificing the heart of a famed blue-ribbon river, when it’s patently
obvious there are many sensible ways to move traffic and save the land and
water that helps this community thrive.”
Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center
and also co-counsel for the plaintiffs, stated: "Let's get smarter in
solving traffic problems while still protecting the Boardman River's natural
resources and the quality of life in the Traverse City community. The
proposed Hartman-Hammond bridge misses the opportunities for a sensible
Smart Growth approach and will exacerbate sprawl. It is an example of the
outdated transportation approaches that ELPC is helping to challenge
throughout the Midwest."

The Boardman River is designated a blue-ribbon trout stream. It’s a vital
recreation area in the midst of the growing, heavily touristed Grand
Traverse region. Its waters and its valley provide year-round enjoyment for
residents and visitors who come to canoe, kayak, fish, hike, jog, picnic,
and watch birds and other wildlife. Just south of the proposed
Hartman-Hammond bridge, the Boardman River is protected by the state’s
“Natural River” program. North of the bridge crossing, the river enters
Traverse City’s Boardman Lake and re-emerges as it winds through downtown
before emptying into West Grand Traverse Bay, on Lake Michigan.

“As an area paddler and a regular user of the Boardman River, I am well
aware of what we have to lose by allowing the degradation of the river and
its surrounding environment,” said Susan Boyd, president of the canoe-racing
group All the Way to the Bay. “The Boardman is a beautiful, diverse, and
highly entertaining river, and there’s no justification for destroying
something that adds so much to the uniqueness of the Traverse City area. I
see nothing to be gained by the proposed construction — only way too much to

Since 1987, the Hartman-Hammond road and bridge has been proposed as part of
various bypass concepts advanced by the Grand Traverse County Road
Commission and regional planners. In 2001, after five years of citizen
action by some of the plaintiff groups and others to stop a 30-mile highway
bypass from bisecting Leelanau, Grand Traverse, and Antrim counties, the
Michigan Department of Transportation canceled its proposed Traverse City
bypass. Despite the defeat of the Traverse City bypass, the Grand Traverse
County Road Commission insists on building the Hartman-Hammond road and
bridge, which it has described in documents as a “critical section” and “one
phase” of the Traverse City bypass.

“It's hard to exaggerate the environmental damage this project would cause,”
said Ken Smith, chair of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council,
whose 600 members have been fighting the project since 1995. “The Boardman
River Valley is irreplaceable as a wildlife and public recreational area. To
run 30,000 cars and trucks a day through it is unthinkable.  And making the
road proposal even less attractive, it is unnecessary."

The Coalition for Sensible Growth is a Traverse City-based grassroots
organization working to build community support for future development that
reduces energy demands, air and water pollution, the encroachment of paved
surfaces, and protects the unique natural features of the Grand Traverse
region. The Coalition has taken the lead in developing alternatives to the
proposed Traverse City bypass and the Hartman-Hammond bridge.
The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent, nonprofit research,
educational, and service organization founded in 1995. More than 2,200
households, businesses, and organizations have joined the Institute to build
public support for policy that protects the environment, strengthens the
economy, and enhances quality of life. Please visit the Institute’s Web site
at <www.mlui.org> to learn more about the “Smart Roads: Grand Traverse
Region” alternative and regional citizen efforts to challenge the Traverse
City bypass and the Hartman-Hammond road and bridge.
The Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) is a Michigan
non-profit corporation based in Traverse City that is dedicated to
protecting the environment through education and citizen action in northwest
Lower Michigan. NMEAC has several hundred members throughout northern
Michigan, as well as elsewhere in Michigan and nationwide, having an
interest in the protection of the environmental riches of the Grand Traverse
The Sierra Club is a national grassroots environmental organization founded
in 1892 whose purpose is to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. The
Sierra Club has more than 700,000 members, 20,000 of whom reside in Michigan
and work for the protection of the state’s natural resources and
communities. The Sierra Club Traverse Group includes several hundred members
in the Grand Traverse region, who live near and use and enjoy the Boardman
River valley and the region’s other open lands.
All the Way to the Bay is a Michigan for-profit corporation based in
Traverse City that is dedicated to the promotion of water sports on the
Boardman River.
Anne Woiwode, Staff Director, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter
109 East Grand River Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48906
517-484-2372; fax 517-484-3108  anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org
visit the Mackinac Chapter on the web at http:\\michigan.sierraclub.org

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