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E-M:/ Groups Vow to Continue Fight Against Boardman River Bridge near Traverse City

For Immediate Release: Sept. 19, 2002

Kelly Thayer, Transportation Project Manager            Ken Smith, Chair
Michigan Land Use Institute                     Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council
231-882-4723 ext. 13 • web site: www.mlui.org           231-947-3280
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 the Plaintiffs
Olson & Bzdok, Traverse City                    Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago
231-946-0044                            312-673-6500 

Groups Vow to Continue Fight Against Boardman Bridge
Court rules road commission must obtain permits before court can hear groups’ lawsuit; ruling preserves claim to protect river and region from sprawl

Traverse City, MI Environmental groups today said it was their responsibility to sue to prevent a highway through a prized river valley and stop the sprawl it would generate, despite a court ruling that the suit was too early to be heard.

“We had a duty to sue to protect the region’s natural environment and high quality of life,” said Anne Woiwode, staff director of the Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter, one of the plaintiff groups. “We are obliged to take all necessary steps to protect the Boardman River Valley and halt the sprawl that this project would bring.”

“Our commitment to protecting what’s best about the Grand Traverse Region will not falter,” said Helen Milliken, a board member of the Michigan Land Use Institute and a Traverse City resident for more than 50 years. “We will go on working every day to advance creative traffic solutions that are effective and fit with our community’s up-north character and recreational heritage.”

Circuit Court Judge Thomas G. Power ruled today that the Grand Traverse County Road Commission must obtain state permits to fill wetlands and pollute surface water before he can hear the merits on an environmental suit brought by several local, state, and national organizations.  The judge also refused to rule that sprawl cannot be considered under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, as the road commission had requested regarding its $30 million Hartman-Hammond road and bridge project.
The judge acknowledged that it was a good idea the groups filed the suit when they did or else the road commission could have spent millions of dollars and argued later that the groups waited too long to sue.  The court ruled that while the groups’ claims may be valid, the time for the court to hear the arguments comes after permits for the project are approved. If the permits are not approved, the court noted there would be no need for the suit.

“The road commission gained nothing from this round. The groups and their concern for this community will only grow stronger,” said James Olson, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The groups are ready to challenge the permits the road commission will need to destroy wetlands and degrade the Boardman River, which flows into West Grand Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan.

“Our experts have already been able to show that the project will severely damage the environment, and that there are much better ways to manage traffic and growth than to build another South Airport Road through the Boardman River Valley,” Kelly Thayer, transportation project manager at the Michigan Land Use Institute, another of the plaintiff groups.

The groups filed suit March 15, 2002, in Grand Traverse County Circuit Court to stop the Hartman-Hammond road-and-bridge project through the Boardman River Valley, just south of Traverse City. “The likely damage to the environment is unmistakable,’’ said Mr. Thayer. He cited the road commission’s own studies that illustrate the project’s design and predict 5 acres of wetland destruction, fragmentation of wildlife habitat, and sprawl that will be caused by the proposed corridor.

The next opportunity to prevent the bridge project from proceeding comes when the road commission completes the project’s design and applies for state permits to fill wetlands and alter rivers and streams. The plaintiff groups will vigorously challenge these permits in front of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and any other permitting agencies. If the permits are granted, the groups are prepared to immediately re-file their case with the Grand Traverse County Circuit Court and argue that equally effective and less damaging alternatives exist and should be pursued.

The groups are determined to continue raising the public’s awareness of better options than building a bridge through the Boardman River Valley.

“The Boardman River and its valley are loved and enjoyed by anglers, paddlers, and thousands of other residents and visitors who hike and ski along its banks year round,” said Ken Smith, chair of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, whose 600 members have been fighting the project since 1995. “If we sacrifice this area, it’s gone forever. Then we become much more like the sprawling cities of southern Michigan that so many seek to escape on the weekends. There are far more sensible ways to manage traffic and growth.”

In addition to the Sierra Club and the Michigan Land Use Institute, the plaintiff groups are the Coalition for Sensible Growth, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, 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 groups’ lawsuit and claims contend that the road commission was violating state law by failing to consider cheaper and less damaging alternatives to relieve traffic congestion.  “The extensive environmental damage to the river, wetlands, parks, and our region’s environment can and should be avoided,” said John Nelson, chair of the Coalition for Sensible Growth.

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 projects. Since then, the road commission has sought state and federal funds to pursue the project, over the objection of voters and Traverse City’s City Commission. 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 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” remedies traffic problems by widening and connecting the Beitner-Keystone corridor to Hammond Road, improving public transit, and providing space for bicycling and walking.

The plaintiff groups are represented by the law firm of Olson & Bzdok, PC, Traverse City, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center, in Chicago.

About the Coalition for Sensible Growth
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.

About the Michigan Land Use Institute
The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent, nonprofit research, educational, and service organization founded in 1995. More than 2,000 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.

About the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council
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 region.

About the Sierra Club
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.

About All the Way to the Bay
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.


Mr. Kelly Thayer
Transportation Project Manager
Michigan Land Use Institute

205 South Benzie Boulevard
P.O. Box 500
Beulah, MI 49617

Ph: 231-882-4723
Fax: 231-882-7350
E-mail: kelly@mlui.org
Internet: http://www.mlui.org/