Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 2, 2012

George Weeks: Snyder pushes more links

Syndicated columnist

— Every once in a while over a span of three centuries, a governor has played a role on links between Michigan's two peninsulas.

At the outset, our first governor, Stevens T. Mason cut a deal that Michigan would be admitted to the union in 1837 if it relinquished 470 square miles of disputed territory to Ohio after the widely-cited "Toledo War" (some gunfire; scant bloodshed) with Michigan getting much of the Upper Peninsula as compensation. A great bargain, as it turned out.

In the 20th century, 1911-12 Gov. Chase S. Osborn, after leaving office, lobbied federal and state authorities for a bridge across the Straits of Mackinac. He touted it in a 1939 meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Osborn's dream was not realized in his lifetime.

The bridge was built late in he 1949-60 reign of Gov. G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams, who once quipped to me: "I made myself a failure by not having two or three headline achievements, outside of maybe the Mackinac Bridge." With First Lady Nancy Williams, he made a 1957 inaugural drive across the bridge.

Now in the 21st century comes 1st term Gov. Rick Snyder with good ideas for improving links of the two peninsulas, although hardly ranking with importance of efforts of Mason, Osborn and Williams.

Last week, Snyder in his Special Message of Energy and the Environment, included two proposals for links between the peninsulas:

n Energy: He said, "Michigan's electrical 'superhighways'--its transmission system--are a tale of two peninsulas. In the Lower Peninsula, the reliability of our electrical superhighway is excellent. "¦ But in the Upper Peninsula, it's very different. There we have nearly 12 'yellow alerts' a year — meaning that all it takes is for more thing to go wrong and everybody's power could be out for days."

While "there is a small electrical connection" between the peninsulas, he called for developing "a robust connection that gives us the potential to reduce the cost of moving power around in both places and creates opportunities to improve supply as well."

Beyond the specific energy infrastructure two-peninsula proposal that caught my attention, Snyder more broadly called for a comprehensive strategy to address "a hodgepodge of conflicting policies" from Washington that complicate dealing with electrical reliability, nuclear energy, natural gas and "energy independence for our most vulnerable."

n Environment: In this section of his message, Snyder also had some sweeping proposals — including a call "to get rid of lands that don't fit within our strategy" among the 4 million acres of state-owned lands.

In his verbal presentation diverting from his printed text, Snyder fessed up that today's administrators don't know why some of the lands are on the state rolls.

But in keeping with the thrust of my two-peninsula emphasis, I tout his call to add about 200 more miles of "hike or bike" trails in the Lower Peninsula and the UP to fill gaps to make a 599-mile trail — as calculated and mapped by the Detroit Free Press — stretching from the Wisconsin border at Ironwood to Detroit's Belle Isle.

In a Saturday editorial headlined "Snyder's trail of significance," the paper said, "One thing (Snyder) seems to understand perfectly is the symmetry among tourism, conservation and commerce that can be found in Michigan's fabulous natural resources.

" "¦ And if he's successful he could leave the most significant imprint on Michigan's park lands and other natural spaces since William Milliken, whose work is celebrated in a park named for him along the Detroit River." In his printed message, he said: "I am directing DNR (Department of Natural Resources) to focus on connecting those trails, through cooperation with private and non-profit partners and the use of their own resources."

Snyder said: "We can and will seek to make Michigan the Trail State. "¦a signature Pure Michigan experience."

A Mackinac Summit

While Snyder delivered his message in abbreviated form and took questions at the Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners near Battle Creek, he also took questions from remote locations where the message was viewed, including the Michigan Land Use Institute in Traverse City.

Snyder, who is incoming co-chair of the Council of Great Lakes Governors along with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, said he is inviting the governors and their Canadian counterparts to have a summit conference on Mackinac Island.

He said, "there is no state whose future is more intertwined with the Lakes than ours. "¦there's no better place to be reminded of how important this work is than on that beautiful island."