Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 6, 2014

Empire plans make waves

TRAVERSE CITY – Village of Empire officials are considering charging visitors as much as $10 to park along the Lake Michigan beach, an effort to underwrite the community’s beach maintenance costs, supports said.

But such a move potentially could violate an agreement with the state Department of Natural Resources and jeopardize future state funding.

Trustees in the Leelanau County community last month voted to have lawyers review their agreement with the DNR. Village officials hope a parking charge would recover some beach maintenance costs now footed by the village and its 400 or so residents.

“We need to somehow come up with a means to maintain the beach without putting all the pressure on the village tax revenue,” said Gerry Shiffman, a village trustee.

Council members hope to charge $10 a day to park in one of the village’s 87 parking spots closest to the beach.

Charging for parking could violate an agreement with the Department of Natural Resources. The village’s beaches received two DNR trust fund grants, one for $60,000 in 1990 and another for $356,600 in 2005. One of the stipulations of the 2005 grant was that Empire officials cannot charge visitors a fee more than what’s charged at comparable local public recreational facilities.

Sleeping Bear Dunes charges $10 per vehicle per week, and Lake Township’s Flat River Area Park and Campground, in Benzie County, charges $4 a day.

“We would consider it a fee,” said Steve DeBrabander, who manages the DNR’s grants management section. “When you get a grant from the Trust Fund, the land that’s either acquired or developed is committed to public outdoor recreation in perpetuity.”

Violations of the agreement could jeopardize the village’s ability to receive future grants, DeBrabander said.

“Our goal here is, because these are state grants, that non-residents are not discriminated against,” DeBrabander said.

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