Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 27, 2013

Slabtown beach request denied

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Put away the beach umbrellas and sunscreen. A split decision from regulatory agencies threw sand in the city’s request to renew a small, groomed beach on the west end of Grandview Parkway.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials differed on what they liked and didn’t like about the beach proposal. The DEQ approved grooming an 80-foot stretch of beach, but denied a request to remove a series of wood posts in the water that are part of an old breakwall because they serve as aquatic insect habitat.

The Army Corps denied the grooming request but approved the wood post removal, meaning city officials may neither remove the posts nor groom the beach to remove vegetation from an area known as the Slab Town beach.

“Obviously, a lot of people will be disappointed they rejected the request,” said Mike Gaines, president of the Slabtown Neighborhood Association. “Generations have enjoyed a groomed beach in that location for decades, including myself and my family.”

City officials originally requested permission to groom 200 feet of beach from a spit of land that juts into West Grand Traverse Bay at the end of Elmwood Avenue. Officials trimmed the size after the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay objected and appeared to sway regulators’ opinions.

But city officials produced pictures that showed the waterfront as a popular, groomed beach dating to the 1930s. That changed when high lake levels in the 1980s swamped the beach and the Michigan Department of Transportation brought in large boulders and broken concrete slabs to protect Grandview Parkway from waves.

High water eventually receded, but the city -- hampered by the concrete slabs -- didn’t resume grooming.

The city applied for grooming permits in 2012 to coincide with a grant from state transportation officials to extend a trail from West End Beach to the Slabtown beach area, build a universal access ramp down to the beach, and stabilize and upgrade storm sewer outlets while removing the concrete.

The project also would add pedestrian crossings along Grandview Parkway.

The Watershed Center objected to the vegetation removal from what it termed a “natural beach area” unique in an urban setting.

“It’s really no surprise the Corp of Engineers denied the project; they did not demonstrate a need or look at alternatives,” said Andy Knott, Watershed Center executive director. “Why do you need a new beach two blocks from the existing beach. That never made any sense.”

Knott said about 75 percent of the city shoreline already is managed and that’s opposite of best practices that recommend no more than 25 percent for a property owner.

Gaines said asking to groom 80 feet from a quarter-mile stretch of shoreline is not much beach. And unlike most of the city shoreline, it’s too shallow for boats to pull up and moor close to shore.

“This could be a beachgoer’s beach,” Gaines said. “And despite what the Watershed Center contends, this area, economically, socially, culturally, is tied to the beach front and most people cannot realize access to this quarter-mile of beach.”

City officials have not yet decided how to respond to the permit denials because they only recently received them, said Makayla Vitous, assistant city manager. The city asked MDOT for a grant extension and will assemble a team to review options.

Neighborhood association members, meanwhile, asked the city to mow the vegetation that blocks their access to the water.