TRAVERSE CITY — Board members for Traverse City Light & Power will look to city commissioners for guidance on how to navigate two politically thorny issues.
The city-owned utility’s board hopes to get a sense of commissioners’ preferences on questions of local power generation and how to dispose of the coal dock property on West Bay in Elmwood Township. The two items will be among a host of utility-related issues the boards will discuss in a joint meeting today at 7 p.m. at the Governmental Center.
“Commissioners have broader policy issues they address all of the time and they also have to deal with the politics,” said Pat McGuire, board chairman for TCL&P. “The Light & Power board has to worry about Light & Power.”
The Discovery Center Great Lakes, an alliance of water-focused nonprofit agencies, brought the coal dock issue to the forefront in December, when its officials approached TCL&P about using the property to help create a regional educational and tourism destination. The property includes 2.2 acres of waterfront with a key-shaped, earth-filled pier about a mile north of M-72 in Elmwood Township.
The utility also owns about 4.6 acres on the west side of M-22 and together the two parcels were appraised at $2.68 million in 2012.
“From Light & Power’s perspective there is no reason for us to continue ownership of that property and it’s kind of a hassle,” McGuire said. “It could be put to better use but we’re not a parks and recreation department.”
Mayor Michael Estes said the discussion won’t focus on the Discovery Center’s proposal but more on how TCL&P disposes of surplus property, including the coal dock.
Officials said there are two main options to address. Keep the property in public ownership of some form or sell it on the open market.
A private sale is an option, but most comments focused on keeping it in some form of public ownership because of its community value as a deep-water port, McGuire said.
Peter Doran, TCL&P attorney, listed a half-dozen legal options to keep the property public, from city ownership to creating a public, nonprofit corporation or a port authority with Leelanau County.
“We need a sense from the commission about what they want to do because there’s no reason to start marching down one road if that’s not where they want to go, because eventually they have to approve it,” McGuire said.
Light & Power board members are about half-way through a process to determine how to obtain a future power supply for the utility. Board members appear to be leaning away from constructing a local, fossil-fuel-generated power plant as not economical, but before they make a decision McGuire said they want to hear commissioners’ thoughts.