BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — State and federal environmental agencies appear poised to reject a plan to restore a historic beach on West Bay.
Agency officials don't want the city to eliminate a 200-foot-long vegetation patch along a spit of land that juts into the bay about a quarter-mile west of West End Beach, based on letters they sent to city officials.
The Slabtown Neighborhood Association pushed for a restoration project that includes a Tart Trail extension. A state transportation grant would have funded the lion's share of the $225,000 project.
"We just want to use one small, little area that's been used by families in this neighborhood for years," said Sandra Cartwright, a Slabtown resident since 1963 and chair of the association's beach committee.
"We spent two years going through a very thoughtful, structured study and settled on what would have the least impact, if any, on the environment," Cartwright said. "It used to be 1,000 feet of beach, we narrowed it to 200 feet."
Historical photos show the spot at the northern end of Elmwood Avenue used to house both a marina and bathing beach. The marina was moved when the state built Grandview Parkway, but the beach remained and was groomed by the city up until high lake levels in the late 1980s pushed up to the road, Cartwright said.
Concrete slabs dropped on the beach to serve as road protection ended beach grooming. Vegetation now divides the sandy beach area from the water, Cartwright said.
The city wants to remove the vegetation, some of the concrete slabs, and the wooden remains of a breakwall. It would cover the hard, rip-rap surface with sand and plant it with dune grass. City officials also would fix two stormwater drains to capture oil and debris and build a universal access ramp down to the beach.
But the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appear to lean toward arguments from the project's chief opponent, the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay.
"Our beaches are not overcrowded; there is no need for this," said Andy Knott, executive director of the Watershed Center.
The vegetation helps prevent erosion and will serve as important fish habitat when lake levels rise again, Knott said. The Watershed Center also opposes extending the TART Trail as a paved surface.
Knott said 75 percent of the city's shoreline already is improved or groomed, well over the 25 percent he recommends.
Tim Lodge, city engineer, disputes Knott's calculations.
The city currently grooms about 28 percent of its waterfront on West and East bays, Lodge said. Another 34 percent is considered hard surface, consisting mainly of the marina and its two breakwalls.
Adding the Slabtown beach will boost the amount of groomed beach to 29 percent. The city will still have over 5,200 feet of unimproved waterfront on West Bay.
The Army Corps of Engineers wants the city to address the Watershed Center's questions about the need for more beach.
"It's up to the applicant to prove its current beaches are inadequate," said James Luke, the Army Corps' project manager "They need to provide proof to us there is a purpose and a need for this project."
The city commission rejected making major alterations to the permit application and instructed Lodge to respond to the regulators' concerns.
Failure to get a sandy beach likely won't stop the rest of the project, city officials said.
"I expect that project to proceed regardless of the outcome of the beach discussions," said Ben Bifoss, city manager.