TRAVERSE CITY — Old tensions over whether to build a Hartman and Hammond roads connection and bridge flared again during a special joint meeting between two county governing boards.
Dozens of community leaders and members of the public attended the meeting Wednesday and listened as Grand Traverse County commissioners and members of the county’s Road Commission discussed the interrelated projects of removing the Boardman and Sabin dams, replacing the Cass Road river crossing that sits atop the Boardman Dam and possibly building a Hartman-Hammond bridge.
Several county officials said the conversation raised more questions than it answered, and said the issues at stake require further discussion.
“If you think you are going to walk away a little more confused tonight than you were when you came in, then welcome to our world,” Road Commissioner Marc McKellar said during the meeting.
The road commission began studying a Hartman-Hammond bridge in the late 1990s to improve cross-town traffic and spur development.
A contentious debate on the matter raged until late 2004 when the road commission shelved the project. Bridge funds were reauthorized in 2005 to fund The Grand Vision land use and traffic study.
A report from the study recommended the Hartman-Hammond connection remain tucked away until a future date. But some local officials like Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn and county Commission Chairman Herb Lemcool, who represents Garfield Township on the county board, want to revisit that bridge.
Korn wants to delay the demolition of Boardman Dam and Cass Road Bridge while the road commission investigates connecting Hartman and Hammond roads. The demolition is part of an ongoing dam removal project to restore the Boardman River to a more natural state.
Many officials, including Korn, said the issue is not necessarily an either-or choice between a new Cass Road crossing and a Hartman-Hammond bridge.
“I’m not asking anybody to abandon anything,” Korn said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “I’m asking for some time for the community to talk about what they want to do.”
The road commission previously asked the committee that oversees the dams removals to take the Boardman Dam next, while it has funding to replace the bridge. The county has secured, among other funds, a $3 million state grant for that project.
But McKellar said Wednesday the road commission wants to see Sabin Dam removed first to buy more time to answer the east-west crossings question.
Dave Benda, Grand Traverse County administrator and a member of the Implementation Team in charge of the dam removal project, said the IT has no stake in the crossings debate, but it needs county officials to decide whether to replace the Cass Road crossing or abandon that project.
“Until some decision is made, we really can’t move forward and tell the engineers what they are suppose to do next,” Benda said.
Benda also pointed out an important unknown variable in the debate: whether the millions of dollars secured for the Cass Road Bridge project can be applied to another project in the county.
Road Commissioner John Nelson, who fought the original Hartman-Hammond bridge proposal, said that money can’t be moved.
Nelson expressed frustration about, among other things, the road commission’s 4-1 rejection on Tuesday of a resolution for the design of a river crossing at Cass Road.
The road commission unanimously approved a similar resolution two years ago, Nelson said.
“In those two years a lot of things have been done,” Nelson said. “Work has been done. Design work has been done. Money has been spent and money has been acquired by the road commission to replace the Cass Road Bridge.”
The responsible action is to replace the Cass Road Bridge now in conjunction with the dam removal project, Nelson added.
“I find it kind of odd that the process that we started some six, seven years ago, The Grand Vision, has been subverted somehow into a process all of a sudden where people on the street are telling us we need a Hammond-Hartman crossing,” Nelson said. “Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. But that’s not a process.”