TRAVERSE CITY — Slabtown Neighborhood residents’ ongoing push to restore a historic neighborhood beach on West Bay will face one more battle with the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay.
Watershed Center officials successfully thwarted city officials’ efforts to gain state and federal permits to groom an 80-foot stretch of shoreline where Elmwood Street meets Grandview Parkway. Now, Watershed officials are lobbying city commissioners to stop the planned mowing of vegetation along the beach area that’s set to occur next month.
Watershed officials in a letter to city commissioners said mowing will destroy natural habitat for wildlife, increase erosion, and encourage the spread of invasive species.
“Our preference is that the area be left natural,” said Christine Crissman, Watershed Center executive director.
Mayor Michael Estes said commissioners should ignore the letter.
“Slabtown residents have waited far too long in dealing with too much government and too many special interest groups in returning their beach to a usable public asset,” Estes said.
But Commissioner Gary Howe said a lot of people have concerns about beach mowing and they have a “legitimate beef.”
Mike Gaines, Slabtown Neighborhood Association president, said the back-and-forth just creates another delay in residents’ five-year battle to restore a beach lost when lake levels rose in the 1980s.
“The Watershed Center does a lot across this whole area of the state to raise awareness and promote clean and fresh water,” Gaines said. “But there should be a compromise to get workable solutions. They have not compromised at all through the process and ‘don’t touch a blade of grass” is not a viable compromise for a city park beach.”
City officials initially wanted to groom the beach as part of a state transportation grant to improve storm water drains that enter the bay while extending the TART trail along city shoreline. Pressed to use the state grant or lose it, city officials agreed late in 2013 to abandon the grooming permits and instead begin mowing the vegetation, which is allowed under state and federal law.
City Manager Jered Ottenwess said city workers likely will begin mowing in June but it won’t be the “indiscriminate mowing” alleged by the Watershed Center and they will remain sensitive to environmental concerns.
“I’m a member of the Watershed Center,” said neighborhood resident and beach advocate Sandy Cartwright. “I’m very much for conservation and the environment, but it needs to be made available for the people to use.”