Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 7, 2013

Editorial: Traverse City must be sure it gets fishing pier right

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — On paper, it’s a perfect fit. Plans for a 15-foot-wide multi-use pier jutting 550 feet into West Bay just west of the mouth of the Boardman River would continue the city’s bayfront redevelopment.

It would give walkers a way to get onto the bay and a unique view of the city and all that water. It would allow fishermen without boats a place to wet a line and keep their feet dry.

But maybe not. Critics say the proposed public fishing pier is in what some area anglers consider a mostly fish-free zone in the summer. At least one boater worried about conflicts between fishermen on the pier, boaters going in and out of the river and swimmers who already jump from the Grandview Parkway bridge.

And Commissioner Mike Gillman said he doesn’t think the pier will be easily accessible to those with disabilities. The location is more than two blocks from the nearest pedestrian crossing of Grandview Parkway or city parking lot. “I want to know how somebody in a wheelchair is going to maneuver from wherever ... they park to get down there,” Gillman said at a recent city commission meeting.

Those concerns weren’t enough to prevent the commission from authorizing city staff to apply to the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust and other sources for funds for the project. But that can’t be a final say.

Creating a fishing pier was one of the ideas that came through the city’s “Your Bay, Your Say” project back in 2004 in which thousands of area residents pored over a slew of proposals for revamping the bayfront. Just in time for the Cherry Festival, the city opened the refurbished Clinch Park, with a new bathhouse and refreshment stand, splash pads for kids, a large terrace for picnicking and a lot more. An improved boat ramp and the pier were part of the wish list.

But given concerns raised by fishermen and others - and given the disturbing experience with raw sewage being pumped through the splash pad because of an apparent design flaw - the city simply must take a step back a look at its plans and assumptions for the pier with fresh eyes.

That certainly doesn’t mean the city should back off the idea. The idea is great. The idea for splash pads is great. But getting it right matters. And in this case, that means making choices based on solid data and solid thinking, not just anecdotal assertions.

Area fisherman said the shallow, sandy bottom near the river mouth won’t hold fish in the summer. “There’s just nothing to fish for there” at that time of year. said Tim Brendel, captain of the charter fishing boat Dancing Bear.

Mayor Michael Estes disagreed and said the river mouth is an ideal location. “I can assure you I have caught a ton of fish at the mouth of the Boardman River all seasons of the year,” Estes said.

Trout and salmon both run up the river and a pier there would be prime fishing grounds then. But the city needs to know more about fishing prospects there the rest of the year.

While they’re at it, commissioners may want to rethink what it is they want. On its own, a pier out into the bay is appealing and would no doubt be a popular spot to walk. But Gillman’s concerns can’t be ignored. How would people get there without a long hike? Where would they park?

This is a one-time deal; the city will fix the splash pads and can tweak new amenities at Clinch. But once a pier goes in, that’s where it’s going to stay.

It could be instructive to go back and see what residents said about a pier during the “Your Bay” process; the city could learn even more by seeking out more ideas and opinions.

This is an opportunity to build what could become an iconic, beloved attraction used by thousands. Alternative sites are possible. The city should listen, gather more information, build consensus and get it right.