On Monday, the Traverse City commission will be making a very important decision about the Brown Bridge Trust Fund, now at $13.5 million. It is a decision that I have been very involved with in the past.
As a city commissioner in the late 1970s, when the oil and gas business was booming, the city was faced with a very lucrative future at the Brown Bridge pond to engage with the companies that wanted to drill there. I served on a commission committee to develop an oil and gas lease that protected the natural beauty of the property. After much public discussion drilling was approved.
Then, when the city began to realize the revenue from the property, the Brown Bridge Trust Fund was approved, again by popular vote. The underlying idea for this foundation was that this valuable asset should continue to enhance city revenues by lowering taxes for the general fund. I was also involved in constructing the language for the city charter to ensure this purpose, also added to the charter in 1978.
As a member of the Brown Bridge Committee, I was also involved in the decision to make the property a Quiet Area to ensure the enjoyment of all the citizens of Traverse City.
In the early 1980s, the City Commission found that property along West End Beach belonged to the railroads. To improve this property and extend the beach area after the acquisition of the Open Space, another community effort, the city would need to purchase the property from the railroad. The City Commission, myself included, spent many evenings accosting users of the trail along the bay, convincing them that the Brown Bridge Trust Fund should be used for this purpose. This referendum passed by a three-fifths vote and the West End beach was improved.
As we look forward to a decision May 6, I encourage the commission to define any improvements to Traverse City parks, one suggestion for using Brown Bridge funds, in a way that citizens will recognize as a permanent improvement for all citizens of the city. This does not include “slides and swings,” which should be part of the Recreation Department’s yearly budget. It also does not include additional property acquisition. The damage done by the decommissioning of Brown Bridge Dam may be covered in part - but I would question whether a definitive cost can be determined until the damages and responsibility can be made. I believe it is too early for this.