BY MICHAEL WALTON
— TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County’s Power Island might not be a county-operated park for long.
County officials proposed a partnership with Peninsula Township officials under which the township would take over operations of the island located in West Grand Traverse Bay.
Whether that’s possible under restrictions in the island’s deed, which dates back to 1975, remains unclear, but county Commissioner Dan Lathrop said he thinks the park could be better served by Peninsula Township, the area of the county he represents.
“We’re hoping the Peninsula could take it on and make the island all it could be,” Lathrop said.
Several officials said the move would amount to a cost-cutting measure for the county.
The county spends about $100,000 a year maintaining Power Island. Officials first eyed cutting some of those costs late last year, when Administrator Dave Benda suggested eliminating the park’s caretaker position amid an effort to reign in a deficit of more than $1 million.
Commissioners later floated the possible partnership with Peninsula Township during budget meetings.
Commissioner Larry Inman said similar ideas arise whenever the county looks to save money.
Whether the idea is feasible largely comes down to cost, Inman said.
“If I was sitting on the township board, I’d say ‘Thanks, Grand Traverse County, but we have our own budget issues. Who’s going to help us pay for this island?’” Inman said.
Township Treasurer David Weatherholt said township board members haven’t yet discussed the proposal. He said some board members likely don’t even know about the idea.
“We don’t know if they’re serious,” Weatherholt said of county commissioners.
The township board’s interest in such an arrangement will depend on the cost and the work necessary to maintain the park, he said.
County commissioners last week assigned the county’s Parks and Recreation board to explore a possible partnership.
Parks board President Alisa Kroupa said her board wants to consider a host of options for Power Island, including selling the park to Peninsula Township for $1 and seeing if the state of Michigan wants to get involved in the park’s operations.
Kroupa said in each of those scenarios the island would remain a public park.
“The park will always be a park. It’s not like we are damaging something or turning away a park from our residents,” she said.
Kroupa said parks officials will work with county attorneys to determine the status of Power Island’s deed limits and what can be done with the park.
Parks board members asked county attorneys to explore similar questions about Twin Lakes Park, which Kroupa suggested be leased to a private, nonprofit group.
Kroupa said both potential moves align with the parks board’s focus on working with outside groups who run recreational programs, while the county would serve as a sort of landlord.
Parks commissioners scrapped their old strategic plan and wrote a new one to align with that philosophy after four new members joined the board starting late last year.
The turnover on the board followed a period of infighting among parks commissioners about whether the county should operate its own recreation programs, and accusations that parks board member Christine Maxbauer used her seat on the county commission to undermine parks board decisions with which she disagreed.
One of Maxbauer’s most vocal critics, Scott Robertson, was ousted from the board in November after officials learned he lived outside Grand Traverse County.
The other, William Dorrier, applied for reappointment to his seat, but then withdrew his application at the last minute, Kroupa said.
Dorrier could not be reached for comment.