TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners will take over the decision-making process to determine what to do with waterfront property in Elmwood Township known as the coal dock.
Traverse City Light & Power owns the property but has no use for it. Board members for the city-owned utility entered Monday’s joint meeting with city commissioners hoping for guidance on how to dispose of the property. But commissioners split on the question, with opinions that ranged from selling it on the open market to giving it away for free to a group of nonprofits.
Commissioners did reach agreement with utility board members the decision belonged with commissioners, not their appointees.
“There are a lot of things to discuss and it would seem the logical place to discuss them would be the city commission,” said Commissioner Ross Richardson.
Commissioners stopped short of directing utility board members to transfer the property to city ownership, but Mayor Michael Estes told them they should refer any future questions or inquiries about the property to the city staff.
The city purchased the 2.2 acres of waterfront with a key-shaped, earth-filled pier about a mile north of M-72 in Elmwood Township to receive coal for a generating plant that no longer exists. The utility also owns about 4.6 acres on the west side of M-22 it used for coal storage. Together the two parcels were appraised at $2.68 million in 2012.
Commissioner Tim Werner disputed calls for the city to maintain public ownership of the coal dock because it’s possibly the sole deep water-port in West Bay capable of handling cruise ships or delivery of materials by ship. He proposed to let the market decide its value.
“I don’t see the city taking on responsibility for maintaining a deep-water port for something that may happen in the future,” Werner said.
Commissioner Jim Carruthers said he supported a proposal from the Discovery Center Great Lakes, an alliance of water-focused nonprofit agencies supported by Rotary Charities.
The organizations want to use the coal dock to create a community harbor and private marina that would help them fund creation of a regional educational and tourism destination.
The Discovery Center proposal also had the support of Commissioner Gary Howe, but Howe disagreed that the city commission should make the decision.
“I’m comfortable with leaving it with Light & Power,” Howe said. “I’m looking for you guys to make the decision.”
Pat McGuire, chairman of the utility board, said it’s not appropriate for the utility board to decide issues such as the importance of the port to tourism or the region’s economy. McGuire said utility board members would be willing to maintain title to the property if it makes it easier for the city, but only if they had assurances the city would take over management of the property.
“We can leave it sit with Light & Power if we know there is some light at the end of the tunnel,” McGuire said.