SUTTONS BAY — Leelanau County Administrator Chet Janik and Commissioner Melinda Lautner were headed to Gaylord on Monday to meet with Michigan State Police officials regarding an internal investigation into road closures during the Ironman event.
The results of that investigation likely will be discussed at the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Janik said he contacted the MSP in October about its role in closing the roads for the August race and to get clarification on how closures will be handled in the August 2020 race, which has already sold out.
The 2020 race route has not been set and it may not even take place in Leelanau County, Janik said. Participants numbering 2,500 already have registered for the upcoming race.
Janik said he is still trying to find out who made the decision to close state highway M-72 and some county side roads.
“As of today I have not found anyone who is willing to take that responsibility,” Janik said Monday.
Road closures during the race prevented people from getting in or out of Leelanau County during the Ironman race as they could not cross M-72. Many could not get to work or church.
Commissioner Tony Ansorge is looking to pass a county resolution asking state legislators to seek an attorney general’s opinion as to whether road closures violated state law, and if so, to prevent further unlawful closures.
The resolution originally had asked the AG to identify and prosecute those who closed the roads without going through the proper channels.
Ansorge has said he believes the closures violated the law.
An opinion on the matter from county attorneys Peter A. Cohl and Timothy M. Perrone from the Lansing law firm of Cohl, Stoker & Toskey states that according to state law, highways may be closed by the state highway authority, but only if requested by a resolution of the governing body of a city, village or township.
Closures of county roads must be permitted by the county road commission. Janik has said he could find no proof that any of those requests were ever made.
“The (Leelanau County) road commission was not involved in that process,” Janik said.
Road closures are also only permitted after arrangements have been made to handle traffic during the closure. No such arrangements were made in the August race, the attorney opinion states.
People trying to get in and out of the county on race day said many of the state troopers policing the roads were not familiar with the area.
Janik also spoke with the Michigan Department of Transportation per the board’s request. According to information from MDOT’s website, non-motorized races are “generally a matter for police” and groups must make arrangements through local police or the MSP.
Rick Liptak, manager of the MDOT Transportation Service Center in Traverse City, said his agency originally was contacted about the event. Though the road closures were handled by the MSP, MDOT stayed involved to give them some guidance, he said.
Liptak said wording in the state law cited by Ansorge that says highways “may” be closed by the state highway authority — MDOT — is ambiguous and may make the law confusing.
“We followed our procedure,” Liptak said. “We know how important the event was, so we wanted to stay involved to make sure it went as well as it could.”
The event did not go as expected, he said.
As for the 2020 race, MDOT has not received any updates on its route.
Janik said the county is not opposed to Ironman.
“We want to make sure the proper procedures are followed and we want to avoid the challenges of the 2019 race,” he said.