fishpass tree retention

This overhead photo of Union Street Dam Park in Traverse City shows trees that are set to be saved during construction of FishPass, set to replace the dam. Trees within the red outlines will not be cut.

TRAVERSE CITY — FishPass may be headed to a vote after 13th Circuit Court Judge Power again ruled the project would violate Traverse City's charter without voter approval.

The decision Thursday is a setback for the multi-partner project led by Great Lakes Fishery Commission, with a construction cost nearing $20 million in mostly federal funds.

It's a major win for city resident Rick Buckhalter, who asked the court to block the project's approval. FishPass aims to replace the Union Street Dam with a fish passage channel and a labyrinth weir. He argued the project amounted to a disposal of parkland, or converting it to a non-park use.

Either one would require a public vote with three-fifths voting "yes" to go ahead, according to the city charter.

City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht argued the land, purchased in the 1960s from Consumers Power (as Consumers Energy was then called), was never dedicated parkland. Even if it was, the project didn't amount to converting it to a non-park use, or even a substantial change from its current use.

Power determined Union Street Dam is a park, and that any requirement that parkland be formally or legally dedicated would make two sections of the city charter meaningless.

One of those sections requires city parkland to be dedicated to parkland use, which Power interpreted as "devoted" to public recreation. And FishPass's aim is primarily a research facility with limited to no public access to the fish-sorting channel. Power again ruled research facilities aren't a parkland purpose.

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