2005-07-30 / News

Joint Issues Concern City, State Parks

By Jessica Delaney

There was a friendly atmosphere as the Mackinac Island State Park Commission met with the Mackinac Island City Council Friday, July 22, to discuss issues which concern both bodies. Mayor Margaret Doud and Commission Chairman Dennis Cawthorne led their respective groups during the public meeting, which took place over lunch at Grand Hotel.

The first issue on everyone’s mind was the budget for the commission, which oversees Mackinac State Historic Parks. With bad news from the state legislature, the agency is slated to lose its $1.5 million appropriation from Lansing for the upcoming budget year, which begins October 1. According to Mr. Cawthorne, however, the reality is not nearly so bleak. As a lobbyist, he predicts that by September, the time to finalize the state budget, Mackinac State Historic Parks will be slated to receive about $1.3 million.

According to Phil Porter, the park director, the summer-long negotiations over the state budget are taking their toll on the park. Administrators, he said, must budget for operations in October on the assumption that it will lose $1.5 million of its $5.7 million budget.

“There’s zero time,” he said. “Whatever the state takes away, staff and leadership will need to budget. It’s very difficult to plan when there are so few days between the passing of the budget and the beginning of the new fiscal year.”

With legislators expected to reach a budget decision in September, and a new fiscal year beginning October 1, the park will have only days to complete its own budget.

City officials said the state park funding will affect many city and public programs, such as the airport and winter snowplowing, in addition to its impact on tourism. Commissioner Frank Kelley, a former state attorney general, expressed the frustration that both commissioners and city officials have:

“We have to compete for repeat business,” he said. “But the city, the parks, none of us should have to be defensive with the legislature. It’s ridiculous that when this is a national monument, this is something the state should be proud of, that we should have to protect this jewel. They have no right to take money away. Since we are united, let’s put the pressure on them.”

Talk quickly turned to new ideas and new programs to increase first time and returning tourism to the Island.

“The whole of tourism is down,” said Commissioner Richard Manoogian. “We need to keep coming up with new ideas because the competition is getting more intense.”

Commissioner Audrey Jaggi agreed.

“It’s been a slow, downward trend for the last five years,” she said. “People aren’t spending money, they’re being cautious, and things are more expensive.”

City Alderman Jason St. Onge offered several ideas to combat the decrease.

“We don’t have anything new on this Island,” he said. “We need another reason for people to come here.”

Among his ideas are to create a sandy beach.

“There are eight miles of beach on this island, and nowhere to sit without rocks,” said Mr. St. Onge.

Mayor Margaret Doud supported the idea. “I think it’s an excellent idea,” she said. “Every day, people ask where there are sandy beaches, and where there are places to swim.”

Alderman Armand “Smi” Horn, meanwhile, reminded council members that there would be a limit to the benefits of a sandy beach. Asimilar attempt was made by Grand Hotel some years ago at the end of the boardwalk. He said that it couldn’t be a swimming beach, because rocks would be needed to hold the sand in, to prevent waves from washing it back out.

Mr. Porter was also concerned about the legality of creating a sandy beach. Mr. St. Onge proposed the beach sites at the end of the boardwalk, just past Mackinac Island Public School, where Grand Hotel had its beach. While some of the land above the high water mark there belongs to the state park, a section also belongs to Grand Hotel, and the bottomlands, under the water, belong to the state.

Another new idea proposed to bring tourism back is to create a free music concert series in Marquette Park. Mr. St. Onge said that the city could provide the music if the Commission would grant the use of Marquette Park. Installation of new cement benches in the park was also brought up.

Mr. Porter said that constructing the benches would not be difficult, because the Parks still have the molds for the old ones.

“They’re simple to make, and are a good winter project,” said Mr. Porter, who noted that the Commission still has the molds used to make the benches that are in Marquette Park now. The question, once again, was one of money.

“The business community here is very generous,” said Mr. Cawthorne, citing an obvious source of funding, “but they get tapped in so many ways.”

The group decided, however, to seek sponsors for the benches and Mr. Porter assured all present that those who donated money to the benches would be recognized in the park, and that it would even be possible to have the benches made with a name on them.

It was agreed to take steps toward implementing some of the new ideas, and Mayor Doud said that a city committee would be set up to put the ideas together and to discuss them with Mr. Porter.

Alderman Mike Hart brought up the master plan, which the city has been working on. He mentioned that the final plan will both directly and indirectly affect the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. Current zoning allows up to 600 new housing units on Mackinac Island, which would more than double the winter population and add to traffic, which, according to Mr. Hart, the infrastructure can not maintain.

Such increases would tax the city’s water and waste management facilities, which are housed on state park property. If zoning is not changed through a new master plan, he said that the city would need to ask for more land from the Commission to handle its waste treatment.

“I can’t guess what the reaction to a request for more state park land would be,” said Mr. Hart, “but I know that there’s no mandate in your charter to provide infrastructure for the city, and if an action doesn’t support the charter, you’re almost asked to deny it.”

He then asked that the Commission take a more active role in the master plan process, but Mr. Porter reminded council members that decisions must ultimately come from the State Park Commission.

“What I can do is indicate what would involve the commission,” said Mr. Porter. “The Commission would then need to review this, and take action. I can give guidance, but in the end, it all needs to be reviewed by the Commission.”

It was decided that while no representative from Mackinac State Historic Parks would be present on the city’s master plan committee, Mr. Porter and Mr. Hart will remain in close communication, and a draft summary of what is discussed will be passed along to commissioners.

Also discussed at the meeting was street lighting. Alderman Dan Wightman, who also works for Edison Sault Electric Co., has been working closely with Mr. Porter on improving the lighting outside of Marquette Park, as well as updating the lighting through downtown and city properties.

“New technology cuts down on everything,” said Mr. Wightman. “Eighty percent of light goes to the sky, but these new lights and globes have reflectors to the ground. Also, it will improve stargazing and give light on the ground where we need it.”

Mr. Porter agreed that new lighting is needed at Marquette Park for safety issues, but did add that there are certain areas that the Commission prefers to keep more dimly lit, for historic reasons.

“We are working toward a reasonable compromise,” said Mr. Porter. “And we are working on better and safer lighting outside Marquette Park.”

Another issue of concern for both the city and state park is stickers received at city amusements, which are found on buildings, sidewalks, and anything with a smooth surface.

“More and more, in the parks and Fort buildings, we’ve been finding stickers for admission to sites,” said Mr. Porter. “I’m afraid of proliferation, and the only way to contain this is through licensing. It’s a liter problem and a historic preservation problem. It saddens me to see these stickers on historic buildings.”

Mayor Doud added that the City could use help from the Park with the purchase of a new ambulance.

She said that owing to regulations, ambulances are supposed to be fueled by diesel. She added that the state park currently fuels the fire truck, and that if it were possible for them to also provide fuel for the ambulance, it would be appreciated.

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