2011-05-21 / Top News

City Will Seek Dismissal of MPSC, Federal Cases

Considers Boat Ticket Price Changes
By Karen Gould

The City of Mackinac Island will seek dismissals in litigation in federal district court and with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), city council decided after a 50- minute closed session that followed a council meeting Wednesday night, May 18. Both cases relate to the city’s regulation of ferries. The city already has asked the commission to dismiss the matter based on mootness.

The legal issues stem from filings made by Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry. In October 2010 in U.S. District Court, Shepler’s sued the city, Jim Wynn, Arnold Transit, and Union Terminal Piers for violating federal and state antitrust laws, among other things. The other parties have all filed counter claims. In February, Shepler’s filed a complaint with the MPSC asking it to exercise regulatory control over boat service.

The city is seeking dismissal since Shepler’s has signed a franchise agreement under the same terms and conditions as Northern Ferry. The agreements established ticket prices, minimum boat service requirements, franchise fee, and other regulations.

In a related matter during Wednesday’s council meeting, and only one month since the city finalized the franchise issue, both ferry companies asked for changes in ticket pricing, some of which were approved and some tabled for further consideration. Shepler’s sought council approval for an Internet late season ticket promotion and Northern Ferry wanted to make changes to some ticket prices. Tickets are currently set at $22 for an adult round trip on all boat lines.

Northern Ferry requested a list of prices which council noted were similar to ones approved last month for Shepler’s. At that time, council said it would consider a similar request from Northern Ferry, if it applied. Now with the price request before them, council approved the rates.

Council approved a reduced adult ticket from $22 to $8 for hotel package pricing, as already approved for Shepler’s. Additionally Northern Ferry asked for special St. Ignace Auto Show ticket prices of $21 for a day trip and $37 for multiple days.

Shepler’s asked for a special $12 adult fare to be offered on Facebook three times during the season. The company charges $19 online for an adult ticket. The promotion probably would be offered in May, September, and October, when it is not busy, to promote traffic to the Island, said Chris Shepler, vice-president of the company.

City attorney Tom Evashevski said he and attorney Mike Cavanaugh anticipated there would be additional price requests and changes, but the requested ticket prices need to be lower than current pricing, and must be defined to avoid price discrimination.

Alderman Sam Barnwell asked if the number of tickets could be limited and suggested 50 tickets.

“If you want to limit it, that’s fine with us,” said Mr. Shepler.

New council member Anneke Myers said 50 tickets is too small a number for a promotion.

“Personally, I think you’re going to have this going back and forth all season long,” she said. “I think that with the city trying to regulate so much and micro-manage this, this is just the tip of the iceberg for what’s going to happen here. And I think, personally, we shouldn’t be doing this at all. I think the boat lines should be able to charge whatever they want.”

Mr. Barnwell disagreed. “That’s contrary to our franchise agreement,” he said.

Mrs. Myers asked council to approve Shepler’s promotion with a limit of 500 tickets per promotion, but her motion died for lack of support.

Alderman Armin Porter suggested council consider the amount of tickets per promotion and decide the request in two weeks, which was unanimously supported.

New Council Member

Mayor Margaret Doud welcomed Anneke Myers to the board. Mrs. Myers won a seat on the council from the May election. Mayor Doud also greeted Mr. Porter, who was reelected.

“Hopefully we will do great things for Mackinac Island,” said Mayor Doud. “We’ll work our hardest and our best to accomplish what they put us here to do.”

Hawking/Vending/Peddling

Ben Horn told council he again is operating his peddling business from a bicycle and doing so under his state-issued veterans license. The city prohibited him from peddling in August 2010, and the city does not allow vending on city streets or sidewalks.

“I will continue to peddle through the streets downtown and throughout the rest of the Island until this is resolved,” said Mr. Horn.

Council made no comment and the matter likely will go to the Street Committee.

In September 2010, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission also denied the operation within the state park. The commissioners unanimously agreed then the activity should not be permitted.

Bicycle Redetermination

Council approved a total of 1,330 commercial bicycle licenses. During the redetermination hearing held prior to the council meeting, two requests were made for licenses. Sandra and Debra Orr asked to be considered for 50 additional licenses. Council did not address the Orr sisters’ request. Alan Sehoyan of Sunset Condominiums requested 15 licenses, an appeal that was tabled. The business has no licenses now, said Mr. Sehoyan, who attended the meeting.

Council decided to table Mr. Sehoyan’s matter until it has clarification on zoning issues based on city attorney Tom Evashevski’s recommendation. The company had not submitted an application, rather a letter, and there is a question on zoning, he said. The area is zoned hotel/boarding and is not zoned commercial.

Mr. Sehoyan said the licenses are needed to serve condominium guests.

“Our guests would be using majority of the bicycles to travel back and forth to town from their condo,” said Mr. Sehoyan in a letter to the city. “In the past, many guests have stated that it is inconvenient to rent from the downtown area because it is in the opposite direction they are traveling.”

Downtown bicycle business owner Ira Green questioned the need for the additional bicycle licenses.

“They’re condominium owners,” he said. “I have a bicycle. If they want to leave their bike at their condo, their personal bike, why don’t they just buy a bike and get a $4 license?”

Mr. Sehoyan said it would be a service provided by the management company, not the condominium owners.

Council approved 1,130 commercial bicycle licenses. Each bicycle license costs the business $25 and the program generates $33,250 in annual revenue for the city.

Commercial Bicycle

Licenses

(owners of licenses are in parentheses)

395 licenses – Ryba Bike Rental (Rich and Pat Grodecki)

294 licenses – Iroquois Bicycle Shop (Ira Green)

25 licenses – Mackinac Island Bikes (Ira Green)

100 licenses – Union Terminal Piers (Union Terminal Piers)

100 licenses – Lake Side Bikes (Union Terminal Piers)

100 licenses – Orr Kids Bike Rental (Sandra Orr)

100 licenses – Mission Point Resort (John Shufelt)

100 licenses – Grand Hotel (R.D. Musser III)

35 licenses – Harbour View Inn (Bob Pulte)

30 licenses – Inn at Stonecliffe (Bob Pulte)

31 licenses – Mackinac Wheels (Jimmy Fisher)

20 licenses – Small Point Bed and Breakfast (John Findley)

Other Business

Mayor Doud said she would be meeting with Mackinac Island Public School Superintendent Dave Waaso to see if the school and the city can work together to help the school, which faces state funding cuts. The school has issued five pink slips to teachers. The school has 10 teachers.

“If we don’t have a school, we’re not going to have a community,” said Mayor Doud. “We’ll become a caretaker society.”

School board member Kelly Bean said the teacher layoff issue was on the agenda for Thursday, May 19, school board meeting. The board will be able to consider keeping the teachers for the next year, Ms. Bean speculated, and the layoffs may be avoided.

Council denied a request for a television van to be parked in Grand Hotel’s Tea Garden during the Detroit Regional Chamber 2011 Mackinac Policy Conference in June. The ABC television affiliate out of Detroit, WXYZ-TV, was turned down based on a similar request approved one month earlier for Detroit Public Television.

Last month John Hulett, managing director of the hotel, told council that even though three trucks were sought by the public television station, only two were needed and would be used by several media outlets for live broadcasts, with some available on the Internet.

Council approved hiring the accounting firm Rehmann of Cheboygan for $930 per month for one year to assist the clerk and treasurer with monthly transactions. Mr. Barnwell said residents have expressed concerns to him that the company also is employed by one of the ferry companies, presenting a potential conflict of interest. He suggested that this fall, the Finance Committee should consider other firms. No action was taken on the suggestion.

In another accounting matter, Anderson Tackman of Kincheloe was hired for $11,000 to perform the city’s audit.

Council approved three temporary trailer permits and 41 temporary motor vehicle permits, including those for street paving at various locations around the Island.

Mary Slevin asked council to consider waiving the permit fee for street paving at Rowe Condominiums. A cut was made in the street to repair a sewer leak. Council said it would consider the request at a later time, but approved the permits to get the road repairs completed as soon as possible.

Council approved 2011 Lilac Festival Events, including a new event called vegetarian traditions, a healthy cooking demonstration and tasting featuring chef George Vutetakis Saturday, June 11. Coming to the festival this year will be a Clydesdale hitch brought by former Carriage Tours employee Kyle David.

Council approved spending $350 for emergency equipment for the Fire Department. The money will be combined with a Mackinac Island Community Foundation grant to total about $2,400.

Council approved spending $300 for equipment to be used on the ambulance.

Council approved spending $1,170 to replace rotting windowsills at City Hall.

Council waived the Community Hall rental fee for Mackinac Island State Park for a public meeting on the airport renovation project. The date of the meeting has not been set yet.

Council next meets at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 1.

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