2016-07-23 / Top News

City Strategizes Over Bottomlands

By Stephanie Fortino

The city council met in closed session twice Wednesday, July 20. During the first session, which lasted about 45 minutes, the council considered a written legal opinion from city attorney Tom Evashevski about the city’s rights and bottomlands regulations, which Mayor Margaret Doud requested. The second session lasted about 30 minutes, during which the council discussed settlement strategies for the pending lawsuit over the Coal Dock.

Following the unveiling last week of a hotel proposed at the head of the Shepler’s Dock, which would include expanding the dock in both directions along the shore, the city received a letter from surveyor Neil Hill of St. Ignace on behalf of clients Ira Green and Melanie Libby of Main Dock 7271 in which he asked the city council to write a letter to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) about a proposed bottomlands lease on the west side of the Shepler’s Dock, which is currently not used to dock ferries.

The city council placed the letter on file and will consider whether to write a letter to the DEQ at the next meeting Wednesday, August 3, at 5 p.m. The city has written letters about other bottomlands lease requests.

Mayor Doud asked for the written legal opinion to explain the city’s responsibilities, rights, legal realities, and duties when it comes to requests for bottomlands leases, Mr. Evashevski told the Town Crier. Within about the last year, the city has received more applications for riparian rights and bottomlands issues than it has in the 60 years since Michigan Lands Submerged Act was adopted.

“How some of those opinions may impact or not impact some of the pending applications could very possibly be litigious points,” Mr. Evashevski told the Town Crier.

Included were several letters filed at the Coal Dock, which are the subject of the pending lawsuit that was the subject of the second closed session.

Earlier this year, the city filed a lawsuit against Mackinac Island Ferry Capital (MIFC) over the bottomlands at the Coal Dock, which MIFC owns. Following a flurry of applications from Debra and Sandra Orr of Seabiscuit Cafe, Nancy Porter of the Might Mac, and the Trayser Family of the Trading Post, who own the buildings that span the head of the Coal Dock, the city filed its own claim with the DEQ to the bottomlands rights beneath the Coal Dock. The city argues that it has an interest in the right because Astor Street ends at the head of the dock, which MIFC contests.

Shortly after the city sued MIFC, the company counter sued the city, the other parties that submitted applications for the bottomlands rights, and the state.

The second closed session Wednesday night was needed, Mr. Evashevski told the Town Crier, to discuss the case and strategy options.

“We claim some interest in the Coal Dock by way of our riparian rights, and MIFC disputes that,” Mr. Evashevski said. “We’ve got to figure out what kind of settlement strategy we may have going forward.”

Mr. Evashevski, Mayor Doud, Lansing attorney Michael Cavanaugh, and possibly another city council member will participate in the negotiations.

The closed session was the first of many regarding the case, Mr. Evashevski said. He expects the city council to hold closed sessions after every city council meeting until September.

Attorney John Muth of Grand Rapids will mediate the negotiations. He is a former president of the Michigan Bar Association. Settlement conferences will be held in Traverse City.

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