2018-12-08 / News

Investigation Into Beautifying Island Harbor Will Continue This Winter

By Stephanie Fortino

This winter, a citizen-led effort will investigate whether the Mackinac Island harbor could be made more attractive by the creation of boardwalks and beaches and the reduction of docks. The Save Our Island nonprofit organization, spearheaded by Anthony “Mack” Trayser, has taken on the initiative and will fund a feasibility study that will be shared publicly in spring 2019.

Mr. Trayser organized a grassroots effort to save the old McNally Cottage, which led to the city establishing historic districts downtown. He is now focusing on the harbor, concerned that it will soon be developed into a series of privatized docks. He is advocating for the city to consider his long-term vision, which would open up the harbor to all.

Mr. Trayser shared his concept at a special city council meeting Tuesday, October 30. While he had hoped for the city council to endorse his feasibility study, council members raised concerns, primarily with his proposal to eliminate Star Line and Shepler passenger docks at the Iroquois end of the harbor. Councilmembers did say they would be open to projects that would beautify the harbor, but they were skeptical Mr. Trayser will get the ferry companies on board.

Joining Mr. Trayser at the meeting were his attorney, Tom Flickinger of Rhoades McKee in Grand Rapids, and engineering consultant, Brian McKissen of the water resources divisions at Fishbeck, Thompson, Huber, and Carr in Novi. Mr. Flickinger explained the meeting was a valuable opportunity for the team to hear the city council’s concerns, which will help steer the study this winter.

The feasibility study will explain how such a harbor redevelopment could work, and it will provide some initial cost estimates. Mr. McKissen’s company developed the renderings of what the harbor could look like. The Fishbeck firm, which the city consults for its sewer and water systems, has led many shoreline restoration and redevelopment projects throughout the state, he said, including restoration of the dunes along Lake Michigan and the rapids to the Grand River.

The Mackinac Island harbor is at risk of having more private docks and private marinas established, Mr. Trayser said, which he fears would further clutter an already increasingly developed shoreline. His vision, which includes a boardwalk and public beaches, is a longterm goal, he said, and could be developed in phases or sections.

The view that visitors first see of the harbor, as their ferry boats round the breakwater, could be vastly improved, he said, noting his dismay at how little attention has been paid to that area.

City Councilmember Dennis Bradley said he is interested in ways the city could improve the harbor and view from the water, although he had concerns about the ferry docks at the south end of town.

“I don’t object to improving the view,” Mr. Bradley said.

The biggest concern councilmembers raised centered on Mr. Trayser’s proposal to have all visitors and freight come into the Island at one dock, the Coal Dock, which would eliminate the need for the other docks.

Councilmember Steve Moskwa said after talking to some ferry operators he was adamantly opposed to removing any docks and would not entertain whether a public beach downtown would benefit the community. The decision is up to the property owners, he believes, not the city council. Mr. Moskwa also said that the presentation should not have come before the council at all. He did acknowledge that he is in favor of some work being done to improve how downtown looks from the water, but said Mackinac Island relies on transporting tourists at multiple docks, and docks should not be removed.

Councilmembers and city attorney Tom Evahsevski thought Mr. Trayser’s request to proceed with his idea should have gone to the Historic District Commission and Planning Commission first, while Mr. Trayser explained he wanted to gauge interest in the possibility of beautifying the harbor and hoped the council would support his investigation. Mr. Trayser did not ask the city council to approve his plans, noting the study will determine whether the project is even possible. He also noted that he received positive feedback from Shepler’s about the plan as it was proposed about two years ago.

The vision is “a glimpse of what is possible,” he said. “We are asking for a chance to present it. Don’t prejudge something before you see what we’ve come up with.”

Councilmember Anneke Myers also raised concerns about the proposition to remove the Shepler’s and Star Line docks, especially in light of the multi-million-dollar project Shepler’s is completing this winter. Having all of the Island’s passengers land at one dock would not alleviate congestion, she contended, and she added that freight and passenger operations must occur at different docks.

But Mr. Trayser said rerouting passengers to one dock will alleviate congestion and could possibly lower the cost of passenger and freight operations. Service could also be expanded under a new vision. And creating a shared public space along the waterfront would mean tourists would have more options to gather downtown.

He also noted that he wasn’t asking the city council to endorse a plan to remove any docks, but rather to allow him to investigate the possibility.

The city council has received other traffic analyses in the past, but has shelved those projects. Included was a design completed by Michigan State University that Mayor Margaret Doud mentioned at the meeting, which included a plan to develop a downtown boardwalk that was never realized.

“There was some kind of a block every time it’s been suggested,” she said.

Mr. Bradley suggested Mr. Trayser investigate establishing a boardwalk in a different portion of the harbor, perhaps from the old Arnold Dock (now Star Line’s midtown dock) to the Visitors Cen- ter. Mr. Trayser said the boat traffic headed into the state marina could pose challenges to development over there. But Mr. Bradley said he might have better luck convincing the state, rather than the ferry lines.

The city’s recently approved master plan does mention creating a boardwalk downtown as one of its goals, Mrs. Myers added, and Mayor Doud noted the idea has been proposed for about 25 years.

Mr. Evashevski also pointed out that the city’s ferry franchise agreement stipulates which docks must be used to provide passenger service to the Island.

Councilmember Kay Hoppenrath also pointed out the city is in the process of trying to buy the Coal Dock, where the city wants to establish a Transportation Authority and reroute all the freight traffic there. Mr. Trayser said he is familiar with the city’s plans, as he is one of the many parties involved in the ongoing litigation because he likely has some claims to portions of the Coal Dock.

Mrs. Myers said she believes the city must establish a single freight dock on the Island, which would be the Coal Dock, if the city is successful in acquiring it.

In addition to expressing concerns about the ferry docks, Mrs. Hoppenrath also complained that the vision included a sandy beach. Sand is not historic there and would not stay on the beach, she contends, but Mr. Trayser disagreed. Mr. McKissen said the coastal analysis will determine whether a sandy beach would work in the harbor.

Mr. Trayser’s proposal offers “something beautiful for everyone,” he said.

Redeveloping Mackinac Island’s downtown shoreline will be advantageous all around, he said, and will greatly benefit the property owners and business community, as well as the public. While he had hoped for the council to formerly sanction his feasibility study before he speaks to property owners, he will continue meeting his neighbors throughout the winter. There is a real sense of urgency in developing a vision for the harbor’s development, Mr. Trayser said, as plans are already in the works to add more private docks, which will completely cut off access to the harbor.

“We went 50 years without private docks,” he told the Town Crier, “and that has a dramatic impact. I am trying to engage community support. If we can show the community is behind it, business owners will get behind it. It will benefit the community.”

The project would not only benefit the economy, but would also take into account and protect the many historic buildings along the waterfront.

Bob Gale was the only property owner in the proposed project area to attend the meeting, and while he was in favor of developing a boardwalk downtown, he told the Town Crier the project hinges more on the ferry companies.

Audience member Richard Bolander said he would like to see the results of the study.

Mr. Trayser is looking forward to sharing his vision with the public next spring, and he hopes the city council will be open to considering a more accessible harbor.

Editor’s Note: Advertising messages outlining Mr. Trayser’s vision were published by Save Our Island in the Mackinac Island Town Crier October 6 and December 12 editions.

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