2019-02-09 / News

Trayser Will Donate Coal Dock Interest If Council Considers Open Harbor

By Stephanie Fortino

For months, the Mackinac Island City Council has been negotiating, with the help of attorneys, to develop a plan to purchase the Coal Dock, one of the main freight terminals at Mackinac Island. While the city council shed some light on those negotiations during a recent public hearing (see related story in this issue), some uncertainty lingers over the ongoing arbitration at the dock.

Beginning in 2015, several parties, including the city, made claims to the Coal Dock. Working with the Department of Environmental Quality and through the court system to determine ownership rights is a drawn-out process that is not finished.

While the dock is technically owned by Mackinac Island Ferry Capital, the investment company that now operates Arnold Freight, it is in negotiations to sell the dock and other assets to the new Mackinac Island Ferry Company, whose principal is Veronica Dobrowolski. Ms. Dobrowolski has been managing Arnold Freight operations for Ferry Capital. In December, the city signed a purchase agreement with Mackinac Island Ferry Capital to purchase a majority of the Coal Dock for $2.85 million.

The crux of the issue comes down to riparian rights and uplands ownership. Only owners of upland property at the water’s edge can lease bottomlands from the State of Michigan, and bottomlands leases are required to build docks. So, because there are competing interests in the upland properties, ownership at the Coal Dock is murky.

Because the Coal Dock predates Michigan’s statehood, Mackinac Island Ferry Capital contended it owned the bottomlands, but that argument was ultimately rejected by the DEQ. Other upland owners have claims to the Coal Dock, however, including the City of Mackinac Island, which owns the Astor Street ending. and Trayser Properties, which owns the Merchants of Mackinac building that is near the head of the Coal Dock.

Along the head of the Coal Dock are several buildings, including Merchants of Mackinac, the Seabiscuit property owned by Debra and Sandra Orr of Mackinac Island Draught Company, and the “To Bead or Not To Bead” store owned by Mackinac Island Ferry Capital. The city also owns the only public access to the Coal Dock through the end of Astor Street, which leads directly to the dock, between the bead store and the Taxi Office building.

For the past several months, the city has been working in earnest to purchase the Coal Dock, and the council is pursuing a $3.95 million bond to cover expenses. The bond will be repaid with dock and building leases, as well as a one-mill tax levy. At a recent public hearing, city attorney Tom Evashevski said he hopes the deal will be finalized by March.

This deal, however, will only occur if the city council can negotiate a settlement with the last outstanding piece of the puzzle, which is the settlement with the Trayser family over its ownership interest in the Coal Dock.

Anthony “Mack” Trayser says he is willing to donate his ownership interest in the Coal Dock, which includes a wedge-shape portion of the end of the Coal Dock, but on two conditions, he told the Town Crier.

First, Mr. Trayser said there must be fair competition on the Coal Dock. If one company is given a significant advantage over the dock, Mr. Trayser fears the city will own the Coal Dock in name only, i.e. the purchase was made simply to ensure Mackinac Island Freight Company can operate.

Second, Mr. Trayser said the city must thoughtfully consider his plans to open up and beautify the harbor, which he contends will alleviate congestion on Main Street through a new boardwalk system and reduced dock clutter. He has hired attorneys and planners to investigate the possibility of opening the harbor, and he anticipates studies regarding opening the harbor will be available this summer. If it turns out that the plan is not feasible, Mr. Trayser said he would concede and donate his Coal Dock interest to the city, but only after the studies are done.

“The opening of the harbor benefits everybody,” he said.

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