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MATS’ route study final recommendations to be shared

Muskegon Heights, MI – The Muskegon Area Transit System (MATS) will host two opportunities for the public to hear from the Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning consulting team that has completed final recommendations of a MATS Route Study and Comprehensive Operational Analysis project.

The first meeting will be an open house format from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19, at the Herman Ivory Terminal, 351 Morris Avenue.

The second will be a formal presentation forum from 6-7 p.m. that evening at the Sturrus Technology Center, 388 W. Clay Avenue (MCC’s downtown Campus and former Chronicle Building — use the Clay Avenue entrance). All community members are invited to attend and to learn the details of the consultant’s recommendations, directly from the consulting team.

The consulting team prepared their final report, “Route Study and Comprehensive Operational Analysis Recommendations,” and presented recommendations to the county for consideration in January 2020. The recommendations, available at the link below, are being reviewed for possible implementation by the County and its partner municipalities. As implementation steps are considered, actions that may require public hearings will be identified and announced, as needed. Find the complete report and appendices at: https://matsbus.com/route-study-2019/

Key recommendations by the consulting team include:

• Develop a “Microtransit” systems which would use smaller vehicles and new technologies for efficient delivery of same-day rides on demand. The service would be accessible to the general public. It would be overseen by MATS and delivered through a qualified contractor. It would be a new option where fixed-route and GoBus services are reduced or eliminated.

• Fixed-route bus service would be focused on corridors and time periods that can produce the most ridership for this form of service.

• Repurpose existing GoBus program to serve only the federally-required Americans with Disabilities Act transportation needs. This would provide next-day transportation service to persons who are within the fixed-route service area, but cannot access fixed-route service due to a certified disability.

• The recommended microtransit solution would encourage new customers and retain existing customers that are seeing some of their traditional MATS services reduced or eliminated. Microtransit can provide same-day GoBus-like transportation to the general public, seniors and persons with disabilities within participating municipalities. Microtransit can allow MATS to expand early morning, late night and weekend service, including Sunday service, to provide riders with new travel opportunities that MATS cannot currently offer.

MATS currently provides fixed-route public transportation on 10 urban and one regional route in Muskegon County. Service is available from 6:30 a.m .to 10:40 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 9:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. on Saturday. MATS also operates demand-response services for the elderly and those with disabilities. For more information on MATS, visit matsbus.com.

Grant Township targets roads for upgrades

GRANT TWP. – The township board has selected three road projects for 2020, and will probably ask voters to renew a road millage again this year to fund future projects.

The board selected the road projects at its meeting last Tuesday.

Grant Township has already committed to pave Tahoe Trail at Lake Tahoe at an estimated cost of $37,650. The other two road projects are a 2,475 foot stretch of Tonawanda Trail, also at Lake Tahoe, and a mile long stretch of 72nd Avenue from Webster Road to Winston Road. The Tonawanda Trail project is at an estimate of $105,300. It includes crush and shape the base and a three-inch layer of paving. The 72nd Avenue is a 2 1/2 inch overlay. It is estimated to cost $154,870.

Township Supervisor Roger Schmidt said the township has $312,587 to fund road projects after the already committed Tahoe Trail project. The funds come from road millage and the general fund.

However, a fourth road project, a stretch of Webster Road, or 108th Avenue between Cleveland Road and Wilke Road, would exceed the available funding.

Adding a fourth project would bring the cost up from $373,000 to $413,000, the supervisor added.

Schmidt said the cost estimates came from the Oceana County Road Commission. He said the estimates all came over budget. “They estimated the high cost of asphalt.”

“Tonawanda is kind of a travesty,” Township Trustee Jim Aebig said. Aebig made the motion to move foward with the Tonawanda Trail and 72nd Avenue projects.” That motion passed 4-0.

Aebig said the township doesn’t have enough funds to keep up with maintaining the roads.

“Just when you think you’re catching up ... We need the millage.”

The township, since 2014, has levied two mills on property taxes for road repair. Voters have approved the millage three times, with two-year time periods.

Schmidt placed on Tuesday’s agenda, a discussion on asking for a fourth renewal of a two-year, two-mill proposal for road projects. However, he removed it from the agenda because the proposal language is not available. “We need to know the (township’s) taxable value and that won’t be available until April 1,” he said. Schmidt expects the board will act on a road millage proposal at its April 7 meeting.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting the township board approved a bid for brining gravel roads in the township this year. The bid of $11,620 was submitted by Michigan Chloride Sales who has brined the roads in the township the past three years.

Schmidt said the bid is slightly higher, but it includes two brining applications to keep the dust down, instead of just one.

Proposed parking ban put on hold

WHITEHALL – A proposed traffic order to address safety concerns with parking in a neighborhood along the city’s waterfront will be getting a closer look by the City of Whitehall council after neighbors expressed concerns that will limit parking for them and guests to their residence.

The residents along Lake Street from Main Street to Mill Pond Park and above the bluff on Carleton Street, attended the January 28 city council meeting to express their concerns about the proposed traffic order which would eliminate parking on the west side of Lake Street (shoreline) from Main Street to Mill Pond Park.

According to Police Chief Roger Squiers the traffic control order is being proposed over safety concerns on that stretch of road.

The traffic order proposal determined that Lake Street is heavily traveled and travel lanes are 12-feet wide with no curbing and minimal shoulder. The bike/pedestrian path runs along Lake Street on the west side just a few feet west of the curb. Vehicle parked on the edge of the roadway in the area impinge on the flow of traffic on the street and create a traffic and pedestrian hazard in the area.

“That seems to be a problem area,” said David Bedau, 1398 Carleton 319 Lake St., a neighbor and city planning commission chair. “There are a lot of homes in that area of which I’ve built a couple of them, and there’s not much parking for those houses. There is an individual (lives on Lake Street), David Hays, who is actively involved in the community and he has a once a month a meeting and everyone who shows up at the meeting parks on the opposite side of the street of which there is a bike trail, pavement and a road. The speed limit is 25 (mph) there and I think there needs to be something done, but totally not allowing parking on the west side of the road from Main Street to Mill Pond might be a little drastic. The city of Whitehall has an ordinance which is not publicized well. Entering the city of Whitehall from the west it says no parking overnight on any of our streets. That might be something to look at enforcing on that road, possibly time limits, somehow to cut down the amount of parking, but total abolishing parking on the left side of the that road I feel will create a nightmare.”

Resident Tammy Bradford, 1415 S. Lake St., congratulated the city for reopening Misco Drive which connects Lake Street to S. Mears Ave. on which many Arconic employees at Plants 1 and 3 travel to and from work. The street has been closed during that expansion of Plant 1, funneling more traffic on Lake Street from the parking lots.

“I hope having the road open helps with Arconic traffic during first and second shift, change from Lake Street,” she said. “It’s busy at that time. And as Tannery Bay/Eastbrook Homes continues to grow thank you for providing parking on both sides of Lake Street for that neighborhood.”

Bradford said “our parking is a problem for everybody. Some of the neighbors will have their property landlocked.”

Ray Gundy, 1315 Lake Street, who is having construction on his property said he does not agree with a parking ban.

“I can see having no parking in the evenings from 11 o’clock till whatever in the morning. We have limited parking. I might be the reason for the issue because I’m building a house there. So there is construction equipment there. There’s been tractors out there, there’s been loaders out there, there are trailers out there. At this point there’s no place to put them, that’s why they are there. The process is almost done. They won’t be there anymore. I don’t know why you want to take parking away if I want to have a party at my house or anybody else wants to have a party at Christmas or Thanksgiving or other holidays. Where are we going to park everybody?

Mayor Pro-Tem Ellie Dennis moved to approve the traffic order (Order No. 239).

“I will motion for it because I want to hear discussion on this.” Council member Virginia DeMumbrum supported the motion to allow discussion.

Council member Steve Salter said he wanted to table it (Order No. 239) and put it into a work session. “We’re moving too fast on this.”

Council member Sean Mullally agreed. “In addition to comments we’ve heard here I was contacted by another property owner who expressed similar concerns. I would be interested in researching the issue more and get a good sense of what the people in the neighborhood are wanting.”

Dennis responded, “And, I guess I understand the concerns and what people are saying, but I also am concerned what the chief has to say because there is obviously a reason for this. And if its safety, to me that tops everything else. I’m fine to postpone this to another meeting.”

Council member Dick Connell agreed to put the issue in a work session.

Salter moved to postpone Traffic Order 239, which has precedence over the original motion. The was supported by Mullally and passed by a 6-0 vote.

“I thank the council for tabling this because I think they jumped the gun just a little bit,” said Mike Bradford of 1415 Lake Street. “Some (residents) own property on the west side of the road, but not on the east.”

One of newer residents who lives at 1608 W. Collier Drive said she owns 50 feet of White Lake frontage. The resident said she may not have access to her lake property if parking is banned. “I do not know if I will be able to mow my grass or replace batteries in my boat if I can’t park there.” She said she can’t carry items, like a mower, boat batteries or chairs from her home on top of the bluff to her shoreline property.

With the amount of property she owns on the lakefront she believes she has plenty of room to park off the road.

She called the parking ban a “radical measure.”

Chief Squiers, who was at the council meeting, said the proposed parking ban is a safety issue, and his job is to ensure the safety of the public.

“Prior to a year ago there wasn’t routine parking in that area. Last year it came to a head with a wrecker parking on the road in the wrong direction all night long.”

Squiers said he doesn’t intend to keep neighbors from having access to their property. “Generally, if they are parking there short term, there will not be a problem.” Overnight parking is a different story.

The chief said the roadway is narrow, and having pedestrians cross the road between parked vehicles can be a safety hazard.

“It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to the residents, but my job is to protect the public’s safety.”

Montague city council discusses waste hauling service option at monthly work session

MONTAGUE – The Montague City Council discussed the possibility of switching to a single waste hauler at its Monday, February 3, meeting.

No decisions were made at the meeting, but the possibility of switching to a single waste hauler has been discussed before. A shared contract with the City of Whitehall could potentially save residents money, but that is no longer an option.

City Manager Jeff Auch said Whitehall did not receive support from its residents for a potential switch, and has chosen to continue to offer residents the choice to pick their preferred waste hauler. Auch said it is unknown what sort of cost savings Montague might receive if they chose to switch without the shared contract with Whitehall.

“There was a lot of feedback, most of it was negative. It was basically focused on people’s distaste for being told what they were going to use. From the numbers (city manager) Scott (Huebler) was able to come up with, it would have saved a fair amount of money for individuals, and they still weren’t interested,” said Steve Salter.

Salter is a member of the Whitehall city council and was in attendance at that Montague council meeting.

City council member Tim Todd asked Auch if there has been any feedback from waste haulers on what their cost would be for contracting with the city alone for waste hauling services. Auch said he hasn’t received feedback, but could reach out to them to see if they’d be willing to give unofficial numbers on what it might cost.

Before moving forward council member Jeri Wonders said she’d prefer the city survey its residents to see if this is something they’d be interested in pursuing. She told Auch there is no point in continuing to pursue something the residents might not be interested in.

“I don’t want it to look like something that is being forced on people, so I would be sensitive about that, so it doesn’t come back to be a big deal,” said Wonders.

Claude Babcock was the only council member in attendance that evening to oppose the idea of a single waste hauler system.

“I wasn’t in favor of pursuing the single supplier system before, I’m still not. I don’t think you should interfere with capitalism and free enterprise,” said Babcock.

Members not in attendance that evening included Bruce Froelich and Susan Newhof.

Great Lakes and water issues were topic of discussion at Jan. 29 presentation

WHITEHALL – Audience members who attended a community conversation Wednesday, January 29 ,learned all about our water.

A special presentation titled “What’s Up With Our Water?” took place at the White Lake Community Library, 3900 White Lake Dr.

The presentation was part of the Community Conversations series put on by the Friends of Muskegon County, District 8. Speakers included Ashley Elgin, Erick Elgin, and Kathy Evans.

A variety of topics as it pertains to water, The Great Lakes, and the environment were discussed. With a period at the end of the evening for attendees to ask the speakers questions.

The first to speak was Ashley Elgin. Ashley Elgin is a benthic ecologist for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL).

She holds a Ph.D. from University of Notre Dame in Aquatic Ecology.

“So NOAA’s mission is we want to understand and predict changes in weather, climate, oceans and the coast. We are in the Department of Commerce because we do research that protects transportation, human lives and commerce,” said Ashley Elgin.

“The other part of our mission is to share knowledge and information with others. [...] We conserve and manage coastal marine resources, that is largely the focus of the GLERAL lab.”

Ashley Elgin spoke at length about invasive species, algal blooms, and the Great Lakes high water levels. She said there wasn’t enough time to discuss every invasive species, instead she focused on two of the more prominent ones in the Great Lakes, zebra mussels and quagga mussels.

Ashley Elgin said most people know of zebra mussels, but quagga mussels are a much bigger problem in Michigan.

“If I can teach you one thing today, it is that zebras came first. Zebras were known first, but quaggas are a much bigger problem in the Great Lakes,” said Ashley Elgin.

Blue-green algae in the lakes, also known as algal blooms, can produce toxins and be harmful to people and animals. Elgin said these algal blooms are typically caused by warm weather, and a plentiful amount of nutrients present in the water.

Many of these nutrients she said come from septic systems and run off from farms.

She said not all algal blooms are toxic, and some are just annoying. However, Ashley Elgin advised the audience to contact the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) if one is spotted.

Speaking on the water levels of the Great Lakes, Elgin said based on the projections by the United States Army Corps of Engineers water levels are expected to stay high. Lake Michigan levels are expected to reach record highs later on this year.

Next to speak was Ashley Elgin’s husband Erick Elgin. Erick Elgin is a water resource educator and limnologist for the Michigan State University Extension. He has a masters of science in a aquatic ecology from the University of Calgary.

He spoke on the topics of inland lake shorelines, PFAS, and the climate

“We love our lakes in Michigan. We enjoy recreating in them, we enjoy making and creating memories; and it gives us a sense of place,” said Erick Elgin.

“It’s not just the Great Lakes, those definitely influence our lives, but our inland water as well. Unfortunately, we love them a little too hard.”

Erick Elgin then showed a picture of a landscaped shoreline in which homes were built nearby. He said removing the natural vegetation and replacing them with long grasses can cause erosion to take place.

To stop the erosion the seawalls are then hardened he said with rock riprap and other engineering methods. Erick Elgin said doing this can have a dramatic impact on the ecosystem of the lake.

Talking a bit about septic systems and how they affect lakes, Erick Elgin said even new systems can create problems, like releasing nitrogen and oxygen into the water.

He said people do not have to abandon septic systems, but there are other ways of doing things now.

Speaking on the topic of PFAS, he said that there are thousands of the substances. They were first developed in the 1940s, and they accumulate in the body.

Working specifically in Newaygo County, Erick Elgin showed a graph with the amount of walleye occupying the county lakes in 2018. He then compared the graph to the amount of walleye predicted to exist in the county by 2050.

“In 2050 prediction there will be no naturally reproducing walleye lakes in Newaygo County,” said Erick Elgin.

Erick Elgin did say local communities and individuals can do a lot.

“There are people currently in Minnesota and Wisconsin working to increase the resiliency of lakes that have cold water fish like Cisco (a lake in Wisconsin), helping the watershed around the lakes. Helping the watershed helps buffer the impact of climate change,” said Erick Elgin.

The final speaker was Kathy Evans. Evans is the environmental program manager for the West Michigan Shoreline and Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC).

Evans went on to explain what her organization does.

“We are a regional planning organization, we are state and federally designated under a few different statues. We do transportation planning, economic development planning, environmental planning, community development services, GIS mapping services,” said Evans.

“Our mission is to promote and foster regional development in West Michigan through cooperation among local governments and other regional partners.”

Evans said her organization is looking for ways to raise money for watershed work that wouldn’t require grant funding. She said one solution might be adding an optional item to people’s income tax form.

Residents would have the option to check on their tax form if they would like to give money to be used for watershed projects.

“This is going to require state legislation, so we are not there yet. So really this whole program would have to be a statewide program,” said Evans.

She said WMSRDC has done a lot to restore the shoreline of Muskegon Lake.

“One of the studies of the restoration we did along the shoreline of Muskegon Lake showed a minimum of $12 million increase in property values. That was just neighborhoods near the lake and not on the lake. There was over a million dollars on new recreation spending annually in the City of Muskegon, and more than 65,000 new visitors annually,” said Evans.

Afterwards the speakers made themselves available for questions from the audience.