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June 18, 2019 5:16 pm

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Ganges Township "Quietly" Abandoned 121st Avenue Road-End Ending Public's Beach Access

      To the outrage of some residents, Ganges Township has eliminated a public access point to Lake Michigan by relinquishing control of the 121st Avenue road-end over to the private property owners on either side of the road.
        For a century local and visitors alike enjoyed the road-end access to Lake Michigan. The end of 121st Avenue - which ends at Lake Michigan and is off of Lakeshore Drive - had long served as access to the public beach where visitors enjoyed the warm summer days for sunbathing, picnic use, etc.
        However, following many recent years of legal wrangling (primarily between the adjacent road-end property owners and the township and citizens seeking to keep the access open), Berrien County Circuit Court Judge John Dewane in 2012 ruled the road-end was not a public beach, but only a public access point to the lake to be used only for entering and exiting the lakeshore.
        Now, that public access point has also been eliminated following the passing of an August 9th Ganges Township Board resolution, in a 3-to-2 roll call vote, to relinquish its jurisdiction of the 121st road-end.
        Ganges Township Supervisor John Hebert was joined by Ganges Township Clerk Cindy Yonkers in voting against the measure, while Ganges Township Treasurer Cindy Reimink and Ganges Township Trustees Dick Hutchins and Barry Gooding voted yes.    
        That action, in effect,  assigned responsibility and ownership of the road-end access to the property owners on either side of the right-of-way: on the south half of the road to John and Betty Tilton, and the north half of the road to the Ryder family.    
        “It came to me as a shock when the decision was made; I had no previous knowledge that was ever going to happen,” said local resident Jane Vandenberg, who frequents the monthly Ganges Township Board meetings.
        Vandenberg’s outrage and concerns over the township’s actions are shared with others, including local resident Dermot Putnam, raising questions of whether or not the township board followed proper legal proceedings to abandoned the road-end.
        Township officials claim they first offered to give jurisdiction of the road-end over to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, but the state did not want it.
        In either case, they say they adhered to all legal procedures and abandoned the road-end because it was too costly to upkeep and maintain as required by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality standards.
        The Ganges Township officials who voted to abandon the 121st Avenue road-end access further conceded to being exhausted by “constant” complaints by John Tilton, the property owner just south of the road-end. The township officials also said they were still miffed by by the half-a-million-dollar lawsuit the township fought Tilton on and lost, as described by Yonkers.
        The Local Observer newspaper has filed a pending FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests with Ganges Township to find out more detailed information about what steps the township board took in its relinquishing of the road-end, particularly whether there were legal public notices of the planned action so the public would be made aware of it and take action if they so chose before a final vote, as required by law.
        Thus far the paper has received undetailed minutes of board meetings going back to 2014, but no information about public hearings or public notices—other than a possible agenda items—on the matter.
        The 121st Avenue road-end belonged to Ganges Township, said  Allegan County Road Commission Managing Director Larry Brown.
        “The road commission abandoned that road close to 10 years ago. The township had first right of refusal, and they took it,” said Brown, about a responsibility that rested solely on the shoulders of - and at the discretion of - the township.
        A check of Michigan law as it relates to road-ends and abandonment procedures raises questions as to whether Ganges Township officials acted within the law in this case, according to several lawyers who were asked to comment on the township’s actions in this matter.
        In reference to public road right-of-ways, State of Michigan law ( (MCLA 560.101 et seq.) states that “any public road right-of-way in a plat located within 25 meters of a lake can only be vacated (i.e., extinguished) through court action.”
        In his 2012 write-up Grand Rapids-based Attorney Clifford Bloom stated: “Until approximately a decade ago, the Michigan courts were often quite willing to grant area riparians’ requests to vacate platted private road ends at lakes, particularly if they were unused or lightly used. As public access to lakes became a popular political goal, an increasing number of judges refused to vacate road ends at lakes.
        “Recently, backlot owners and other members of the public desiring to use such road ends began to lobby the Michigan Legislature for legislation making it more difficult to vacate road ends at lakes or streams. The bad news for riparians who own property near such road ends is that Governor Engler signed Public Acts 217-219 of 1996 on May 23, 1996, which makes it much more difficult to get all lake-end roads vacated or abandoned.
        “The good news is that the legislation is much less onerous than some of the earlier proposals and it will probably make very little difference in the real world. In a nutshell, a road end cannot be vacated (or abandoned) and the property turned over to adjoining property owners unless it is offered first to the local municipality and then to the State of Michigan.
        “A road can be vacated by court action if and only if the court directs vacation and both the local municipality and the State of Michigan decline to accept title to the road. In many cases over the last decade, circuit courts have declined to vacate road ends such that the new legislation would not have had much impact anyway.”

Ganges Township “Quietly” Abandoned 121st Avenue Road-End Ending Public’s Beach Access

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