Saugatuck Officials Want More Financial Information On Blue Star Trail Project Before Approving“We need a lot more information before we decide to move forward with our support (of The Blue Star Trail),” Saugatuck Mayor Chris Peterson said at Monday’s council meeting.
The council met with not-for-profit Friends of the Blue Star Trail representatives last Thursday, September 8, in a workshop session to discuss the proposed 20-mile non-motorized trail running along Blue Star Highway, from South Haven to Saugatuck Township.
The volunteer-run group says it has an endowment fund for future maintenance and repair, but Saugatuck officials are not convinced it will suffice, particularly as it relates to what they deem a long-term legacy cost that Saugatuck taxpayers would eventually have to shoulder.
“Council members stated an endowment will not generate enough funds to keep up with the maintenance and ultimate replacement costs of the expensive boardwalk and asphalt structures,” Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier told The Local Observer on Monday.
“The City of Saugatuck would have to either pass a millage for maintenance and replacement costs at some point in time or take funds out of the general fund away from other priorities to maintain the trail infrastructure.”
President and spokesperson for Friends of Blue Star Jeanne Van Zoeren told the Saugatuck City Council that they group has an endowment to help cover future maintenance and repair costs, but city officials said that was not sufficient to protect local taxpayers from the anticipated costs.
Plans for future fundraisers to help offset those costs were also speculative, said city officials.
The city also has expressed concern about the impact to traffic flow at the intersection at Blue Star Highway—just north of the bridge—and Lake Street.
“The plans (so far) presented by the Friends of the Blue Star Trail did not adequately address these concerns,” said Harrier.
Friends of the Blue Star Trail are proposing several options for the route of the trail within the City of Saugatuck, none of which city officials like. Both sides still have to sort out this issue before final design is approved by the city, say officials.
Meanwhile, the Blue Star Trail process is moving forward in Saugatuck Township following a public hearing last Wednesday and Douglas is also making plans to advance on a Blue Star Highway Corridor project that incorporates the trail after having been awarded CMAQ money (federal dollars allocated to states for projects that improve air quality).
The Saugatuck Township arrangement with the Friends of the Blue Star Trail has the township and its taxpayers solely responsible for the trail’s (the segment within the township) future maintenance and eventual repair and replacement costs that will ultimately come out of the township’s parks and recreation fund, but not entail a millage levy request, say township officials.
“This is close to a $700,000 project and Saugatuck Township is not expected to expend any funds for (building) it,” said Van Zoeren at a recent township board meeting.
“This is a 20-mile trail connecting Saugatuck to South Haven along the lakeshore.
“However, the big picture is to continue the connectivity through the existing Laketown Township trail all the way up to the Straits of Mackinac,” said Van Zoeren.