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February 21, 2018 4:07 am

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South Haven Bike Trail Group Again Seeking Allegan County Support

The Friends of the Blue Star Trail, the South Haven-based group behind trying to get local area governments to use taxpayers’ funds to help build and maintain a bike trail from South Haven through Saugatuck Township, is now trying once again to get Allegan County commissioners to take financial responsibility for the proposed part of the trail they want built through Casco and Gange townships.

That request is expected to be presented to Allegan County commissioners this week.

This move comes after the county recently rescinded its support for such a plan in Casco Township, citing questionable public financial statements previously made by the bike group.

Critics of the bike group plans say the public - including but not limited to Saugatuck Township residents - were never asked by their respective government officials whether they were willing to agree to pay for potentially millions of dollars in future repair costs for that bike trail, part of which has already been built in Saugatuck Township.

If the county officials change their minds this week and once again agree to assume financial responsibility for the bike trail in Casco and Ganges townships, in reality, it would mean Saugatuck Township taxpayers, for example, would be paying for both their own township’s bike trail and its future repairs - currently estimated at possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars - as well as for their neighboring townships’ bike trail and future repairs as well through their county tax dollars.

A recent letter obtained from the City of Saugatuck through a Freedom of Information Act request, sums up the concerns of many bike trail critics:

To the County Commissioners:

It has come to my attention that the Blue Star Bike Trail proponents plan to once again lobby the County Commission at this week’s meeting.

In particular, they’re out to secure endorsement for their agenda to have Allegan County take ownership of, and financial responsibility for, certain portions of the trail in Ganges and Casco townships.

Neither of those government entities apparently has any interest in accepting the legal responsibilities and potential for significant future financial drain of their taxpayers’ funds which the proposed trail represents.

So, as I understand it, the goal for the trail proponents is to quietly shift those burdens onto the backs of all the county’s taxpayers, of which I am one.

Included in the trail proponents’ appeal will likely be a letter from the Saugatuck Township supervisor enthusiastically endorsing this project, including county ownership thereof.

You should understand that this letter and its subject were not included on the township board meeting’s published agenda and was introduced halfway through the most recent meeting with no advance notice to the public of its contents, and no chance for the public at large to express their opinion on this commitment of precious county funds.

Sadly, this continues a dreadful lack of transparency and deceit on the part of the trail backers, including those in Saugatuck Township government.

Rather than explain to taxpayers why limited tax money should be allocated to the creation and legacy maintenance costs of their pet project, the trail backers instead quote general “public support for bike trails” research numbers. At no point are any costs and trade-offs mentioned or submitted to the public for debate.

I was present the last time this group appeared before you, and I was gratified that the commissioners expressed a good deal of skepticism. Some of you wisely commented that the county should have no part in trail ownership and the substantial and open-ended financial commitment that goes with it.

I applaud your stewardship of the county’s tax resources in this matter, and I urge you not to endorse any effort to make county taxpayers pay for this trail.

Because I cannot attend Thursday’s meeting, I would ask that this note be read into your record that day.

Sincerely,
Dan Fox
Saugatuck (city) resident

Officials of the bike trail group, in a statement on their website, state, in part:

“Using what the Friends’ (of the Blue Star bike group) learned from the section recently built, and reflecting the general increase in construction costs, they revised their original 2009 estimates and now project the Trail will cost $11.1 million. This includes a pledge of $600,000 for a maintenance endowment. This will require $3.5 million in matching funds from donors.

“Not surprisingly, the cost estimate has risen, but this doesn’t impact the communities in which it will be built. Utilizing government grants, matched by donor funds, the Friends pledge to pay for the cost of construction, engineering, and maintenance.

“The Friends recently approached Allegan County to review the ownership plan agreed to in 2014. The plan needs an update as a result of changes to the order of the trail segments that the Friends are constructing.

“To address these changes Allegan County is creating a new resolution to review and consider. The County has never been asked, nor did they ever pledge financial support for the Trail. The Friends group and their supporters are hopeful they will approve the ownership resolution as they did in 2014.”

Bike group officials have not publicly addressed how local taxpayers would have to foot the multi-million dollars in projected trail building and future repair costs if they are unable to obtain any state, federal or private grants in the future.

Many Saugatuck Township residents have voiced their concern over the future costs of this bike trail.

South Haven Bike Trail Group Again Seeking Allegan County Support

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