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June 16, 2019 7:04 am

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Why Saugatuck Township & Douglas Taxpayers Are Being Taken Down The Blue Star Trail To Nowhere & Why It's Time To Wake Up, Ask Questions & Demand Answers

 To all Saugatuck Township, City of Saugatuck & Douglas residents/taxpayers:

        Okay, let’s all agree for a moment that bike trails are a nice thing. Few would argue that point. We don’t. They’re great for active people who want to get some exercise, enjoy the great outdoors, get the kids out from behind their iPhones and computers, etc.
        While ultra-bike-path enthusiasts and organizations always try to convince people that the construction of such bike paths in their city, town or village will also lead to a significant economic boom for their area, we take a step back with a little jaundiced eye as the empirical data is few and far between proving that to be always true.
        There may be some economic benefit, but usually not to any degree that’s going to significantly enhance a local business’ bottom line.
        Still, bike paths are a nice idea.
        Now here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.
        In our little section of West Michigan, there is a group called the Friends of the Blue Star Trail, an organization of biking enthusiasts who want to build a 20-mile bike path stretching from South Haven through Saugatuck Township along the Blue Star Highway.
        The organization was set up as a non-profit corporation in 2010. Besides its six-member board, the group has about 80 members who “help with fundraising and promotional efforts, volunteer professional talents, and advocate for the Trail at local township or city meetings.”
        To their credit, they have to date secured some grant money - including a CMAQ grant - to help with the bike path construction along the Blue Star Highway from South Haven, through Casco Township, through Ganges Township through the southern portion of Saugatuck Township, through Douglas, through the City of Saugatuck and then through the northern section of Saugatuck Township.
        Here’s where the problems begin that you should be aware of.
        The Friends of the Blue Star Trail have already had to revamp their construction plans - identified as Phase 1 through Phase 5. Why?  

        Because both Casco and Ganges Township officials, citing the need to be fiscally responsible, informed the Friends of the Blue Star Trail that they could build their bike path through their townships, but neither governmental entity would help pay for it or pay for the future maintenance and rehab costs that will come down the line in later years.
        Running into that financial and political roadblock, the Friends organization subsequently flipped their construction phases to making the southern Saugatuck Township-Douglas section their new Phase 1.
        Here’s where we begin to question the political machinations-decisions-sanity of both City of Douglas and Saugatuck Township officials and why you should to.
        Both these local government bodies jumped in feet first and apparently just couldn’t wait to start their respective parts of the re-construction of the Blue Star Highway to accomodate this wonderful bike trail.
        Only they ran into a problem: City of Saugatuck officials, after carefully looking at the total bike trail plan, began asking questions that any good public servants representing their public constituencies should do.
        Questions such as: How much is this bike trail construction going to cost us? If we have to apply for state grants - such as a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant - to help build it, how does that impact any other grant we may want to apply for other priority projects the city needs and wants? And who is going to pick up the tab for the legacy, or maintenance and rehab costs, for the asphalt roadwork, wooden bridges, infrastructure work, etc., that will most assuredly be needed in the years down the road?
        Suffice it to say that the Saugatuck city officials made it very clear to the Friends of the Blue Star Trail, and both Douglas and Saugatuck Township officials, that they needed more answers to some of these very important questions before they would agree to join in this fast-moving bike path brigade.
        And they are to be commended for doing so. For a lack of a better term, they are being good stewards of their taxpayers’ money.
       Not so much their township and Douglas counterparts who have been continually heaping scorn and derision at their Saugatuck brethren for being stick-in-the-muds for not just readily agreeing to have the bike trail run through their jurisdiction.   
        Saugatuck officials did the responsible thing and asked their engineering firm - Fleis & Vanerbrink Engineering - to study the issue and report back on just what the legacy costs (future replacement/rehabilitation costs) would amount to and have to be paid by their and their counterpart’s taxpaying residents.
        Fleis & Vanderbrink’s findings regarding the 20-mile bike trail:
        * The life expectancy of a 20-mile asphalt trail and wood boardwalks: typically 15-20 years.
        * The replacement/repair costs are estimated to be 35% of the original construction costs ($6 million) over the next 20-year period, that, including a 4% inflation estimate, will cost taxpayers approximately $4,599,000 to make those needed repairs.
        To be clear, that’s over $4.5 million we the taxpayers - from South Haven to Casco Township to Ganges Township To Douglas to Saugatuck to Saugatuck Township - will have to pay to deal with that bill.
        Oh yeah, Casco and Ganges townships have already begged off saying they’re not paying for anything!
        One other thing. The Friends of the Blue Star Trail, when asked about those future legacy costs, easily throw out that they hope to raise some endowment money in the future to help out with those, but the individual municipalities should expect to dig into their coffers as well.
        City of Saugatuck officials, again, as they should be, are a little wary of promises of possible future money to help out with repairs. Again, Douglas and Saugatuck Township officials apparently are the more trusting types. And why shouldn’t they be. They’re only betting with your future tax dollars that will come out of your pockets down the line.
        Now let’s see where we are today and what shenanigans are afoot amidst all this hooplah.
        Douglas and Saugatuck Township officials, with very little, if any, input from taxpaying residents, are going full-speed ahead in tearing up the western side of their Blue Star Highway roadway to hurriedly build their portions of this bike trail.
       To give you an example of the mindset of some those officials, Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan has cavalierly tossed out in meetings that when that future repair/rehab work on the bike trail is needed, the township will just pass a millage to cover those costs. Hey township residents, were you ever asked your thoughts on these future taxes out of your pocket? Didn’t think so.
        Also, haven’t seen a lot of safety or cost studies done by either municipality before this began.
        But hold those horses, local taxpayers. Those damnable Saugatuck city officials have thrown yet another wrench into the plan. They haven’t as yet given their okay to let the bike trail run through their city which means the Douglas section from the south and the Saugatuck Township section from the north can’t connect. (Are you starting to understand the “Blue Star Trail to nowhere” reference?)
        So the salient question to ask at this point is why didn’t Douglas and Saugatuck Township officials - or the Friends of the Blue Star Trail people for that matter - wait to see what Saugatuck was going to do before they started their respective road tearups and land seizures of  some people’s property facing the Blue Star Highway before sending out the heavy machinery to tear up your main roadway?
        Here’s one answer that we’re sure won’t shock some: both Douglas and Township officials and the Friends of the Blue Star Trail are trying to shame Saugatuck city leaders into capitulating and green light their portion of the project.
        That astute political wonderkind Sheridan has reportedly told people not to worry, that Saugatuck will have to eventually throw in the towel and jump on board since both the township and Douglas are moving forward with their part of the trail.
        But don’t despair any of you Douglas or township residents who think Saugatuck officials just might not play ball.
        The aforementioned Mr. Sheridan is working hard behind the scenes to knock those Saugatuck idiots into line.
        For example, Aaron Sheridan is pulling out all the stops and is working to get his daddy - former Allegan County Judge Steve Sheridan - the same man who pulled strings to get sonny boy his job with the township and who is a known biking enthusiast - to pull some strings with his boys on the Saugatuck City Council.
        In an April 4, 2017 email from Aaron Sheridan to his daddy obtained by The Local Observer, Aaron Sheridan wrote: “Dad, You have to send your letter to (Monica Nagel, city clerk) and (Kirk Harrier, city manager) with a request to copy to city council members individually. Otherwise it will not be copied to them.   
        “Then I would call Jeff Spangler (city councilman) to see if he’ll talk to you. He’s a nice guy, built  Desloge’s behind you and knows Tanya. He’s a contractor and owner of Lake Home Builders and has dealt with the Township before on good terms. He spoke in favor of the special meeting being held tomorrow. His phone number is (deleted).
        “I’d also try to get in touch with Mark “Air” Bekken to see he’d (cq) be willing to pass along your opinion to others like Barry (Barry Johnson, city councilman) who usually follows his lead.”
        Added note: For those questioning Mark Bekken’s integrity and perhaps being easily swayed by “daddy” Sheridan, we have always found Mark over the years to be his own man and has always kept city residents in the forefront of his decisions. As for Barry Johnson, we have also found him a person of integrity who makes up his own mind and is not a lackey of anyone.
        And if only Aaron Sheridan felt as compelled to educate/notify/and communicate with Saugatuck Township taxpayers on important issues such as the bike trail as he does with trying to have daddy pull strings behind the scenes, township taxpayers would be a lot better off!  

Why Saugatuck Township & Douglas Taxpayers Are Being Taken Down The Blue Star Trail To Nowhere & Why It’s Time To Wake Up, Ask Questions & Demand Answers

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