If you have ever thought that government projects must naturally be free of government red-tape, I have loads of tales to tell you, but I’ll restrict this blog post to just one project – the LakeLands Trail improvements that Putnam Township has been struggling with for several years now.
In a nutshell, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not have the money to maintain or improvement this rails-to-trails system. Their solution is to dump the trail on local units through a cost-next-to-nothing lease agreement and encourage grant applications to make improvements (which municipalities must then maintain, using their own money, of course). The grants are regulated by Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and DNR. Putnam Township’s application was approved this past year.
If you’ve ever walked or biked our six miles of the trail, you know it goes through a lot of swamps – er, I mean, wetlands. In order to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, equestrians, users of all abilities, the budget, and the natural terrain, trail designers split the proposed trail in places and asked for permission to narrow the paved portion of the trail where necessary.
MDOT said no.
Going back to the drawing board, the environmental consultants, engineers and townships trustees quickly determined that they would have to eliminate all paving west of the Village of Pinckney – the budget and the terrain would not accommodate an asphalt path ten feet wide – and just make improvements to the gravel surface.
Then MDOT changed their minds and yes to a narrower paved width. So, at the encouragement of DNR and MDOT, Putnam submitted a second grant application to pave part of the gravel trail the following year – just like they had originally designed it in the first place.
And MDOT and DNR said no. They didn’t want to fund new gravel, only to have it torn up the next year and then have to fund pavement. Shaking your head? Rolling your eyeballs? Are we having fun yet? Just wait!
While these conversations are going on, we also had the Great Bridge Disputes. You know, those structures that supported trains, for God’s sake, for 150 years. MDOT determined (after approving the township’s application and design) that the bridges had to be widened – we have some fat horses, I guess – and MDOT would pay for this. State Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO) said no, the bridges are historic structures, you can’t touch them. Then, SHPO determined that the decks (tops) of the bridges weren’t historic, only the support structures were (whaaat?). Then MDOT said they would not pay for the new, wider decks that they were suddenly requiring, the township would have to pay for them. Putnam Township officials, God bless ‘em, went ballistic at this point, as well they should. They hauled out the pitchforks and the torches and headed to Lansing…OK, not really, but last I heard, MDOT was paying for the bridge work.
And now, finally, we get to the bats! What would this story be without throwing an endangered species into the mix? It’d be BORING, that’s what, so we have the Indiana Bat contributing to all the what-the-heckness of this project. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS, because we need more acronyms in this piece), Myotis sodalist is Latin for “Mouse-ear Companion” and while they spend the winter in caves hoping they don’t get White-Nosed Syndrome, the bats enjoy summer months migrating all over and roosting under the bark of dead trees and having one baby each. They are endangered because they hibernate in groups of 50,000 or more and are easily disturbed by human encroachment, and that dreaded White-Nosed Syndrome can wipe out an entire colony. And then there is the that one-child-per-family deal, like China, always a population-killer. If you want to know more about the Indiana Bat, go to this Indiana Bat Fact Sheet.
Indiana bats are roosting in dead trees along the trail. Trees that have to be removed for the trail improvements. Which means the trees can’t be removed until late fall, after the bats have left to hibernate in caves in Indiana.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think I am Anti-Bat, or Environmentally Unconcerned, because I am not. And seriously, when I heard that a large portion of the trail improvements had been postponed to spring of 2013, and that the latest glitch was endangered bat habitat, my first thought (well, OK, my second thought, because my first thought was “No way. Really?“) was that this was the only episode in the entire tale of government ineptitude that actually made any sense at all. And now I’m going to worry (a little) about those poor bats, coming back up to Pinckney Michigan next spring and wondering where in the hell their favorite roosting spots have gone. I say we send them to DNR for some answers!