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FishPass case headed to Michigan Court of Appeals

Graphic rendering of the proposed FishPass project
State of Michigan
Graphic rendering of the proposed FishPass project

The Michigan Court of Appeals will review a case on Tuesday between Traverse City and a resident on altering a public park to create what the city calls FishPass. Today, both sides are responding to the Michigan Attorney General weighing in on the case.

The city’s proposed FishPass would reconnect the Boardman River with Lake Michigan and allow native fish species to cross Union Street Dam.

The city was ready to "put shovels in the ground" when it was hit with a lawsuit. A resident said under the city charter the project should be voted on by residents, since it would affect city park space.

Lauren Trible-Laucht is the Traverse City attorney. She said the city is grateful for AG Dana Nessel's support.

“It just recognizes that this is a statewide important issue," Trible-Laucht said. "The city of Traverse City is not the only municipality that could be affected by the decision. There are environmental implications to a decision from the Court of Appeals as well.”

Last year, a circuit judge sided with plaintiff and Traverse City resident Rick Buckhalter in the case. Buckhalter said the project was developed without any public input and would drastically alter the park’s landscape.

“I was supportive of the idea until I saw how they intended to carry it out," Buckhalter said. "The concept was okay, but the execution was horrible. Not only was it not democratic, it doesn’t make sense for them to do in a city park.”

Buckhalter’s attorney said Nessel's brief doesn’t address the issue at hand.

If the Court of Appeals rules against the city, the FishPass project would likely go back to the city commission for consideration.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.