West Oakland officials have backed the idea of again seeking a state grant to help pay for a non-motorized trail project in the lakes area.
In another attempt to acquire and develop a railroad corridor as a trailway for lakes area communities, the Wixom City Council recently approved a resolution to reapply for a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (NRTF) grant.
Wixom joined efforts with Commerce and Walled Lake in 2009 by forming a trailway alliance called the Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trailway Management Council. Each municipality appointed one voting member of the council to act in its best interests. City Manager Mike Dornan represents Wixom, with Assistant City Manager Tony Nowicki acting as the city’s alternate.
The Michigan Airline Railway property spans from West Bloomfield Township to the western city limits of Wixom and is considered the missing link in a trail that traverses the county and connects to a cross-state corridor spanning the Lower Peninsula.
The target 5.33 miles of Michigan Airline Railway corridor crossing the trailway council communities would be converted into a non-motorized recreational trail to link the Huron Valley and West Bloomfield trail segments.
“Our resolution emphasis is on the acquisition of the property at and surrounding the Walled Lake depot and including the depot,” Dornan said.
A trailway council application was previously submitted for an NRTF grant in July 2009. The trailway council’s application was denied due to a lack of matching funds. Subsequently an application was resubmitted by the trailway council in April 2010 that addressed matching funds; however, the project was not selected for a grant after a local business, American Plastic Toys, protested the effort.
Since that time the Michigan Airline Railway has addressed the local business matter. Therefore, the trailway council has opted to resubmit a grant application for a third time.
“It depends on the caliber of the application on whether it will fly, as well as any opposition to it,” Dornan said.
The railroad is expected to be abandoned sometime in May or June, according to Dornan.
During the process, businesses and residents served by the railroad will be solicited for input by the federal government, which is the authority over decisions related to any transfer.
“That must be played out but if it’s abandoned, it will be ripe for purchase and it’s prudent to submit the grant application at this time for 75 percent of the acquisition costs, including the depot,” Dornan said.
He added that if the depot or railroad parcels were split off, the Walled Lake area would lose historical integrity.
“This depot was built in the mid-1800s and serviced the Midwest agricultural community,” he said. “If it were sold to another party the depot would be knocked down.”
In addition to the grant application, Oakland County’s planning and historical divisions will be devising a plan for the depot’s future use, such as contracting with a bike rental or repair shop and/or a cross country ski rental vendor. Some of the proceeds would be used to support and maintain the trailway system.
The trailway council also plans to apply for a Michigan Transportation Enhancement grant to pay for additional project expenses, so essentially all costs would be covered without municipal dollars.
The Commerce Township Board of Trustees also recently adopted a resolution to reapply for an NRTF grant in order to acquire railway right-of-way.
According to township planner and trailway council administrator Kathleen Jackson, the first trailway council grant application failed because the council needed a conditional letter from Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), which was expected to provide matching funds for the grant. She confirmed the second time the trust fund board denied the trailway council’s grant application was due to opposition from one user of the railroad.
However, now the railroad owner has filed a petition for exemption which would lead to the abandonment of the railway, which has led the trailway council to try again.
“The three communities now feel we are on better ground now that the railroad will be abandoned,” Jackson said.
The NRTF grant application must be submitted by April 1.
West Bloomfield has already received an NRTF grant to turn its 2.5-mile stretch of the same railway into exactly the same thing — a non-motorized recreational path.
The restricted NRTF was established in 1976 to provide funding for public acquisition of lands for resource protection and outdoor recreation development.
The Walled Lake City Council recently approved a motion to participate in the grant application process as a member of the trailway council.