The Walled Lake City Council approved a pair of initiatives on Monday, Nov. 5 in keeping with the business of the Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trailway Management Council.
The trailway council had previously received confirmation that it was selected as the recipient of a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (NRTF) grant exceeding $3.75 million for the acquisition of the Michigan Airline Railroad.
Recently the Trailway Council learned that up to 90 percent of the approved grant will be disbursed at the property’s closing, but the Trailway Council must ante up the final 10 percent of the grant funds for the project up front.
Walled Lake’s one-third share is $125,180 of the total, $375,450.
“It’s a grant match and will be reimbursed once the contract is signed and property is transferred,” said City Councilman John Owsinek.
Each community participating in the Trailway Council will be reimbursed these funds 90 to 120 days later, once the NRTF board signs off on a clean audit.
Secondly, each community must be represented by a delegate on the Trailway Council. Walled Lake Mayor William Roberts previously served in this capacity on Walled Lake’s behalf; however, due to what was interpreted by some as a conflict of interest on Roberts’ part, the City Council voted to remove him from that role and replace him with Owsinek.
“Primarily the reason I was chosen is because I’m retired and I can make those meetings during the daytime, where the others are gainfully employed and that must take precedence,” Owsinek said. “The idea is transparency and keeping everyone informed on the goings-on of the Trailway Council.”
Walled Lake City Manager L. Dennis Whitt will continue to serve as an alternate Trailway Council representative for the city.
Some say Roberts took it upon himself to speak with Michigan Airline Railway owners, Browner Turnout, on the possibility of obtaining money to remove the rail crossings at Ladd and Decker roads and failed to inform the City Council.
“He (Roberts) didn’t report to City Council in a timely fashion and negotiated without informing Council. He didn’t act on the knowledge of the entire council,” Owsinek said.
The move caused some friction between Roberts and the council since it could have resulted in a loss of revenue.
Roberts had met Browner Turnout owner Bob Butler at a meeting and broached the subject of Walled Lake dismantling the railroad crossings at Ladd and Decker roads. At the time Butler said he would offer $8,000, but Roberts reportedly said the final decision rests with City Council.
“I was the messenger. To accept that isn’t my responsibility, but Council’s, yet I’m the one getting kicked off and getting all the flack,” Roberts previously told the Spinal Column Newsweekly.
As it turned out, the rail crossing removal project costs several thousand more dollars. Walled Lake would require $11,235 in total compared to $8,000 the company later mailed in with a release of abandonment.
The messiness of the situation resulted in the City Council voting to oust Roberts from a Trailway Council position he held for four years.
After acquisition of the railway, the Trailway Council plans to develop the corridor as a non-motorized recreational trail.
The next Trailway Council meeting is set for today, Wednesday, Nov. 14.