May 6, 2021

Spring Cleaning

By Stephen Tuttle | April 10, 2021

It would seem winter has timidly departed, probably, so some local spring cleaning is in order. 

Traverse City's proposed fish pass project becomes more and more mysterious. No one can yet tell us which fish species will be allowed passage and which, other than sea lampreys, will be stopped. In fact, no one can even tell us what species would swim upstream if there were no barricades at all preventing it.

There are still a lot of questions for a $20 million project that includes three 400-foot long concrete walls and a moving gantry that will forever change the nature of that section of the Boardman River. And if part of the project is an effort to restore the upper Boardman to its “natural” state, we have a lot of work to do beyond the proposed fish pass experiment. 

For those who like to fly fish on the upper Boardman, the rainbow trout is a much-beloved target and the steelhead a much-reviled danger to the fishery. Ironically, both fish are the same species, siblings who have evolved totally different lifestyles, and neither are native to northern Michigan waterways.

Rainbow trout, native to the western U.S., were first introduced here into the AuSable River in 1876. They're more or less homebodies, preferring to stay in the river. Their twins, the steelhead, are more adventurous, spending most of their time in open water before returning to rivers and streams to spawn.

The only trout native to Michigan are lake trout and brook trout, and neither have need to swim upstream. Our only native anadromous species — those that most of the time live in open water, including our oceans, then return to rivers and streams to spawn — are the endangered lake sturgeon, several species of sucker, and the Arctic grayling, which became nonexistent in Michigan in the 1930s but could be reintroduced by 2025 if a 2016 project between the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources continues to go well.

Brown trout, a European native introduced to Michigan in 1883, don't belong in the Boardman, nor do salmon, first introduced here in 1966. Given there are so few native species that would swim up the lower Boardman, zip through the fish pass, negotiate Boardman Lake, find the culverts under South Airport Road, and become part of the upper Boardman fishery, one does wonder if a cheaper and less destructive solution might be found.


Some residents in Traverse City’s Indian Trail subdivision are finally being connected to city water after it was discovered their private well water was highly contaminated with PFAS, in some cases thousands of times more than is considered safe. Even more outrageous, authorities knew about people drinking, cooking with, and cleaning in the poisoned water for eight months without telling anyone lest residents panic. Contaminated water is a good reason to panic and immediately. 

Now, not content with the outrageous failure to notify people of the problem, a task force has formed to determine how best to communicate such disasters to the public. And, of course, their first two meetings were not open to the public. Here's a hint: If public safety is at stake, you tell people immediately so they can stop doing whatever it is that endangers them and their families. Apparently, the lessons of Flint have not yet been learned.


Businesses and private citizens in Elk Rapids are being asked to cough up $100,000 to pay an individual to teach some people there how to behave like grown-ups instead of finger-pointing, name-calling ninnies. If you thought library boards mostly discussed books, you would be wrong in Elk Rapids.

Antrim County is also home to a remarkably pointless campaign lawsuit that grinds along for reasons unknown to all but Judge Kevin Elsenheimer. Would the state or someone please ask for a summary judgment so we can move along? We already know there was neither fraud nor irregularities in Antrim County; the human error that caused a miscount was quickly discovered and corrected. Every vote legally cast was accurately counted, and nary a soul was disenfranchised.


Traverse City and its Downtown Development Authority (DDA) continue their headlong rush into a downtown of more condos, more density, less empty space, and fewer places to park. The DDA is playing a pretty nifty game with parking; if they eliminate more surface parking lots, that will absolutely necessitate the construction of a third parking deck, and in order to pay for it, they'll have to extend the TIF97 district tax capture another 13 years, making downtown Traverse City into something it never wanted to be: an urban-condo and subsidized-housing desert.

There is not much support for young families wanting a yard in which their kids can play, and trees in which songbirds can live. Those folks are out of touch with the new urbanists, ignored or considered villainous sprawlers.

Our downtown social engineering experiment continues apace, the rest of the city on the outside looking in.   




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