Posts Tagged ‘DNRE’

Stokes to lead new DNR

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Married. Divorced. Re-married. Divorced. That’s the continuing saga of Michigan’s Natural Resources (DNR) and Environmental Quality (DEQ) Departments.

Governor-elect Rick Snyder announced his intention to re-separate the two departments after  Governor Granholm brought them back together last year.

How does this affect us? Perhaps not much. There was a concern about combining the two departments and losing some focus on natural resources.

The DNR, DEQ, and Department of Agriculture will now report to Quality of Life group executive Dan Wyant, a former director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture .

Snyder said, “I’m bringing in a business model approach that is much more effective and efficient.”

This management model is similar to the one Detroit Mayor Dave Bing implemented last year.

New DNR Director

Perhaps what will affect us more than this re-structuring is  Snyder’s naming of Rodney Stokes as DNR Director.

Stokes has been with the DNR for many years and filled many roles, including director of state parks from 1996 to 2002. He is currently chief of the DNRE Office of Science and Policy.

He even retired from the state at one point and worked as the deputy director for the Detroit Recreation Department before returning to the DNR.

Stokes was also a member of the East Riverfront Study Group in 2002 which helped get us to the Detroit RiverWalk we have today.

He is well aware of the importance of trails and urban parks — and we think that’s a very good thing.

Detroit RiverWalk expansion and nudging the HCMA

Friday, November 26th, 2010

We just received copies of minutes from last month’s Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund meeting. Typically these minutes contain discussions on Trust Find grant requests from around the state.

These minutes in particular contain discussions on three DNRE grant applications for the RiverWalk. (The city of Detroit has four additional grant requests, including one for extending the Dequindre Cut north to Mack.)

Mr. Yauk outlined the Detroit Riverfront applications that have been submitted. These are all Tier 1 acquisitions. The following acquisition projects were outlined:

10-159. Milliken State Park Acquisition (Wayne County) – Acquisition of Detroit Riverfront parcels – Atwater parcel is scheduled for housing or high-end development; Chene West parcel was a former concrete facility which is now a razed site; and Chene East parcel. Request: $20 million.

Chairperson Muchmore asked what the plans were for the Atwater parcel. Mr. Yauk responded that the plan is for high-end condos with zero lot line. If the property is successfully acquired, the DNRE plans another phased development of the open corridor on the Detroit waterfront for the park. Chairperson Muchmore wondered how much potential there was that the condominium development would actually take place. Mr. Yauk responded that Detroit is focusing on the waterfront for development. The DNRE wants to obtain these properties and capture the waterfront for future generations. It is critical for what the DNRE wants to do for downtown Detroit.

Mr. Yauk further responded that the park is 21 acres at the present time and acquiring these acquisitions would be a great improvement. There are over two million visitors to the park each year.

Chairperson Muchmore asked who owns the property. Director Humphries responded the City of Detroit, Economic Development, and they will not donate the property to the DNRE. The DNRE attempted to negotiate for this parcel at the conception of the park, but were not successful, as the city thought they could develop it.

Chairperson Muchmore was apprehensive about the city, when the DNRE is spending a lot of money to develop parks and the city has not contributed in the costs. The property values are being held up, which are less desirable properties that the city cannot do anything with.

Mr. Charters asked if the Board would be provided with a breakdown of the estimated cost of properties. Mr. Yauk responded yes, but the appraisals have not been started.

10-128, Globe Building Adventure and Discovery Center Acquisition (Wane County) – Acquisition of 10,000+ feet for an urban outdoor learning center. This would provide hands-on outdoor education opportunities. Request: $2 million.

Chairperson Muchmore asked if this would work as opposed to the Belle Isle Aquarium. Mr. Yauk responded that the Belle Isle Aquarium is a great project, but Milliken State Park gets two million visitors a year.

10-130, Detroit Riverfront Easements and Acquisitions (Wayne County) – Acquisitions to consolidate the existing Detroit Riverfront easements – 3.5 to 4 miles from Ambassador Bridge to MacArthur Bridge. Request: $5 million.

The Trust Fund makes their grant decision next month, but as we mentioned before, they have an unusually large amount of money to spend this year. That greatly increases the odds that the RiverWalk projects will be funded to some extent.

These grant requests certainly highlight the DNRE’s commitment to the RiverWalk and building greenspace in Detroit.

Metroparks investment in Detroit

Also at this meeting, the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority (HCMA) made a pitch for a trails project in their Hudson Mills Metropark.

That elicited this interesting discussion from Trust Fund board member Bob Garner regarding the HCMA’s relative lack of commitment to Detroit.

Mr. Garner mentioned that there was no presence of HCMA facilities in the City of Detroit. He wondered if there was any chance of redirecting HCMA support and funding for the Detroit Riverfront. Mr. Moilanen responded that HCMA is actively researching ways that HCMA can be more active within the City of Detroit. A couple members of HCMA sit on the board of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. HCMA did have a presence around Belle Isle with the Detroit Zoo for five years. That relationship has ended, but over the years has pursued a number of ways to be involved.

Mr. Garner feels that HCMA should have a presence in the city. He wondered if perhaps HCMA could assist in acquiring and developing one of the properties being proposed for acquisition to Milliken State Park. Mr. Moilanen responded that HCMA was very interested in acquiring the operation and ownership of Belle Isle (in early 1970s). Earlier this year, HCMA’s Board has again voiced this interest, and has researched ways to become more actively involved.

Chairperson Muchmore stated that the DNRE is looking for a partner in acquiring the Globe Building property.

It’s great to see this awareness among the Trust Fund. They’re basically telling the HCMA that they want to see some grant requests for Detroit projects. Ideas for HCMA investments have been floated in the past, including Belle Isle, Fort Wayne, the State Fairgrounds, and some Detroit greenways.

They should be investing in the state’s largest city. Detroiters are paying that HCMA millage, too.

Legislators trying to raid Michigan’s Trust Fund

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

State Rep. Dave Agema is leading the raid on Michigan's Natural Resources Trust Fund

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and Federal Transportation Enhancements are the two main funding sources for biking and trail projects in this state.

Now one, if not both are under attack.

The raid on the Trust Fund is quite clear. But let’s begin by noting what this fund is. From the DNR web site:

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) has been in place since 1976. It provides financial assistance to local governments and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) to purchase land or rights in land for public recreation or protection of land because of its environmental importance or its scenic beauty. It also assists in the appropriate development of land for public outdoor recreation.

The MNRTF is supported by annual revenues from the development of State-owned mineral resources, largely oil and gas.

In the Metro Detroit are, the Trust Fund has helped buy trails (e.g. Clinton River Trail), build trails (e.g. Dequindre Cut, RiverWalk), and build parks (Milliken State Park.)

Michigan legislators have introduced bills to divert 80% of the incoming funding and spend it on roads and the aeronautics fund. The message is clear: pavement over parks.

Fortunately this attack on our funding will require significant effort. According to the DNRE, “The MNRTF is constitutionally protected, and, therefore, the passage of this law would require a Constitutional amendment (2/3 majority vote of both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then a majority vote of the citizens).”

Who is behind this attack?

There are two bills and one resolution involved: House Resolution NNN, House Bill 6482, and House Bill 6483. Representative Dave Agema (R-Grandville) is the main sponsored the first two, while Representative Bob Genetski (R-Saugatuk) sponsored the latter. Representatives Eileen Kowall (R-White Lake), Sharon Tyler (R-Niles), John Walsh (R-Livonia), Tom Pearce (R-Rockford), and Joe Haveman (R-Holland) are co-sponsors across the board.

This attempt to rob the Trust Fund really began with the Transportation Funding Task Force, which we wrote about in December of 2008. That effort was stacked with road lobby members so it was no surprise when they suggested taking money dedicated to parks, recreational and greenspace.

All bills are in the Great Lakes and Environment committee where they will hopefully die this session. But don’t hesitate to call and let your state representative know how you feel about this raid.

Planned Detroit RiverWalk improvements

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

SEMCOG has been asked to add 60 projects to the 2011-2014 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

Among those additions, MDOT has submitted 3 non-motorized pathway construction projects for the Detroit RiverWalk.

  • 2011: $15.5 million for pathways at various locations between Cobo Hall and the Belle Isle Bridge, perhaps including the unfinished section in front of the new Port Authority.
  • 2012: $5.4 million for pathways from Chene (Park) to Jos Campau.
  • 2013: $11 million for pathways from Meldrum (Mt. Elliot Park) to the Belle Isle Bridge. This is the Uniroyal site.

Yes, the details are vague, but it’s enough information to get excited. If this goes as planned, the RiverWalk will connect with Belle Isle by 2013.

Milliken State Park expansion?

The DNRE is also looking at expanding their state park located on the RiverWalk.

This is an excerpt from  a presentation given at the August 18th Natural Resources Trust Fund meeting, which has provided funding to the RiverWalk and state park. The presentation was by Vicki Anthes from the DNRE and Faye Alexander-Nelson from the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

Ms. Anthes outlined two parcels that are critical for additional development of the state park. The first parcel is the Atwater Loft building, which has sat vacant for some time. The Detroit Economic Development Corporation is willing to discuss acquisition of the property. This property would have a huge impact on how the remainder of the park is developed. The other property, north of Atwater Street, is the Globe Building and some vacant land just north of it. She discussed additional parcels of interest to future development of the park — Watermark parcel, existing City of Detroit owned Chene Park and Holsom property. None of these properties have been developed. The DNRE would like the City of Detroit to consider these properties for acquisition to the Milliken State Park to expand recreational opportunities. Another parcel for consideration is located on the the west riverfront area and is approximately 40 acres. The City of Detroit owns this property as well. If all parcels were acquired, the state park would go from 31 acres to approximately 78 acres.

The Atwater Loft building mentioned above is that vacant land just east of the Rivard Plaza parking lot. The minutes imply that Chene Park is undeveloped, which is obviously not correct. The DEGC does have plans to expand Hart Plaza so that it replaces Chene Park. This is a really needed if there’s any hope of increasing residential living opportunities in the area around Chene. Living next to an amphitheater brings noise and parking issues.

What this really shows is the market for condos directly on the river isn’t what the DEGC thought, at least not in this current market. The DNRE can apply for Trust Fund grants to acquire and develop park land, so they’re really the only game in town right now.

The presentation included  more information on the Globe Buiding.

Ms. Anthes further outlined the vision of development at the Globe Building property. A portion of the interior space could provide opportunities for an adventure and discovery center. There would be hands-on activities for visitors to experience outdoor recreation and natural resources, such as climbing a giant White Pine tree, simulated kayaking trip or an indoor archery center.

Interesting ideas. It’s great to see the DNRE is expanding their role in Detroit — as they should. This state park is more readily accessible than any other in Michigan. It’s highly visible and a huge asset to the community.

Dequindre Cut Expansion

At this same Trust Fund meeting, Tom Woiwode from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan discussed the planned northward extension of the Cut to Mack Avenue.

From the minutes:

The original plan was to connect the trail into Eastern Market. In the first phase of the project, the trail got users as far as Gratiot. North of Gratiot the property was privately owned. The railroad company owns this property. Just last month the railroad company has agreed to sell the property.

The Community Foundation is prepared to provide the match required for the acquisition. With this property, the Dequindre Cut will actually directly connect with Eastern Market. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) provided a $393,000 grant towards the Dequindre Cut south trail construction. They have expressed interest in continuing the project north and have some construction funds available.

There you go, D-Cut fans. The wheels of trail expansion are turning…

DNRE Director Rebecca Humphries to step down

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Election time often brings more change than just elected officials.

We received word today that the Rebecca Humphries, Director of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment is stepping down. Humphries has been a solid supporter of our state parks and trails.

In fact, she was responsible for opening the trails to mountain biking at Cannonsburg State Game Area earlier in her career – no small feat.

She’s always been approachable and balanced. She’ll certainly be missed.

Here is the notice she sent today.

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to let you know personally that I have accepted an offer from Ducks Unlimited to be the director of DU’s Great Lakes/Atlantic Regional Office based in Ann Arbor, beginning in January. Ducks Unlimited is an organization I have long respected, and this opportunity will allow me to continue my career in conservation.

We have made much progress in the last several months in implementing the Governor’s transition plan for our new agency. I am proud of the work we do every day to protect the environment and manage our natural resources. I am confident that this work will continue under the new administration, and that you all will sustain the same level of commitment and dedication that I have witnessed in everything you do, from the day-to-day work to the crisis situations.

For 32 years, I have been an employee of this department, and like many of you, I have worked through its many iterations and transitions. While some things change, your professionalism and passion remain steadfast, and are clearly evident in what you do.

In the next two months, we will continue to work together on the issues that affect our natural resources and environment and prepare for a smooth transition with the new administration. It has been an honor for me to work with all of you, and our paths may likely cross again in my future role with Ducks Unlimited. If you are ever in the area of my new office in Ann Arbor, please stop by to say hello.