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Summary of Comments on the Petoskey Bypass

Proposal won't work

February 26, 2002 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Summary of Comments on the "US-31 Petoskey Area Improvement Study" Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f)/6(f) Evaluation (August 2001) FHWA-MI-EIS-94-02-DS

The Michigan Land Use Institute and the Environmental Law & Policy Center, with the assistance of New Alternatives, have evaluated the Federal Highway Administration and Michigan Department of Transportation’s "US-31 Petoskey Area Improvement Study" Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f)/6(f) Evaluation (hereafter referred to as the SDEIS). This evaluation of the SDEIS is submitted herein for the public record as part of the public comment period on the SDEIS.

Based on the evaluation, the preparers have concluded, and hereby respectfully request, that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) should reject the SDEIS as inadequate, incomplete, and a failure in meeting project goals. Rather, the FHWA should require the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to address, correct, and redo the clearly faulty and deficient SDEIS, if the study is to proceed at all. The request is made that these corrective actions be taken prior to FHWA and MDOT’s issuing of a final EIS for this project.

The Institute and ELPC also urge MDOT to fully consider, optimize, and combine lower cost and ecologically more sensitive improvements to existing roads in the project area, as allowed for under 1996 Congressional legislation specific to this project. This includes the Smart Roads: Petoskey alternative and its call to upgrade existing local roads, develop and enact a land-protection program, and modernize U.S. 31. (See Appendix, Item Nos. 2-4.)

The Institute and ELPC have identified several areas in which the SDEIS fails to comply procedurally with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), and other public laws and regulations. These failures of the SDEIS are detailed in this document and include:

The purpose and need, and goals, of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Petoskey Area Improvement Study are not met by the work conveyed in the remainder of the SDEIS. This abject failure to attain desirable levels of service on U.S. 31 and to protect existing land uses calls into question the necessity and legality of spending $80 million to $90 million while causing significant environmental destruction and community disruption. These failings are discussed in greater detail in Section 1 below.

In the SDEIS, the Michigan Department of Transportation fails to rigorously explore and objectively evaluate study all reasonable, prudent, and feasible alternatives. In particular, MDOT refuses to evaluate local roads alternatives, including Smart Roads: Petoskey – a two-lane local roads option developed by the Michigan Land Use Institute and New Alternatives, with the substantial participation of local officials and residents of Emmet County. Smart Roads: Petoskey is a prudent and feasible alternative that enjoys substantial public support.

Because MDOT refuses to consider less that a four-lane road design, summarily rejects Smart Roads: Petoskey, and wholly ignores significant land protection concepts, MDOT’s proposed bypass is needlessly destructive of the natural environment. The build alternatives would destroy 21-23 acres of wetlands, 110 acres of farmland, and 50 acres of forest. Moreover, in its formal comment on the SDEIS, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council – the region’s pre-eminent water resource protection group for the last 21 years – calls this the most destructive proposed project to water resources that the organization has encountered. This is discussed in greater detail in Section 3 below.

A stated goal of the SDEIS is to "maintain compatibility with existing land use patterns and complement future land use master plans." MDOT’s proposed build alternatives do not meet, and in fact conflict with, local plans and expectations for the design of future transportation improvements and the resulting impact to the landscape. This is discussed in greater detail in Section 4 below.

Much of the public in Emmet County opposes MDOT’s proposed four-lane bypass, the state representative for the region in February declared the project dead, and Resort Township voted in February to oppose the build alternatives. A January 2002 letter from the director of MDOT to a state representative said MDOT will withdraw from the project if local consensus is not obtained. Moreover, MDOT states in the SDEIS that "strong public opposition" is grounds for dismissal of an alternative. (SDEIS, p. 3-1) Therefore, MDOT’s build alternatives proposed to date should be dismissed. In addition, rather than fairly solicit the public feedback, however, MDOT has actively worked to minimize and dilute public input.

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