By Scott Sullivan
“Houston, we have a problem.” Expected by many Blue Star Trail go-aheads hit a snag when the Michigan Department of Transportation dinged a $1.725-million Transportation Alternatives Program grant request to link the most-local part of it.
MDOT noted two major concerns:
• A planned Saugatuck Township connector from Holland Street east on North Street to an existing west Blue Star Highway stretch.
MDOT and State Historic Preservation Office archeologists, the former apprised local governments via a July 8 email saying their joint request as submitted for now was roadblocked.
“Both MDOT,” wrote rep Julie Thomas, “and SHPO archaeologists recommend that if at all possible the trail be moved to the other (west) side of the road to avoid unnecessary complications.
“Of concern,” she went on, “is the proposed trail passes dangerously close to a circa 1873 (probably older) cemetery north of Goshorn Creek, south of Clearbrook.”
While many cemeteries, Thomas added, retain accurate maps of interment locations related to legal cemetery boundaries, human remains have been inadvertently recovered during ground-disturbing construction outside perceived boundaries (cemetery fencing, line of trees or ornamental vegetation, consistent gravestones line adjacent to project, etc.) or, especially in the case of older portions of a cemetery, when records or grave markers of interments have been lost over the years.”
To reapply, Thomas recommended “archeological survey be completed along the north side of North Street west of Blue Star Highway, in the undeveloped, wooded area surrounding Goshorn Creek, north and south of the creek terrace because this project bisects an area that is sensitive for historic and prehistoric archaeological sites.
“A survey including shovel tests (small excavation units placed every 25 to 50 feet and excavated about 1 to 2.5 feet deep with soils screened to look for artifacts) will be required by SHPO. (It) must be performed by a qualified archaeologist.
The project, Thomas went on, “needs to be designed in accordance with current AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) and MDOT design standards. To meet those requirements and the project’s goals of increased safety, the existing Blue Star Bridge deck may need to be modified to allow the cycle track/sidewalk/bike lanes that will meet the design standards.
“Estimate should be updated to include some bridge deck modifications to accommodate the intended design work, and to include updating bridge rails on both sides to current design standards.
“Strongly suggest hiring a cultural resources consultant immediately to begin looking at identifying historic properties both above and below ground.”
Saugatuck’s iconic palette neon sign on the northwest corner of Blue Star and Lake Street and its its historic status is still a concern, The MDOT official went on. “The trail will have an impact on the sign,” Thomas said, “because it will be changing the existing conditions. Historic impacts are physical, visual, contextual, etc. The trail will have an impact on the cemetery because it will be adding a trail where there is not one currently.
“It is unknown,” she went on, “if the cemetery is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The first step will be to make the eligibility determinations for the sign and the cemetery. If either or both are eligible, then SHPO will weigh in on the trail impacts.
“Following the process is extremely important to avoid negative impacts on this project and must be done in a timely fashion to avoid the project not being built or lose funding.
“Please understand the identification piece is key. This only covers the cemetery from the above-ground perspective, there could be significant archaeological concerns as well.
“Given the pending outstanding items, I believe this (grant application consideration) will need to be moved to fiscal year 2025. Please update schedule tab accordingly. This grant application may not be processed any further until it has been re-submitted,” Thomas said.
$1.72+ Trail request dead ends, for now
By Scott Sullivan