January 11, 2012 - Whether Addison Township residents are for or against it, one thing is for sure – it's inevitable that hunting will be allowed at Watershed Preserve Park because of an agreement the local government signed with the state about 15 years ago.
Hunting is coming to Watershed Preserve Park, located in Addison Township, per an agreement the township signed with the state DNR back in the 1990s. If the township doesn’t comply, the municipality would be required to repay $2.1 million in grant money. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
"We have a responsibility to adhere to what the agreement was," said township Supervisor Bruce Pearson. "Our name is on there and if it says there's supposed to be hunting, then by gosh, there will be hunting."
Not honoring this agreement means Addison would be required to repay millions of dollars in grant money it previously received from the state.
The agreement Pearson to which referred to is one the township made with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) back in late 1990s when the municipality was awarded $2.1 million in grant money to purchase the 228-acre park, located off Rochester Rd., just north of the Village of Leonard.
In 1996 and 1997, Addison applied for grant dollars from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Both applications indicated that hunting would be allowed on the property and both were submitted and signed by Robert Koski, who served as township supervisor from 1992 until 2008.
On both applications, the box next to the word "hunting" was checked following the question, "Will site provide opportunities for any of the following activities?"
In the 1996 application, it was specifically stated that "It is anticipated that fishing and controlled duck hunting will be permitted in the park."
In response to a resident's complaint about hunting not being allowed in Watershed Park, the DNR sent Addison an Oct. 10, 2011 letter warning officials that "in the application for these grants the township stated that hunting would be allowed on these properties, and we consider the allowance for hunting to be part of the agreement between the Department of Natural Resources and the township."
The DNR indicated "if the township is unable to . . . comply with the agreement, the DNR reserves the right to seek repayment of grant funds."
"The state said right in their letter if we didn't remedy this problem, they would demand their $2.1 million back," Pearson said. "And we would probably not be eligible for anymore grants (in the future)."
"I can see the DNR's point," he noted.
Subsequent to being awarded these grants, the township signed two land acquisition project agreements with the DNR – one in January 1997 connected with $840,000 in grant money and one in September 1998 connected with $1.26 million in grant funds.
In both of those agreements, it was stated that money from the Natural Resources Trust Fund is to "be used exclusively for the purchase and development of land for recreational purposes included but not limited to hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, picnicking and swimming."
"I'm sure (the township) agreed to anything back then to get that park, to get that kind of money," Pearson noted.
Despite what Addison originally agreed to in order to obtain the grant money, legal hunting at Watershed Park has been nonexistent since then due to a highly restrictive township ordinance enacted in May 2000.
The ordinance allows for "limited hunting with one limited season per year" within the park "by special permit" only.
But in order for this to happen, the ordinance spells out a lengthy process involving an assessment by a three-member panel of "wildlife management" experts who must unanimously agree there's an overpopulation of a "particular species" and it's causing "environmental deterioration."
The process also involves conducting a public hearing and receiving final approval from the township board.
"It's basically saying there's no hunting here because there's no way anyone would have gotten through all of that (given) the way it was designed," Pearson said.
The DNR's assessment was the same as Pearson's.
In a Nov. 15, 2011 letter, John D. Cherry, grant coordinator for the DNR, wrote, "We have reviewed the ordinance governing uses at the Watershed Park and have determined that the portions governing hunting on the property are not acceptable. The complexity and level of restrictions are such that we believe it effectively eliminates hunting as a use of the property."
Pearson, who was elected in 2008, said he was not even aware of township's agreement to allow hunting in Watershed Park until he received the DNR's Oct. 10, 2011 letter.
The DNR letter indicated the state had received a complaint that hunting is not being allowed and "this is not the first complaint," Cherry wrote.
"It seems to have been an on-going issue for multiple years, despite previous warnings," Cherry wrote.
A Dec. 19, 2005 letter to Koski, who was township supervisor at time, indicated the DNR had received a written complaint from an Addison resident in June of that year about hunting not being allowed in the park.
"Please be advised that the applications for both projects . . . stated that hunting will be allowed on the property; and we consider the allowance for hunting . . . to be part of the agreement between the DNR and the township," wrote Linda J. Hegstrom, who was the DNR's grant coordinator in 1995.
"The only complaint I knew of was the one from (October 2011)," Pearson noted.
Since receiving the Oct. 10, 2011 letter Pearson has been communicating with the DNR as to what types of hunting should be allowed in Watershed Park.
"We will fulfill our commitment that we made to the DNR when we obtained this land," he said. "The recreation included hunting and we will fulfill that commitment."
"I definitely don't want to in any way shortchange the DNR. They're awfully generous to us," Pearson added.
Pearson's main concern about allowing hunting is safety and that's why he's working with the DNR to determine which types of hunting best fit the park land's conditions and other uses.
"The DNR is willing to work with the township to develop a framework that meets its goals while meeting the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant program's goal of expanding and protecting hunter access," wrote Cherry in the Nov. 15, 2011 letter.
Right now, the township and DNR agree that archery deer hunting (which includes bow and crossbow) should be permitted along with waterfowl hunting.
They also agree, according to Pearson, that firearm deer hunting should be prohibited.
The DNR has suggested allowing small game hunting.
Pearson doesn't have a problem with allowing hunters using shotguns for small game, but he doesn't want to allow the use of .22-caliber rifles.
"A .22 (bullet) can travel a long ways," he said.
According to Oakland County Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Brudvig, commander of the Addison substation, depending on conditions, a .22 rifle bullet can travel a maximum distance of anywhere from 200 yards to up to a mile.
When asked if turkey hunting, which has spring and fall seasons, would be allowed, Pearson indicated the subject hadn't been discussed with the DNR, but he intended to bring it up.
"That's something I need to talk to them about because as far as I'm concerned turkey shooting is fine," he said. "That one I would be comfortable with . . . Most hunters know the difference between a person and a turkey."
Pearson indicated township and DNR officials are planning to walk the park property sometime this month to determine what hunting can be safely and sensibly allowed.
"My only issue is safety," he said. "Once they see it and if they tell me it's safe to do this and this and this, then I'm fine with it. I'm relying on them to be the experts."
As for the township's restrictive ordinance concerning hunting in the park, Pearson said any language " that is contrary to the agreement with the state will be taken off the books."
"We're working on that one already," he said.
Pearson noted he's talked to some residents who are vehemently opposed to allowing hunting in Watershed Park.
"I've had a couple people call up and tell me if we allow hunting of any sort in that park, they'll never set foot in that park again," he said. "I told them we wouldn't have that park if it wasn't for the DNR and the agreement that was signed (back in the 1990s)."
The supervisor indicated some of these people told him "we've got to stand up to (the state) and tell them there's no hunting."
"I told them, you come up with $2.1 million, give it to us, we'll pay them off for the property and then you don't have to worry about it," Pearson said. "Nobody's come up with $2.1 million to pay for the park yet, so I guess we'll go by the agreement."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.