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Atlas Township voters could decide pathway future this November

June 18, 2014 - Atlas Twp.- The committee, "Walk, Bike, Run Atlas Township," took a slightly different turn Monday night.

The township board of trustees meeting featured a presentation by Paulette Johnson, committee co-chair, who along with Bruce DeGrouchy formed "Walk, Bike, Run Atlas Township" about a year ago. Since last summer the committee has gathered 358 signed petitions from residents in support of recreational paths in the township. The committee report trails are necessary to provide a sense of community, increase property values, offer a safe location for outdoor activites, attract young families to the community, and improve the health of residents.

Monday's meeting was also attended by several families and residents who supported the concept of a pathway system in the township. Johnson, along with the committee, would be seeking grants from a variety of sources including the State of Michigan and Genesee County to construct the pathways.

"According to the Robert Wood Foundation Population Health Institute, Genesee County ranks 81st of 83 counties in the state in poor health—nearly the most unhealthiest county in Michigan," she added. "The pathways would be a great start to reverse that—the board can follow other comminities like Davison Township and do something for the health of residents."

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Program provides information on the overall health of communities and provides the tools necessary to create informed solutions.

Trustee Barry June requested Johnson address the intent of the committee and how the board of trustees can help with the project.

"It's my experience that if you have an engineered plan with a dollar amount, the chances of securing any type of grant would go up exponentially," said June.

June suggested $150,000 of township funds. The motion was supported by Township Supervisor Shirley-Kautman Jones.

Tere Onica, township clerk, Patrick Major, trustee and Ann Marie Moore, treasurer, voted no on the motion.

"I would be more comfortable putting this question on a ballot," said Major. "I have to represent everyone in the township. Right now there may be 10 percent of the vote supporting the project, but 90 percent that don't. We need an estimated cost—there will be millions of dollars in trails."

"It's a lot different than voting for road repair and fire trucks," he said. "I understand we can't hold a vote for every issue that we face as a township board."

Jones did not agree.

"It's a great idea for the community. Communities are able to do trails with little or no pledge. Nothing is going to happen regarding spending money without coming to us, the township board, first," she said. "(Asking to support pathways) is just a very vague question to ask voters."

The board agreed to place a pathway proposal on the November 2014 ballot. However, wording and dollar amounts were not confirmed at the meeting.

"I'm all for the paths in the township," said Onica. "I especially like the bigger vision of a trail system proposed by Gov. Snyder from Belle Isle north to Wisconsin—a larger vision of the pathway. But still that's a lot of money—we have to be careful of how we spend township funds."

In 2012 Gov. Rick Snyder announced plans to begin work on a 924 mile trail from Belle Isle in Detroit to the Wisconsin border in the western Upper Pennisula. The trail would include using a mix of existing pathways and creating new ones. The trail would require 81 miles of new trail in the Lower Pennisula and 151 miles of additional trail in the Upper Pennisula. According to a map outlining the trailway, Paint Creek and Polly Ann trails in Oakland County were included in the plan. In addition, several areas of the conceptual non-motorized pathway were still under consideration, providing a possible opportunity for a route through Atlas Township.

Onica said the township proposal will have to be approved by the township before July 29 and submitted to the county board of commissioners before Aug. 12 to be on the November 2014 ballot.

"Wording and attaching a dollar amount will be key in the ballot language," she added. "If you get a solid yes from voters this fall then the committee can move forward. The path is going to be longer than the quarter-mile of path the Village of Goodrich built—we need to look closely at that trail and how it went for them."

Emery Bennett, township resident who served as a trustee for 20 years, was disappointed with the decision.

"I was on the walking path committee when we looked at the project years ago in the township," he said. "We had the necessary grant for about a two mile pathway on Hegel Road along M-15 all the way to Perry Road. Anyway, we needed $23,000 from the township to complete the project and we got turnned down."

"We need to have support for the path," he told the board of trustees. "We are not asking for more taxes or more money from taxpayers. The committee did not ask for $150,000—that number was suggested by a board member. Atlas Township needs to have a plan ready—actually they need to have several plans ready— and if money becomes available from a grant then we can jump on it. This does not need to go for a vote. It's a setback and again we are not asking for any money."

The first path the committee would seek would be from the middle school toward the village of Atlas and continue toward Grand Blanc.

Johnson said they will continue to push for bike paths.

"It would have been successful had the (township) board, as a majority, acknowledged the committee, made a committment to the committee, and provided support. We needed the board to be there when we bring a grant proposal and start a path. There seems to be a trust issue, we can't move forward unless we have the support—it's a waste of time."

Johnson said the board can purchase property on Gale Road next to the township hall or spend half a million on roads without the support of the people, but they can't help establish bike paths.

"It's clear the taxpayers want bike paths," she added. "We have the support of the community, people want recreational paths. We are not asking for additional tax money. Atlas Township median income is the highest in Genesee County. It's a beautiful township, we all should enjoy it in safety."

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