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A change of course on Traverse City's FishPass project

Great Lakes Fishery Commission
FishPass would replace the Union Street dam with a barrier that blocks invasive species while allowing other fish to swim upstream. (Photo: Great Lakes Fishery Commission.)

The FishPass project on the Boardman-Ottaway River is now set to move forward.

The Michigan Court of Appeals overturned a circuit court ruling on Thursday which had stalled the project for over a year.

The project would replace Traverse City's Union Street dam with a first-of-its kind structure that would block invasive species like sea lamprey while allowing desirable fish like sturgeon and trout to move upstream.

But resident Rick Buckhalter took legal action against the project, claiming it would “dispose of public parkland.” According to the city charter, that requires a public vote. In June 2021, circuit court Judge Thomas Power agreed.

The city — along with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission — appealed, and now that decision has been overturned.

“This has been an unwelcome delay, but has not dampened our enthusiasm for this,” said Marc Gaden, with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

“We’ve all been anxiously anticipating this ruling, and we’re ready to pick up where we left off almost two years ago,” Gaden said.

Spence Brothers Construction was selected to build FishPass before the project was challenged in circuit court. Gaden said the contract will be re-negotiated before construction can begin.

Patrick Shea was a natural resources reporter at Interlochen Public Radio. Before joining IPR, he worked a variety of jobs in conservation, forestry, prescribed fire and trail work. He earned a degree in natural resources from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, and his interest in reporting grew as he studied environmental journalism at the University of Montana's graduate school.