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Multi-million dollar FishPass project in Traverse City is on trial

Lexi Krupp / IPR News


Construction on the nearly $20 million FishPass project in Traverse City is on hold until May, at the earliest. 


That’s when a circuit court judge will hear a case about whether city residents need to vote on the plan to replace the Union Street Dam with a high-tech channel, where researchers could test how to sort fish swimming upriver. 


The holdup is centered on the question of whether the project amounts to “disposal of parkland“ or changes outside of “park purposes.” In either case, city residents would need to approve the project by a 60 percent majority, under city charter rules


Judge Thomas Power, of the 13th circuit court, said he thinks FishPass is primarily a research facility. “It may be a great idea […] but it is not a park purpose,” he said Tuesday afternoon. 


Power agreed to hear a case brought against Traverse City by resident Rick Buckhalter, who has been fighting the project for years, and decided to take legal action against the city in October, representing himself.


“They are quite likely to be successful on the merits,” Power said, of Buckhalter’s case. 


If Buckhalter wins the trial in May, the FishPass project could be up for vote in an August election at the earliest, according to Tom Mair, a former Grand Traverse County commissioner. 


“One man – he can change everything by going to court and have his day in court,” said Mair. “I think it’s really something to celebrate.” 


The Great Lakes Fishery Commission and Traverse City leaders released a statement Tuesday saying they “are exploring all options to bringing FishPass to fruition” and will be ready to move forward “once the judicial process is complete.”

Lexi Krupp reports on science and the environment. Previously, she worked for Gimlet Media where she helped the Science Vs team distinguish what's fact from what's not. Her work has appeared in Audubon, Popular Science, VICE, and elsewhere.