PUBLIC COMMENT – Linda Slaggert asks the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees what happened to funds earmarked for a community center during a recent meeting.

 OSCODA – After nearly two years of holding board meetings via Zoom, the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees held a hybrid meeting at their new venue, Shoreline Theater on Jan. 10. 

Board members sat on the stage while approximately a dozen local residents and two Oscoda Police officers were in the audience. Township residents were also provided the option to participate virtually via Zoom, which several did. 

After a sound check, roll call and the Pledge of Allegiance, Township Treasurer Jaimie McGuire opened a public hearing on the 2022-2026 Parks and Recreation Plan. According to Planning and Zoning Director Nicholle Vallette, the hearing was the final step in the plan’s approval process. Vallette explained that Beckett and Raeder, Inc., a landscape architecture firm located in Ann Arbor, had written the plan. The board approved payment not to exceed $19,400, to Beckett and Raeder, at their Aug. 9 meeting. Vallette told the board the plan needed to be approved to meet the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) submission deadline of Feb. 1. 

McGuire pointed out that Furtaw Field is no longer listed in the plan. She reminded trustees that five of the seven drawings presented to the public at meetings held last summer about the future of Furtaw Field, included green space. 

“Who decided Furtaw Field was not going to be in the plan? She asked. 

Vallette responded that Furtaw is not in the plan because it was listed as disposable, commercial property. She added that Furtaw Field is in the Central Business District and is planned for commercial development. Vallette stated that including Furtaw Field in the plan would hurt the township’s grant opportunities if it was sold. She added that it could be added to future Parks and Recreation plans. 

 “Is the sports complex listed as disposable?” Township Supervisor Ann Richards asked. “I don’t know, I’m looking to Todd (referring to EIC Director Todd Dickerson). Dickerson responded “it was part of the packet that we presented in 2020 to MAMA (Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association) for Spaceport.” “The sports complex is not disposable,” Dickerson added. “I’m trying to clarify the difference between Furtaw and the sports complex,” Richards added. 

The 49.4 acre sports complex is located on the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base and includes fields for a variety of sports, an open air pavilion, a concession stand and restrooms.

Public comment began with Linda Slaggert, who told trustees she had spend the better part of Sunday reviewing the plan. Slaggert, who organized Spring Fling concerts at the former Community Center, took issue with the sample size of 325 individuals who had input into the plan, saying it represented a small percentage of the population of Oscoda. She stated that a survey sample size should be 15%.

According to the plan, the survey was available online and in hard copy format at the township. In addition, a public meeting was held at Warrior Pavilion on Sept. 29 where the public could provide input. 

Eighty percent of those who completed the survey were Oscoda residents, nearly 80 percent were year-round residents, the majority were over the age of 50 and two-thirds did not have children in the home. 

“Certain things from the past should not be forgotten,” Slaggert said. She reminded trustees that they had sold the Oscoda Community Center, located on the former Wurtsmith Air Base, to Kalitta in June 2019 for $290,000. She added that McGuire had said at the time that the proceeds would be saved for a community center. She also reported that at the time of the sale there was a $2 million contingency fund and that verbal commitments were made that those funds would go to a community center. “Do those funds still exist?” Slaggert asked. 

Slaggert said that the term Recreation Center, used in the plan, was limiting. She spoke with nostalgia about the Oscoda Community Center. She referred to the center as a place “where all ages were embraced” and a “living, breathing space that unified the community.” She spoke about the wide variety of activities that were available at the center from exercise and yoga classes to table tennis, billiards, pickle ball, movie nights and concerts, to name a few. 

Cathy Wusterbarth, co-lead and founder of NOW (Need Our Water) and Oscoda Citizens for Clean Water, and a former member of the Planning Commission, said she thought the plan was well done but expressed concern about the short timeline. “We’re in a bad situation,” referring to the MDNR Feb. 1 deadline for the plan to be submitted. “I would like to see it start earlier,” she added, referring to the development of the plan. She added that she thought it was a “great plan” and that she was “proud of the Planning Commission”.

Wusterbarth focused on Ken Ratliffe Park, located on Van Etten Lake. The park is home to Warrior Pavilion, beaches, boat ramps, play equipment and grills. Wusterbarth mentioned the warning signs at the park about not touching the foam. Wusterbarth indicated that there is a foot washing station but no outdoor shower. “I do think that should be done this year,” she added. 

The District Health Department issued the “Do Not Touch the Foam” advisory on Sept. 1, 2017 in response to local PFAS contamination.

Wusterbarth expressed excitement about the linking of the ORV/snowmobile trail to Oscoda. She returned to the podium a second time and asked how having Furtaw Field in the plan negatively impacted the township’s ability to obtain grants. Vallette responded that it could impact the township’s ability to obtain future grant opportunities because there would be a “credibility issue with MDNR”. 

Since 1972 the township has received grant funding from the MDNR totaling $2,354,165 to fund acquisitions and park development. Funded improvements have included Billy McQuaid Park, Riverbank Park, Riverfront Park, and numerous improvements to Oscoda Beach Park including acquisition of two acres of land, the skatepark, boardwalk and pier.

Robert Tasior, who serves on the Planning Commission, came to the podium next. “It is a plan. If we don’t work on implementation, it is not worth the paper it is on. In the past we have not gotten full support to work the plan,” he stated. Tasior asked the trustees to form an action committee and start the process of prioritizing goals and developing a capital improvement plan. He said that the shower was an action item that needs to be identified. 

“It looks hokey to change the plan whenever,” Larry Holland said when he took the podium. “We shouldn’t be wishy-washy,” he added. He asked that the trustees first take a property out of the plan and then make it disposable. 

Kelly Brown, who attended the meeting virtually, said that she loved all of the additions. 

During the public comment portion of the regular meeting, Rick Koenig asked about the results of the three public meetings that took place about Furtaw Field. Koenig, who said he attended all three meetings, asked if the trustees had every received an update from Dickerson. Koenig said he had audiotapes of the meetings and had recently listened to them again. 

“When does it get to a point where you listen to the people?” Koenig asked. Koenig suggested that the trustees put the future of Furtaw Field on a special ballot. He asked “what did the people think?” Koenig pointed out that the plans that could be voted on by the public were narrowed down from one meeting to the next. 

After the public hearing, during their regular meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve Resolution 2022-01, that puts in place the five-year Parks and Recreation Plan. The plan goes into effect on Feb. 2022 and extends through 2026. According to the plan it “will serve as a guide for Township officials for decision making, preparing annual budgets and applying for grants.”

Some of the highlights of the plan include the following:

• $216,000 in improvements to Old Orchard Park from 2022-2025, in addition to the $55,000 that was allocated for 2021. 

• Conducting a feasibility study to determine how to develop “an independent Parks and Recreation Department”. 

• According to the Park Land Analysis within the plan, Oscoda Township has a “surplus of 141.6 acres of park land”. 

• The vast majority of the township is not within reasonable walking distance of a park.

• The parks were rated in terms of their accessibility. Scores range from 1=none of the parks/facilities meet accessibility guidelines to 5=the entire park was developed/renovated using the principles of universal design.

• The sports complex received an accessibility score of 1, Oscoda Huron Sunrise Park received a score of 2, Piety Hill received a score of 3, Oscoda Beach Park received a score of 4 and Oscoda Riverbank Park received a score of 5. Previous improvements to Oscoda Beach Park and Riverbank Park were funded by the MDNR. 

• Residents who completed the survey rated showers and changing areas at the beach, site furnishings and picnic areas the most highly for what they would like to see. 

• Residents identified the need to maintain current facilities and the need for recreational activities during the winter months.

The Action Plan identifies improvements to be made over the next five years to Oscoda Beach Park, Old Orchard Campground, Piety Hill, Riverbank Park, Huron Sunrise Park, Footesite Park and Ken Ratliffe Park. 

Improvements to Oscoda Beach Park, to be made over the next four years, are being driven in part by the planned Holiday Inn Express that is going to be built across the street from the park, resulting in additional visitors to the area. Plans for the Beach Park include expansion of the splashpad, bathhouse improvements, adding an outdoor shower, adding playground equipment, improvements to parking and lighting and boardwalk and pier improvements. 

A feasibility study for an indoor recreation center is slated for 2022. The plan also includes finding a new location for the sports complex. 

In other action the township:

• Unanimously approved appointing McGuire to the 2022 Master Plan Subcommittee after she volunteered to serve.

• Unanimously approved paying John Henry Excavating for the work performed on the water leak at the former base. Payment was in the amount of $13,875 for repairing a water main leak and $11,835 for valve replacement. Mark Bratschi, an engineer with F & V who attended the meeting, referred to the leak as “substantial” and told the trustees that approximately 90 gallons of water were being discharged per minute. The leak was located between Kalitta Air and Phoenix Composite and was under 10 inches of concrete. 

• Unanimously provided approval for Township Superintendent Tammy Kline to find a trademark attorney who could address trademark violations. Kline said that she has two referrals at this time who could deal with the issues that are “Michiganized”. 

• Unanimously approved paying five invoices to ROWE Professional Services in the amount of $71,290. Trustee Bill Palmer had a number of questions about the invoices and others that had, or had not, been paid. 

• In a vote of 6 to 1, with Palmer voting no, postponed rezoning a piece of property, located behind Northern Truck Repair on River Road, for residential use. “I think it makes more sense to zone it residential,” said Palmer. Vallette was asked what the property would need to be zoned for cemetery expansion, but did not know the answer. “Do we need to retain it for expansion?” asked Richards. 

McGuire made the motion to postpone after noting that the property was going to be used for expansion of the cemetery because it is getting “very full”. Dickerson reported that he had shown the property to several people and that “several developers have expressed some level of interest,” in the property. 

• Approved a request from Tasior and Kline, representing the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation of Northeast Michigan, to host RockFest on August 12 and 13 at the Veterans Memorial Park. The request also included the use of Furtaw Field as a backup location and a waiver of fees. During the discussion, Richards asked if breaking ground for the apartments would impede the ability to hold the event at Veterans Memorial Park given that the township was moving towards a purchase on the Skeel Ave. property. During a follow-up call Richards clarified that 10 acres were being sold and she didn’t know if there were issues with overflow onto township property. 

• Accepted, with regrets, the resignation of Rosemary Nentwig who was the assistant librarian at the Robert J. Parks Library. Nentwig submitted her letter of resignation on Dec. 13 and her resignation was effective on Dec. 31, 2021.

• Approved a request from Robin Savage, library director, to hire an assistant librarian at 15 hours per week and increase the current librarian’s hours to 25 hours per week. 

During the final public comment section of the meeting, a number of residents expressed frustration with the lack of follow-up and follow through. “No old business is carried through” said Jen Kirch. “We are going to have a Todd Dickerson conversation on the agenda,” she added.

“We get no response. It is very difficult,” added Koenig. 

Debra Rauch asked the board to “start answering questions”. “Ignoring people is not a good way of doing business,” she added. 

Trustee Steve Wusterbarth wrapped up the meeting by saying he was glad to be meeting in person again. Richards thanked the crew from MiCTV and said that the Zoom option will continue. She reminded the audience that township meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday of the month. Richards reiterated that the township is not required to have Zoom as an option and promised “we’ll work on the sound and other things.”

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