2013-08-08 / Front Page

Buzz grows for car ferry in Peshawbestown

By Eric Carlson Of The Enterprise staff

Economic development, transportation and land use planners throughout northwestern lower Michigan say they are encouraged by news that the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians plans to construct a 106-slip marina in Peshawbestown that could accommodate a regional car ferry.

“Whether it’s a car ferry or just a people mover to take visitors from the tribe’s Turtle Creek Casino over to the Leelanau Sands Casino and back – it sounds like a great idea to me,” said Leelanau County resident Jim Lively, a program director with the Michigan Land Use Institute.

Regional planner Matt McCauley of the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments agreed.

“Improved east-west transit through our region – whether it’s via water or overland – is something that many agree would benefit us,” McCauley said. “Although we don’t have details on the tribe’s plans, we can say that expanding the modes of transportation in our region and engaging in development that could add jobs, even seasonal ones, is something we can be encouraged about.”

McCauley pointed out that a car ferry can do more than carry automobiles. It can also carry pedestrians and bicyclists.

The idea of expanding modes of transportation in the region beyond automobiles to include hiking and biking trails, railroads and ferries was among a number of concepts discussed in a regional land use and transportation initiative begun in 2007 known as The Grand Vision.

The current spokesman for The Grand Vision, Kim Pontius of Elmwood Township, said he first became aware of the tribe’s new plans earlier this year during a Smart Growth transportation meeting in Traverse City that was part of a regional conversation about future transportation options. Back in 2007, the tribe proposed a plan for a public marina in Peshawbestown, but those plans were shelved and did not include provisions for a ferry.

“Connecting the communities around (Grand Traverse Bay) by water is not a new idea,” Pontius said. “This used to be how people got around to coastal communities before the development of the automobile. As we see more emphasis on other transportation modes, I believe water based transit will add to the resilience of the communities that accommodate it.”

Pontius noted that bicyclists are already talking about a non-motorized trail that connects Acme to Elk Rapids.

“Expanding this concept to include ferry service between Elk Rapids and Leelanau County really opens our region to even greater opportunities,” Pontius said. “This ferry service, if expanded, may also change how consumers may consider vacation and second home markets or even residential housing options in the region.”

In addition to serving with The Grand Vision, Pontius is also executive director of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors.

Tribal officials said last week that they envisioned ferry service between Traverse City, Peshawbestown, Charlevoix, and possibly Elk Rapids. The ferry dock would be part of a 106-slip public marina located on West Grand Traverse Bay in Peshawbestown just north of a tribally owned gas station and convenience store.

The executive director of the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Sally Guzowski, said she was very encouraged to hear of the tribe’s marina plans.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Guzowski said. “If we could get more people from Charlevoix coming over here on the water, it would be wonderful. Also, I really like the idea of another marina in Leelanau County to bring more boaters into our area.”

Guzowski said she’s also pleased that the tribe — and not some other unit of government — is taking on the project.

“They’ll do it right,” Guzowski said. “And as a sovereign nation, there may not be as many administrative roadblocks they’ll need to overcome to move this project forward.”

The tribe’s main reservation is located in Suttons Bay Township, but is not subject to township or county zoning or site plan review. However, the tribe has been working with state and federal agencies to secure the appropriate permits for its project. Tribal officials said they hope to begin construction this winter.

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently considering the tribe’s application to construct the marina including provisions for a car ferry. A public comment period on the application will expire Aug. 23. Anyone seeking more information may phone the Army Corps of Engineers at (313) 226-5380.

Return to top