Berrien County Commissioners talk trail projects

Published 6:30 pm Sunday, October 30, 2022

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ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Commissioners are setting down the ground rules for future trail projects in the county. The new policy will affect those entities that seek county support for developing trails. 

Berrien County Administrator Brian Dissette thanked Administration Committee members as well as county staff for working on the new policy. 

“It’s something we’ve talked about for months,” he said. “This was one that was difficult and I want to thank you for getting it across the finish line.” 

“The board will be getting an update from the Friends of Berrien County Trails in the next few weeks,” he added. “It’s critical to have these goal posts in place on how future trails will be developed in the county.” 

The new policy acknowledges that recent planning efforts have focused on the development of new trails, water trails and greenways in the county. Efforts mentioned include plans to develop a Berrien County Linear Trail connecting all seven current county parks with safe non-motorized pedestrian and bicycle trails. 

The policy also notes that Michigan Department of Transportation grant funding requires the county to spend 10 percent of its County Road Department budget on trails over a 10-year period. 

The policy states that while establishing trails is primarily the responsibility of local governments, work in public right-of-ways are the purview of the Berrien County Road Department and will be governed by new rules when the county is asked to contribute funding and approve permits and other assistance. 

The policy defines non-motorized transportation facility types to be non-motorized paths, paved shoulders of roads, signed routes on existing roads and sidewalks. Local entities asking for county assistance will have to provide a resolution outlining funding sources and right-of-way permit applications among other items. 

The county will consider a number of factors in determining county involvement in projects such as pavement surface evaluation, safety and mobility, current and future roadway needs, drainage, utilities and environmental constraints. 

Perhaps most importantly, any agreement between the county and local governments on trail projects will have to include how the trail will be paid for initially as well as in the future. Agreements will have to outline trail maintenance plans and who will pay for it. 

One trail project got the go-ahead at Thursday’s meeting, the Lakeview Trail in the Twin Cities area near the Whirlpool campus. The non-motorized trail will run along M-63 between Higman Park Road and Monte Road. Funding for the trail development and future maintenance will come from state and private sources. 

Thursday’s action involved applying for a Michigan Department of Transportation “Transportation Alternatives Program” grant to help fund the project. The project is expected to cost $2.3 million with the TAP grant providing $1.4 million and other grants making up the difference. 

In other news Thursday, Dissette reported that there has been a bit of a hiccup in plans to move the county’s Emergency Operations and 9-1-1 Centers to the former AEP building in Buchanan. The county purchased the property this summer to be the home for those centers, a new communications tower and maybe even space for Buchanan city offices. 

Dissette said that it has been discovered that a small section of the acreage purchased from AEP is actually located in Buchanan Township and that recent attempts to have the city annex that land have proven to be unsuccessful with Buchanan Township officials nixing the deal. 

He said Buchanan Township officials still support the project but just don’t want to have that parcel annexed. He said that means the county will have to seek zoning approval for the tower from Buchanan Township and approval for any other site improvements from the city of Buchanan.