December 22, 2014

DNR interested in purchasing property near Rifle River

Posted

ARENAC TWP. — The Department of Natural Resources is interested in purchasing property near Michigan Avenue and west of Stoddard’s Landing in Arenac Township to promote better fishing and hunting access to visitors.

The total size of the property is about 91 acres, with 70 acres north of the Rifle River and the rest on the south side of it. According to Jason Hartman, DNR specialist, making the land public access would make it easier for people to get to existing DNR property closer to the shore, particularly since the department has existing leases with canoe liveries in the area.

He said it would increase the amount of public shoreline for anglers along the Rifle River, improve cedar cover for deer in the winter, and increase the amount of public hunting land in the area as well.

“If the township and county provide an indication of support, we will complete the internal review and hopefully move forward with a land transaction in the next couple of months,” Hartman said.

He said the Pilisko family, which owns the property, approached the DNR about selling it to the state. Hartman said it featured many things the DNR looks for, such as waterfront access, cedar coverage for deer, and linkage to other DNR property. The land is also fairly flat and wooded, with bluffs around the river.

Hartman and land use specialist Kerry Wieber came to the Arenac Township board meeting March 7 to discuss the possible sale, and to see about getting a letter of support from the board. They met with some concern regarding tax revenue for the township and accessibility.

Wieber said the DNR is supposed to provide payments in lieu of taxes (PLT) to the township for the property it owns, but can only pay when and what the legislature tells them to. After passing Public Acts 603 and 604 last year, however, the DNR is now legally required to pay the PLT in full and on time.

Treasurer Debra Rice confirmed that the most recent PLT came through on time and in full on Feb. 14, and Carrie said that should continue to be the case going forward. The township should receive just under $1,500 through the PLT for the property, she said.

Supervisor Jim Daly was concerned about accessibility via a gated road on existing DNR property on the south side of the Rifle River that leads to Stoddard’s Landing. He said the gate only tends to be open during canoe season to reach the liveries, and as such it is difficult for anglers and hunters to get out there at other points in the year.

Hartman said the issue stemmed from road quality and lack of staff. During the spring thaw, the road gets muddy, and in the winter, it can get icy. Since the road is primarily made of sand, it can get bent out of shape during the summer months as well. As a result, the DNR has a gate installed to prevent heavy vehicles from going out during the thaw.

Additionally, heavy mudder trucks have driven out into the camping areas and torn it up, Hartman said, so the DNR has been trying to keep people out during those wet seasons.

Hartman acknowledged that the gate was not being opened as quickly as it needed to be in the past due to a lack of manpower, but he said with a new hire for the area, the DNR should be able to keep on top of that task much more effectively. He said the gate is usually open from hunting season until about April, when the road gets muddy.

Omer-Arenac Fire Chief Brian Leja said he was concerned that the gate makes rescue attempts on the water much more difficult, and Hartman said he would get a key to the fire department for the gate so they can open it in case of an emergency.

The township board ultimately agreed to a letter of support pending written language saying the DNR would pay its PLT in full and on time each year.

The estimated cost to the DNR for the property is about $109,200.

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