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Bear River Dam - Melrose Township recently resolved the fish grate issue on the Bear River Dam. Mike Webster, Township Supervisor, researched the issue and determined the DNR feels the fish grate could be causing more harm than good and should be removed. The Township Board voted to remove the fish grate from the upper level of the dam immediately, within a year remove the grate from the lower level of the dam and work with the Michigan DEQ, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council and the Walloon Lake Association to build a fish weir slightly on the downstream side of the dam, which will prevent the undesirable fish from entering Walloon Lake from Bear River and deter some predatory fish from the lake getting into the Bear River and harming that fish population. The Township will also have an engineer inspect the dam to make sure it is in good condition and has not been harmed by the grate, as some believe. Bob Taylor, who initiated the action on the dam, was satisfied with the outcome, which was viewed by most as a reasonable compromise.
Bob Taylor made it clear he did not want to see the lake level lowered below that level set by the Courts in 1916. In the course of Webster's research, he came to the conclusion that leaves and debris do collect on the grate, particularly during the fall season, and could hamper the flow of water over the dam.
Post Office Moves - The Walloon Lake Post Office has moved from its location next to the Walloon Village General Store & Deli to the Melrose Township Fire Department building at the corner of M-75 and North Shore Drive. The Post Office will occupy the east bay (#4) of the fire hall. This story is really about a community of summer and winter residents with tremendous civic pride, working together to save the Walloon Lake Post Office.
The building next to the General Store, which the Post Office has leased since 1960, is owned by Dennis and Jamie Hass. For approximately the last 4 years the Post Office has leased the building on a month to month basis, choosing not to enter into a long term lease until the building was brought up to Post Office standards. The owners did not want to do anything to the building or the parking lot unless they had a long term lease. Approximately a year ago the Post Office held a meeting and announced they would shortly be soliciting bids for a new Walloon Lake Post Office building, preferably with slightly more space and a long term lease. The Hass building would still be considered if it complied with postal standards. Shortly thereafter, the postal service reported a $1.7 billion deficit and put a freeze on all new facilities.
The Hass's sent an eviction notice to the Post Office in December, 2001, stating they must vacate the premises by February 1, 2002. Judy Balanda, Real Estate Specialist with the U.S.P.O. in Chicago, entered into negotiations with the Hass's attorney and, even though both parties offered to contribute to improvements to the building and property, a lease agreement could not be reached.
On January 16, 2002, the U.S.P.O. notified Terry Gaither the negotiations had reached an impasse and notice should be given to the box holders that they would vacate the building by January 31, 2002, and Walloon Lake mail would temporarily be sent to the Boyne City Post Office, where it would be sorted and could be picked up at the window. While this arrangement was to be "temporary," there was a real concern that once the Post Office moved to Boyne City, there was a strong chance it would not return and there would never again be a Walloon Lake, Michigan address.
At this point, a small group, including Mike Webster, Township Supervisor, began exploring alternate locations, in or close to the Village. The Walloon Lake Association's Neighborhood Leadership Committee was called upon to contact Association members at their winter addresses, requesting they send faxes and e-mails supporting the plan to keep the Post Office in Walloon. Mike Webster contacted Representative Bart Stupak and Senator Carl Levin to ask for help, and Webster and Dick Hermann both called a number of key Post Office officials in Chicago and Michigan to express concern about the U.S.P.O. arrangements, from the Township, the Walloon Lake Association and the Walloon Lake Trust and Conservancy. In all, 14 alternate sites were explored.
An emergency meeting of the Township Board to discuss the Post Office was set for 7:00 P.M., January 24, 2002. Judy Balanda, U.S.P.O. Real Estate Specialist from Chicago, agreed to attend and Chuck Howe, U.S.P.O. District Manager for the State of Michigan, sent Jim Newell, Administrative Support Manager from Grand Rapids, to be at the meeting. They were asked to arrive by 4 o'clock so alternatives could be presented and they agreed to do so. Mike Webster; Sue Gilmette, Township Trustee, Bunny Marquardt, and the Hermanns met with the Post Office representatives and presented 3 alternative sites which could be ready by January 31, 2002. These sites were:
- 1. Mike Strobel's showroom, which would be available for 1 year.
- 2. Bay #4 at the Fire Hall, which the firemen were willing to lease indefinitely and which could be partitioned off to Post Office standards, with labor contributed by the firemen and materials furnished by the Post Office. This site would also include use of the restroom at the Fire Hall.
- 3. Land and a septic hook up for a 14' X 60' trailer (formerly a temporary bank building) from Al Reeves, who owns the Junction Inn and the former Roller Rink. This land would be leased for a very reasonable price.
The 65+ faxes and e-mails sent by you were presented, along with other compelling reasons to keep the Post Office here. The Post Office representatives felt the Fire Hall bay was the best alternative because, among other reasons, a restroom was available, the building would be wheelchair accessible and it would be available for more than a year.
Mike Webster asked the Post Office to give an estimate of the proposed repairs to the current Post Office building, and asked the Hass's to do the same. Webster scheduled a 5 o'clock meeting with the Hass's in a last ditch effort to bring the two sides together. Webster reported back from that meeting that both parties estimates were very close, confirming the Post Office would be required to invest approximately $75,000 to $100,000 in the Hass building for their share of the improvements if they were to continue to lease the building. The group from the Township then left so the folks from the Post Office could make a decision. Just before the Township Meeting was to begin, the Post Office representatives asked Webster, Gilmette, Marquardt and the Hermanns to again meet with them. They indicated they wanted to lease bay #4 in the Fire Hall and would be willing to use the meeting room of the Town Hall as a temporary Post Office until the firemen could complete the build-out of bay #4.
Mike Webster opened the emergency Township Board Meeting to a "standing room only" audience of concerned citizens. Jamie Hass asked to speak first, to offer an explanation of why they had begun eviction procedures. Hass noted 4 years ago, when the Post Office refused to sign another long term lease, the rent was raised from $500 per month to $727 per month. He went on to say, because of the condition of the exterior of the building, he was now raising the rent to $870 per month, but the Post Office would have to sign a long term lease. He indicated that without a long term commitment in contract form he could not afford to do the repairs and renovations the building required. In order to repave the parking lot, repair the roof and fix up the exterior of the building, he would have to take out a loan which would cost $300 per month, so he and his brother would not be receiving $870 per month, but $570 per month after taking the loan into consideration. Hass left the meeting after making his statement and fielding a few questions from the audience. Jim Newell then spoke for the Post Office stating, "It was clear we were not going to be able to come to an agreement on the lease. A few days ago, we had no choice but to send a notice to the community. I apologize for the short notice. We all thought we would be able to resolve this, but we weren't."
After much discussion, Webster and Newell outlined the plan they had established. The Post Office will be moved to bay #4 of the Fire Hall and the Department's Brush Truck will be moved to Bunny Marquardt's newly built, heated pole barn, since it needs heat throughout the winter. A lease will be developed and signed by the U.S.P.O. and the Township, who will in turn give the money to the Fire Department. As the Petoskey News-Review reported, "The decision was met with no opposition by community members, who on several occasions applauded the quick work and productive efforts of those involved." Terry Gaither, Postmistress, said, "I have lived in several communities and I have never been in a community where the people pulled together like this." A meeting was held at the Walloon Village General Store the following morning with the fireman and the Post Office people. The firemen were "fired up" (pardon the pun) and immediately made plans to start work on the building.
The story of the community pulling together to save the Post Office was the lead story on Channel 10 T.V. on the 11 o'clock news that night, and the following day on Channel 4 as well. The television stations, as well as the News-Review and the Boyne Citizen, continued to carry it as a human interest story. Mail delivery at the Town Hall began Wednesday, January 30th, and will continue there until the new space in bay #4 is ready - probably by February 20th. The arrival of the new secure windows and post office equipment are dictating the opening date. The firemen are ready! On Wednesday and Thursday, all post office boxes and equipment were removed from the old building. Mike Strobel is storing the equipment at his marina, and he moved the 2,000+ pound safe to the new site. Wallooners are truly a wonderful cohesive group. And yes, Walloon Lake will have a Post Office.