Ice racing issue heats up again

ESCANABA TOWNSHIP – Escanaba Township will seek legal action against a property owner who allegedly violated a local ordinance and a court order which do not allow ice track racing on his land.

During a special meeting Thursday afternoon, the public and township board members offered comments on recent racing activity on land located on N.7 Lane near several homes along the Escanaba River.

Last November, Delta County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Davis granted a permanent injunction to stop ice racing on the property, which is owned by Robert Barron.

Escanaba Township had filed the civil lawsuit claiming construction of the track violated the township’s zoning requirements because the property is not zoned to use for ice racing. Also, a site plan and a zoning compliance permit application were not submitted to the township.

Thursday’s meeting was scheduled to address concerns from neighbors and Township Zoning Administrator Al Gareau, who heard racing taking place on the ice track the past two Saturdays. When Gareau asked to inspect the property, he was denied access.

Terry Burkhart, the township’s attorney, said there was probable cause to believe there was racing of four-wheelers, sprint cars, and motorcycles. He added the township’s zoning administrator has the legal right to investigate the suspected violations when he heard the racing.

The attorney advised the township board of its options: do nothing further; have a county prosecutor review the case for criminal charges; or have Burkhart file a contempt of court complaint for the landowner violating the court order and the township ordinance. The township could also reach a settlement with Barron such as have the landowner tear down the track, the lawyer added.

After some discussion, the board voted unanimously to have its attorney pursue the matter through the court system.

Board discussion included Trustee Tom Rymkos saying he would like to see a compromise because he is tired of spending township money on the issue.

“I don’t know what to think of it anymore. It’s dividing our township up big time,” Rymkos said.

Clerk Pat Beauchamp commented, “We have to straighten this out.”

Gareau, a board trustee, commented the track would not be an issue now if the landowner would have gone through the proper channels and built the track where he said he was going to put it.

Treasurer Linda Robitaille said the developers did not follow the township requirements from the start and the township needs to stick to its zoning rules to support the community.

“If the Barrons don’t follow zoning, no one has to follow zoning,” she said.

Supervisor Jake Nyquist agreed the correct process must be followed with any zoning request.

“I do want to see this resolved,” Nyquist said. “Personally, I would like to see the track where it is right now with conditional uses.”

Robitaille said the issue at hand is about zoning, not racing. She received a round of applause when she said, “We’re not giving up on those people on the river.”

During public comment prior to the board’s decision, Jon Barron said he had organized a birthday party for family and friends on the property on one day in question.

Pat Barron, one of the ice track developers, said during public comment that he will be filing harassment complaints against the board.

Robert Barron commented the zoning administrator needs to get permission to go on his land. He added the issue needs to be worked out because the township is tied up in legal affairs.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143,