Sept. 21 2017 10:14 AM

Fate of Ormond Park project in hands of judge

The fate of Ormond Park is in the hands of Ingham County Circuit Judge James Jamo.

On Monday, after months of legal wrangling, the city concluded its defense in a lawsuit brought against it by neighbors of the 8-acre park who argue its destruction violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.

Neighbors argue an elevated section on the eastern edge of the park is part of the Mason Esker, a geological formation. They argue that a planned road through the neighborhood park would limit access to that formation and enjoyment of it.

Up to now, city officials have referred to the formation as an esker in documents and in court.

But Monday, city officials argued the elevated space was not an esker, but a hill made of “fill” material. To buttress their claims, Deputy City Attorney Joseph Abood put Stephen Zayko on the stand. Zayko, who was paid as an expert witness, testified that his review of geological survey maps from 1982 as well as holes that he dug allowed him to determine the formation was not an esker.

An esker would traditionally consist of gravel and sand. It is a geological feature created by rivers that used to run under glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. As the water ran under the glacier, it deposited the gravel, much of it created by the grinding of bedrock and other rocks by the glacier as it moved south. Eskers serve as an important groundwater filter. Because the formations are made of gravel, many of them have been excavated for that gravel.

Zayko testified that a 1982 map created by an MSU geology professor showed that the area of Ormond Park was made up of fill soil, like much of the county.

“So, there is not, in fact, anything unique about this, isn’t that correct?” Abood asked Zayko.

“That is correct,” the consultant responded.

However, Grahame Larson, the professor who created the map, had already signed an affidavit on behalf of the Friends of Ormond Park stating not only that the formation was an esker, but that he often used it as a teaching tool.

John Yellich, director of the Michigan Geological Survey at Western Michigan University, who had previously testified on behalf of the Friends of Ormond Park, was called to the stand to rebut Zayko’s testimony.

“That map is not able to show the detail of something as small as a 150-footwide esker as is located in Ormond Park,” Yellich testified.

City officials announced plans to put an entrance road to Groesbeck Golf Course through the park in an attempt to alleviate traffic through the surrounding neighborhood and, they said, bolster the municipal golf course’s public profile. The entrance would run off of Grand River Avenue just east of Old Town, and through the center of Ormond Park.

Friends of Ormond Park sued in July to stop the project, claiming it would irreparably harm the environment and the unique geographical features of the neighborhood park.

Jamo issued a temporary restraining order in July. City lawyers are trying to convince Jamo the proposed project does not harm the environment and is necessary. In late July, after two days of testimony from the Friends of Ormond Park, Abood asked the judge to rule that a case had not been proven. Jamo denied a request by the city to issue a directed verdict in the city’s favor last week.

With the arguments completed over the restraining order, which has halted construction in the park since July, Jamo will have to decide whether to change his temporary restraining order into an injunction preventing construction of the road until the lawsuit is settled, or to dissolve his order and allow the project to move forward even as the lawsuit moves forward. Jamo has not said when he will rule.

While most of the focus of the testimony Monday was on the esker, the city did call Dan Danke, the project engineer for the city on the Ormond road project. Danke had raised concerns about disturbing endangered bats in emails. He testified that while he raised that concern, it was a “slight” chance the endangered Indiana bat could be roosting in an untouched wooded area on the south side of the park.

He was unable to explain what, if any, actions the city took to determine if there would be any impact on endangered Michigan animals, including the Indiana bat, the Northern Longeared bat and the Massassauga rattlesnake.

“We had staff watching for bat activity as the trees were being cut down,” Danke testified. “If we had seen any activity, we would have stopped immediately.”