April 6 2011 12:00 AM

A Lansing Township official takes a letter from Lansing over a proposed joint sidewalk project as “bullying.” The city says it wasn’t meant that way

A letter the Bernero administration said was meant to help move along the proposed Waverly Road sidewalk project has drawn the ire of one Lansing Township official.

The letter to Lansing Township written by Lansing Public Service Director Chad Gamble says that if an “interlocal agreement” is not signed soon, “we (the city) will consider the Waverly Road Regional Non-Motorized Path Project dead.”

Township Trustee Tom Masseau was “appalled” by the letter. He feels the city is giving the township an ultimatum: Sign the agreement or the project is off.

In an e-mail to Gamble last week, Masseau said: “Quite frankly, as an elected official I am appalled and outraged that a letter like this would be written to another municipality — giving them an ultimatum. I will not be bullied into voting for a project … .”

However, the Bernero administration said bullying was not the intent.

“It was simply an attempt to move things along and try to get some resolution so we can put together (grant) applications and win grants to ultimately lower costs for both communities,” said Randy Hannan, deputy chief of staff for Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

Gamble, who wrote the letter to Lansing Township Supervisor John Daher, could not be reached for comment.

The city introduced an “interlocal agreement” in late December that would commit the two jurisdictions to the $2 million project in the Moores River Drive and Waverly/Old Lansing roads area. Some, including State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, have called the project Mayor Virg Bernero’s “sidewalk to nowhere.” The jurisdictions would split the costs of the project, which is unknown, as state and federal grants are being sought to help pay for it.

Gamble’s letter reminds Daher of the agreement and asks for a response. It reads:

“We trust that the intervening 3-plus months have been sufficient to review and respond to our proposal and we must insist on receiving a response from you in short order. Please confirm your intention to respond to the Agreement upon receipt of this letter. Please be advised that if we do not have an executed Agreement by close of business on Friday, April 4, 2011 (sic), we will consider the Waverly Road Regional Non-Motorized Path Project dead, along with the efforts at collaborating with the Board of Water of Light (sic) in collecting your franchise fees.”

However, Hannan said Tuesday that even though the agreement hasn’t been signed yet, the city is still “keeping the door open on the project.”

Daher is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment. Deputy Township Supervisor DeeAnn Overton was gone last week and has no knowledge of the letter, she said. Hannan said Daher “hasn’t responded directly” to the letter.

Masseau also says in his e-mail to Gamble:

“Further, the letter does nothing to build a relationship with the Township or myself, rather it forces me to questioning the city and actions seeking partnership. I understand that the Mayor wants to partner with other municipalities to share resources. Is this the kind of tactics and strong arming the Township can come to expect from the City, as we continue to explore shared resources with other municipalities? Is this the same tone the City or BWL takes/took with other municipalities such as East Lansing, Delhi Township or Delta Township?”

In a letter to Gamble in August, Daher said he supports the project but the township didn’t have the funds to commit at that point. However, Daher suggested assessing BWL “franchise fees” to township customers to help pay for the project.

“Lansing Township would now like to establish a franchise fee and enjoy the advantages of such a revenue source that has benefited its neighboring municipalities for many years. The first project that would benefit from this source of funds would be providing the matching grant for the Waverly Road sidewalk proposed by the City of Lansing.”

The draft agreement stipulates that “The City agrees to periodically invoice the Township for its share of the Project Cost …” and will recoup whatever those costs are directly from those franchise fees.

The agreement stipulates that Lansing will pursue potential grant funding to help pay for the $2 million project. Initial costs were projected at $1.3 million. As for sidewalk maintenance, the city says it will “provide continued maintenance services (i.e. snow clearing) for the benefit of the Township,” but that it expects the Township to pay the city back for maintenance in the township. The agreement is for 10 years.

The proposed project covers the west entrance of Grand River Park along Lansing Road, continues southwest along Old Lansing Road past the YMCA to Waverly Road, south on Waverly to Moores River Drive and back northeast to Mt. Hope Avenue. A majority of the roughly 1.5-mile project is in Lansing Township.