Tribe reach some middle ground on access site
Written by Ludington Daily News   
Sunday, 20 February 2005 15:09
Representatives of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and Pere Marquette Township reached some middle ground Wednesday in a dispute over the use of the Pere Marquette Memorial Boat Launch on Pere Marquette Lake.

Township officials, who hosted the meeting, believe the six commercial fishing boats that have moored at the site ? four of which are licensed by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians ? are docked illegally at a site not designed for permanent dockage. Little River Band Ogema Lee Sprague did not address that concern directly, but stated that federal courts have found that the right to fish Great Lakes waters inherently includes the right to access those waters. He presented a federal court ruling from 1995 as evidence.

While he didn?t offer to ask the fishermen to move their boats, Sprague did express concerns over the way the site was being used by the tribal fisherman after seeing photos of a boat blocking both sides of the boat ramp, photos of what appeared to be fish being cleaned on-site and photos of a fuel drum left on the site.

?We want to do whatever we can do to help regulate the site,? Sprague said while looking at the photos. ?Something like this should never happen.?

Sprague and Little River Band Conservation Officer Art DeBres said the tribe was currently working on regulations of its own and that its representatives were working with Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority officials to establish rules regarding ?inactive? boats and the use of public facilities.

Sprague clarified that the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians does not license all of the boats at that have been moored at the site. He said four boats at the site are licensed by the tribe: Tommy Battice operates a chub boat and a trap-net boat, Levi Stone operates a trap-net boat and Jeff Battice is now licensed to operate a chub boat. The other two boats on the site are owned by a fisherman licensed by the Sault Band and are considered ?inactive? while in the waters where the Little River Band requires a license.

Sprague said that while Tommy Battice has stated an interest in moving his operation to Manistee and the possibility exists that other operations may join him, there are still two licenses available for the waters under the Little River Band?s oversight, so he wanted access issues resolved as soon as possible.

Sprague said the docks at the site appeared to be of a temporary nature, more like gangplanks. He said he could see the potential safety hazard of those being left in place, along with unmarked mooring lines anchored to the shore at the access site.

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Pere Marquette Township Supervisor Gene Jorissen said he would like to see all of the boats removed from the site, but short of that, he?d like to see the docks and lines removed from the land at the site.

Sprague said he would try to have rules in place by April 15 requiring the fishermen to store their gangplanks or access docks on their boats or trucks when the boats were not being loaded or unloaded and would attempt to draft a rule requiring that mooring lines attached to land by anchors or claws be well-marked for safety reasons.

Sprague also told Jorissen that the boats ?should not be anywhere near your launch ramp,? while on the site.

As to the concerns of ice anglers who would like to access Pere Marquette Lake from the site, Sprague said he would try to arrange for the boats to use only one side of the access site, so that solid ice would be left in place on the other side of the site.

Sprague also said that if weather permits, the boat on site that has been partially submerged will be removed Friday by Seng?s Marina of Manistee.

The use of a publicly funded facility by tribal commercial operations is not unprecedented. The casework Sprague presented Wednesday was from a 1995 suit in which the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa Indians sued the director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Township of Leland and the Village of Northport over denying tribal boats access to existing marina facilities. The tribe provided the township and the Ludington Daily News printed copies of the case, which was ruled on by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Enslen, who also decided in the mid-1980s that the tribes had the right to commercial fishing on the Great Lakes.

Enslen ruled that the Grand Traverse Band?s boats could not be denied transient mooring in slips or off docks at the marina facilities in Northport and Leland.

The Pere Marquette Memorial Boat Launch was built in 2000 using funds from a Department of Natural Resources Waterways Commission grant.

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