It’s been almost two years since the public agency charged with dealing with the transportation problems of Harsens Island was brought back to life, and so far those close to the discussion have said that all options to address it are still on the table.

The Harsens Island Transportation Authority received a government budget item to support agency operations and an update from the Detroit International Bridge Company, which is reviewing its options earlier this year.

Now how Islanders are preparing for a further increase in ferry prices To get back and forth with the mainland Clay Township, HITA Chair Margie Baldwin said they will “continue to pursue” all avenues available to ensure “safe, reliable, affordable” options – whatever they are.

“There are other options for bridges as well, considering the possibility of a circular bridge,” Baldwin said. “We’re not tied to anything, and this budget item … will allow us to really research and hire help, review legal options, and come before decision-makers to improve transportation to the island.”

The next HITA meeting is scheduled for Sunday, December 12th at 4 p.m.

What brought the discussion so far?

HITA itself was active decades ago, but reappeared in late 2019 and early 2020.

Although an application for state environmental permits to build the St. Clair River’s North Canal was denied in 2016, the Detroit International Bridge Company resumed talks with HITA officials this summer to revive the idea.

A conceptual damage control plan for a bascule bridge was shared with the authorities and published on its website in July in addition to other breakdowns about the project – similarly, outline a year-long timeline requiring federal and state approvals like the iteration was advertised a few years ago. And according to the minutes of HITA’s last meeting in September, officials believed the company that owns Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge would hold a community meeting if more information became available.

HITA officials have also been conducting a review of ferry rates as Champion’s is the only privately owned service in the state, inquiring about existing bridges and touching on what would happen to Champion if a local bridge were built.

State Sen. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, has helped both entities as lawmakers.

First of all, four years ago, as a state representative, he submitted a draft law that would make it easier for ferry operators such as Champion’s to adjust their tariffs. That year he helped secure a one-time allocation of $ 250,000 for the local agency, whose members are critical of the ferry service.

It’s one area that Lauwers admitted he’s trying to meet a range of needs and wasn’t sure what role he might play in the future. On Monday, he said his goal was to find a “long-term solution to the island’s transportation challenges” – whether through the support of a company or HITA to answer the same question.

“They had a government agency that knew absolutely nothing about the ferry business and made financial decisions for the ferry’s private business owner,” said Lauwers. Before a Michigan State Police department processed ferry fares, fare inquiries went before the Michigan Public Service Commission, which allegedly took months or years to approve.

“… It’s the only private ferry in the state of Michigan. Everyone else has access to (Public Act) 51 money. “

“Like I said, that was being considered and they decided not to do it a few years ago before I was in office,” Lauwers said, referring to ideas that were decades old – some that the islanders are still talking about speak – that champions would associate with an authority like Blue Water Transit. “But maybe it’s time to look at it again. I think HITA does that.”

Baldwin: HITA “desperate for legislative help”

In addition to its pay increase, Champion’s has concerns about opening hours and traffic congestion, which its owners attribute to staff shortages.

How to tackle these and other transportation problems for islanders is something that Clay Township “essentially leaves to HITA,” according to Supervisor Artie Bryson.

“That’s your job,” he said. “We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or anything.”

And Lauwers said he is not trying to “sit down at the table” but rather to take on the same role he has in everything else, trying to “provide the resources to facilitate the opportunity.”

Still, Baldwin said one of her “biggest worries” is that HITA members are all volunteers who may need more help.

“Neither of us are in government, so we really learn over time and kind of make it up,” she said. “We urgently need the help of the legislature who takes care of us. Even when talking to the state police about the increase, they turned us away…. It’s like nobody wants to take care of us, so we do our best to say, ‘This is not working. And we will be stranded on this island with no resources and we need help. ‘”

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or Follow her on Twitter @ Jackie20Smith.