ESCANABA - A ruling on a dispute between Escanaba Township and the developers of an ice-racing track is scheduled to be announced next month in Delta County Circuit Court.
Four witnesses took the stand Thursday during a bench trial presided over by Judge Stephen Davis. The bench trial was scheduled to last until today but wrapped up Thursday afternoon.
Escanaba Township filed a civil lawsuit in January seeking a permanent injunction to stop racing at a new ice track in the township. The lawsuit targets property owner Robert Barron of Gladstone, Barron Farms, Thomas Barron of Escanaba, and Irene Barron Revocable Living Trust in care of Dan Barron of Gladstone.
The complaint claims last fall's construction of the track violates the township's zoning requirements specifically that the property is not zoned to use for ice racing, a site plan was never submitted, and a zoning compliance permit application was not submitted.
A ruling on the lawsuit is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Nov. 9 in circuit court.
During questioning Thursday, the township's attorney, Terry Burkhart, clarified that the lawsuit is concerned about the use of the property not the construction. He said the neighbors object to the vehicles and people on the land, estimating there were 400 running vehicles and 1,000 people on the property on race days.
The track is located on 16 acres east off N.7 Lane, north of County 420 21st Road, within 1,000 feet of at least 19 homes along the Escanaba River. Semi trailers, round hay bales, and large dirt piles separated the track from nearby residences prior to an eight-foot-high 1,600-foot-long wooden fence being built along the roadside of the property this summer.
During Thursday's hearing, Robert Barron testified that the partners in the race track development invested approximately $30,000 in the project to date, including about $5,000 in 2011 and about $25,000 in 2012.
So far, Barron received $1,000 back from the race track business which is being run by the Wells Lions Club, he said, adding the parties are waiting to get the program finalized before deciding on a payment fee for use of the track.
Barron said he considered the race track as a landscape project which doesn't require approval from the township. He also testified he contacted the township's zoning administrator, Al Gareau, saying the official said the project was "good to go." Barron did get a soil permit from the Delta Conservation District.
Barron later testified that he and his brother, Pat Barron, paid Richard Valiquette $60,000 to excavate the property.
During Barron's testimony, Judge Davis clarified that the race track was the result of a "three-person committee" made up of Pat Barron as "the money man," Valiquette providing the construction, and Robert Barron providing the land. Robert Barron agreed.
When Valiquette took the stand, he said he was told by the township zoning administrator prior to breaking ground that day, to go ahead with the project. When he heard about the legal controversy with the township, he said he was told by Robert Barron and Rory Mattson, director of the conservation district, that there was no legal paperwork to stop construction so he kept working there.
Valiquette testified he worked on the property from Oct. 12, 2011 to Nov. 23, 2011. He said Pat Barron paid him $53,958 and there was an additional amount of about $10,000 paid by Pat Barron, Robert Barron, and Barron Farms.
So far this year, Valiquette said he was paid $10,000 to start the job up again. He said he has about $15,000 to $20,000 more to bill on the project.
During a hearing in circuit court in January, Judge Davis denied the township's request for a preliminary injunction to halt the ice racing operations due to alleged zoning violations and harmful affects on residents. Davis said township officials failed to demonstrate there were any violations and failed to prove there were problems with noise level, fumes or traffic.
The Wells Lions Club sponsored racing on the new ice track on Saturdays from Jan. 14 until spring. The track accommodates quads, motorcycles, and Sprint cars.