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Published: 5/7/2004

Turtle Island plan moving at a snail's pace

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Two developers continue trying to resolve the delays that have dogged construction of a tourist facility on the 1.5-acre Turtle Island, which straddles the Ohio-Michigan line in Lake Erie. Two developers continue trying to resolve the delays that have dogged construction of a tourist facility on the 1.5-acre Turtle Island, which straddles the Ohio-Michigan line in Lake Erie.
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MONROE - Turtle Island developers Keith Fifer and Chris Bodi and Monroe attorney Philip Goldsmith had been through this before.

But there they were yesterday morning in a Monroe County courthouse hallway trying to resolve a dispute entering its third year.

A trust controlled by Mr. Fifer bought the 1.5-acre island, located about four miles northeast of the mouth of the Ottawa River, from Jim Neumann of Luna Pier in 2002.

He and Mr. Bodi say they want to renovate the island's lighthouse, which guided ships until 1904 when the Toledo Harbor Light replaced it, and turn the island into a tourist stop.

After the purchase, Mr. Fifer

and Mr. Bodi began constructing three buildings and a pair of storage sheds on the island.

That's when their problems began.

The activity that was noticed by Erie Township and Lucas County officials, who share jurisdiction over the island, through which the Michigan-Ohio line runs.

The developers were ordered to stop their work until they obtained construction, water, and sewage permits.

At the time, Mr. Fifer maintained that the island was part of a federal deed dating to 1820 and that neither state had jurisdiction over the island.

Efforts to prove his assertion failed, so Mr. Fifer agreed to work with authorities to clear the matter. Erie Township officials gave him the go-ahead to continue construction if he secured the required permits and completed other requirements.

Months went by, authorities say, and Mr. Fifer failed to comply. In October, Mr. Goldsmith, representing Erie Township, successfully petitioned Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Michael LeBeau to grant a temporary injunction against Mr. Fifer and Mr. Bodi, preventing them from further construction on the island.

The trio were back in Judge LeBeau's courtroom yesterday. But before the hearing they met to sort things out.

Mr, Goldsmith told Mr. Fifer and Mr. Bodi they hadn't lived up to the agreement and had violated the injunction by working on the buildings.

But he remained hopeful.

"If we see some progress we'll see what we can do, " he said.

Mr. Fifer said he had hired a Toledo engineer to complete the required drawings but contended that travel to the island from October until a few weeks ago had not been possible because of adverse weather conditions.

Mr. Goldsmith called the engineer, confirming Mr. Fifer's account.

Mr. Fifer said he had hired another engineer to secure the sewer permits but that person has been unable to gain cooperation from county's sewage and water department, Mr. Fifer said.

Mr. Goldsmith could not verify that argument.

Said Mr. Bodi, noting that he and Mr. Fifer had established a Turtle Island Web site: "We have made more progress in the past three months than the last one-and-a-half years."

Meanwhile, Erie Township officials are running out of patience with the developers and are peeved about the money the dispute has cost them.

Aside from legal fees, the township last year paid $6,000 for a survey to determine the island's boundary line, zoning Administrator Paul DeLisle said.

Mr. DeLisle also wondered why Lucas County authorities have not been more involved since one of the buildings and a section of the lighthouse are in the county.

John Walters, Lucas County's chief building inspector, did not return a phone call yesterday. Previously, he had turned the case over to the county prosecutor. Mr. Fifer said he has had no dealings with Lucas County.

After hearing each side's position, Judge LeBeau said he had had enough of the Turtle Island dispute.

"This case has to get off dead center. Either get it over with or stop it completely," he said.

Mr. Goldsmith asked that a permanent injunction be granted if the developers fail to meet the township's requirements. Judge LeBeau agreed and called for a July 7 hearing.

Afterwards, Mr. Goldsmith said that if the permanent injunction is granted Judge LeBeau could order the island's buildings demolished.

He said ownership might then revert to Mr. Neumann, who sold it on land contract.

Mr. Fifer did not seem concerned; the dispute is far from settled, he said.

"I'm always asked when it will end. I always say never."

Contact George J. Tanber at gtanber@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.



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