MI ballot proposals: Parks funding, electronic search & seizure protections

FERRYSBURG, Mich. (WOOD) — Set along the portion of the Grand River channel in Ferrysburg known as the Sag, Ottawa Sands Parks provides the miles of walking and hiking trails.

Ottawa Sands is one of Ottawa County’s most recent park projects. The setting is beautiful, but that doesn’t come cheap.

Ottawa Sands County Park in Ferrysburg. (Sept. 23, 2020)

Of the $11 million price tag, $3 million came from a gift from the previous property owner. But the county still had to come up with the remaining $8 million, so it turned to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

“I do not think that we would have the park system we have today without the Trust Fund,” Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson Jessica VanGinhoven said. “They have just been a key part of acquiring the land and building the park system we’ve had since we were formed in 1987.”

The MNRTF has been around since 1976.

No tax dollars are involved. It funds project like Ottawa Sands with the money oil companies pay to extract oil and gas from state land.

Ottawa County has been acquiring land for parks, including those that make up the Grand River Greenway, for several years. Money collected through a voter-approved millage has helped leverage matching grants from the MNRTF.

People walk through Ottawa Sands County Park. (Sept. 23, 2020)

“We’ve had … just over $10 million in acquisitions and several million in development for places like Ottawa Sands, Grand Ravines, Rosie Mounds, Pigeon Creek — some of the most beloved properties here,” VanGinhoven said.

On Nov. 3, Michigan voters will have a chance to enhance the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Under current law, there is a ceiling to how much funding the MNRTF can receive and it has reached its cap of $500 million. If approved by voters, Prop 2 would remove that cap.

A yes vote would also allow more flexibility in how the money is spent, with at least 25% of the trust fund set aside for parks and recreation areas and another 25% for land conservation, and guarantee the money for the future.

“I think a lot of park systems would breathe a little easier,” VanGinhoven said.

Statewide voters will also decide a second proposal, a constitutional amendment that would require a search warrant to access a person’s electronic data and communications.

It would also guarantee that electronic data and communications are secure from unreasonable search and seizure.

While many police agencies and prosecutors already require a search warrant for computer and other electronic files, the passage of Proposal 2 would make it a part of the Michigan Constitution, ensuring privacy rights are protected in the future.