Residents: Aging bridge divides lakes in Oxford Township

The bridge on Maloney Street as it is presently.

A group of residents along the Stringy Lakes say they feel defeated following years of effort to raise a small, aging bridge that divides two lakes in Oxford Township.

Aerial view of the Stringy Lakes, a chain of five interconnected lakes in Oxford Township.

The bridge, known simply as the Maloney Street bridge, serves as the only access to 18 residents on the peninsula at the dead end of Maloney Street. When it was initially installed in the 1920s it allowed boaters to access and use all five lakes of the Stringy Lakes. However, today the bridge does not allow standard size boats and modern boats to go under it due to limited clearance. At its current size, the bridge is only large enough for a rowboat to comfortably pass through.

The original bridge had a higher clearance for boat traffic, five feet eight inches to be exact. The present bridge, which was replaced by the state by court order in 1973, and shallow channel depth now provides a clearance of approximately three feet three inches. With this limited under clearance the majority of boaters cannot leave the two lakes, Squaw and Clear, and enter into the remaining three lakes, Long, Cedar and Tan, by traversing under the Maloney Bridge.

Now the bridge is deteriorating and set for full in-kind replacement next year, and residents have been working to petition officials and agencies involved to have the clearance raised to allow boaters access to all the interconnected chain of lakes in the Stringy Lakes.

The Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) has been looking into replacing the bridge since 2019. Due to its deterioration, the timeline for replacement has been bumped up from 2023 to 2022.

Yvonne Dudley, who has lived on Squaw Lake since 1965, had been amongst the residents leading the effort.

“The Stringy Lakes are enjoyed by the entire surrounding area, making it a lake community. Having the bridge under-clearance restored would only enhance the community’s ability to enjoy this wonderful resource,” she said. “As lakefront property owners we are being denied our water rights to access all the lakes and those of us as deeded to our plats identified as Out Lot A. Also, we as boat launch users would like to access those public lakes.”

In a letter to the Department of Natural Resources, Dudley writes, “I cannot believe the Department of Natural Resources would not want the full use by the public of all the Stringy Lakes by means of the public access. This would be accomplished by increasing the height of bridge under clearance while the bridge is being replaced due to its condition and age.”

Map of the Stringy Lakes.

The bridge is set for in-kind replacement next year, and funds for the approximately $2 million project have been secured by the RCOC from the Local Bridge

Program. However, the RCOC says the cost of raising the bridge an additional 2.5 feet (the maximum height without creating additional and unnecessary impacts to adjacent properties along Maloney Street) would cost an additional $700,000, plus any unforeseen costs.

In a March 1, 2021 letter to Oxford Township Supervisor Jack Curtis, RCOC Director of Engineering Samuel Fitzer writes, “If Oxford Township elects to raise the bridge, RCOC is requesting the township’s commitment to fund the additional $700,000 in estimated construction costs. RCOC requests direction to replace the bridge in-kind or to raise the bridge no later than April 15, 2021 to ensure the bridge is replaced in a timely manner.”

Last fall, the Oxford Township Board of Trustees created a committee to investigate the possibility of raising the bridge and various issues surrounding it. They were to report back to the board in six months. In March, they voted not to participate in any additional costs to raise the height of the Maloney Street Bridge over the estimated $2 million replacement cost.

“When they (RCOC) said they wanted to get this done in a timely manner, it’s heartbreaking because 2018 is when we started on this to try and get a price from them,” Dudley told the board. “It’s sad that we will remain, segregated is a strong word, but separated and isolated.”

Other funding options, such as creating a special assessment district (SAD) to raise the bridge, is not permissible to meet the deadline by the RCOC. Oxford Township Clerk Curtis Wright said it’s his understanding that if residents were to consider an SAD in the future, they would bear the cost of raising the bridge totally born by the SAD.

To help combat complaints of overcrowding on Squaw and Clear lakes, which the committee also investigated, the DNR presented a preseason to-do list of modifications to the Squaw Lake public access site. Residents feel the number of boats the launch allows creates an unsafe, over-crowded situation because there is no way to spread out over all the lakes with the bridge in its current state. Currently, the boat launch has 55 parking spots. According to a DNR ratio that determines the number of parking spaces at a boat launch (one parking space per 15 acres of water surface area), the Stringy Lakes (164 acres) should have no more than 11 parking spaces.

Before Memorial Day, the DNR says they intend to pull up all the parking curbs, grade the lot and rest the curbs for 10-foot-wide parking spaces; install no parking signs; and experiment having an attendant on site during weekends to monitor the entrance.

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