State agency won’t allow Au Train’s Brownstone Inn to reopen

The mistake, Dolaskie says, is by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 4:56 PM EST
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AU TRAIN, Mich. (WLUC) - An empty parking lot in the heart of winter is not what Tom Dolaskie envisioned when he bought Au Train’s Brownstone Inn last fall.

“We’ve already lost all of snowmobiling,” said Dolaskie. “This is a $400,000 mistake by the state.”

The mistake, Dolaskie says, is by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy

“They showed up. Made an assumption. And on nothing more than that assumption, this 88-year-old restaurant cannot operate,” he said.

EGLE won’t give Dolaskie water supply approval so he can open. Dolaskie says the agency has made assumptions about the Brownstone’s well water. He’s had it tested.

“Raw water tests directly from the well and this water tests good, and it’s tested good multiple times, and that’s the only data that exists,” he said.

The previous owners hauled water in. Dolaskie says he wants to operate more efficiently.

“We have emerged from a pandemic, from a very trying time in the service industry, and it’s still extremely important that the state of Michigan supports us,” he said.

EGLE declined an on-camera interview for this story, but an agency spokesperson responded to TV6′s questions over email.

EGLE says it has provided Dolaskie with three options to get water supply approval: Continue to haul potable water to the site; utilize the old well with the addition of water treatment technology; or demonstrate to EGLE through a strategic sampling program that the onsite groundwater is not vulnerable to surface water contamination.

“It would make sense that with this well consistently passing raw water tests showing that it’s good water, that it’s absolutely not groundwater under the influence of surface water,” said Dolaskie.

EGLE says testing data is valuable, but it cannot predict the future given what is known about the well’s vulnerability to surface water bacteria.

“We are not aware there is existing contamination of the well water, but the well needs to adhere to health and safety standards to ensure that customers are protected from potential contaminants,” said spokesperson Scott Dean.

Dolaskie says that’s where EGLE is making an assumption. He says only one problem with the nearly 80-year-old well has been documented. That happened during a construction project on the property.

“There’s clear language that says that the well issue from 1979 was from contaminants at the ground surface, not groundwater under the direct influence of surface water,” said Dolaskie.

EGLE says like fire safety, this is about preventing potential harm to the public.

However, Dolaskie says he has demonstrated his intent to focus on public health, with the Brownstone and his six other food and beverage establishments in Alger County.

“The quickest and most sensible pressure relief valve is issue a deviation and let us operate,” he said. “I’m going to continue to have this water tested because I would do that anyway.”

InvestUP CEO Marty Fittante says an operating Brownstone is important to the local economy.

“For nearly 90 years, it’s been an iconic structure there,” said Fittante. “It goes to the heart of placemaking. We only have so many of those types of those facilities in the Upper Peninsula. It’s part of why it’s so important to get this open and get it open timely. It’s an anchor asset for that community. It’s a draw in and of itself, and so that’s why we hope that the state can quickly find accommodation.”

While he waits for a health officer to issue a deviation, Dolaskie says a dozen Brownstone staff members are on unemployment. No reopening date is in sight.

State Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, says he has been working with Dolaskie and the EGLE team to find a path forward so the Brownstone can be opened.

“This should be possible with the investments they made in the business and the ability of the Brownstone to provide perfectly good water from the system on site,” said McBroom, in a statement. “It seems some bad communication and misunderstandings have caused the Brownstone to miss one of their busiest seasons and employees have been forced to find work elsewhere. There certainly seems to be a workable solution and I am working to get it done as quickly as possible.”