Home Around Town 2018: The year that was

2018: The year that was


By Scott Sullivan


It’s that time of year when peace on earth and goodwill towards men — maybe even women — prevail, the news cycle freezes and papers fill space with “Rear in Your view” … er, “Year in Review” stories.

What just happened — or didn’t happen — in 2018? Picking up where we left off last week:



More than 500 persons take part in a Saugatuck High School student-led March Against Gun Violence between Douglas and Saugatuck.

Former Michigan State University dean William Stampfel, charged with criminal sexual conduct amid fallout from the Larry Nassar gymnasts’ abuse case, has local connections. The Saugatuck High School graduate traces his family roots here to 1832.


The Saugatuck-Douglas Chamber and Visitors Bureau settles with former founding executive director Felicia Fairchild for $50,000 based on contract charges tied with her December 2016 departure.

A federal and state request to use Saugatuck Township land to assist with mute swan removal is shot down by the township board. U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist Dusty Arsnoe, asked in February for more local specifics and criticized for espousing a “swan slaughter,” declines to return and the board votes to drop the matter.

A group seeking to recall four Saugatuck Township Board members files paperwork to place names of four alternate candidates — Bill Wester for clerk, Jon Helmrich for treasurer, plus Stacey Aldrich and Abby Bigford for trustees — on the ballot Nov. 6.

Work begins on Douglas’ state-funded Blue Star Highway project. “With the vehicle portion of Blue Star reduced to two lanes,” says the city in a press release, “it is anticipated that drivers will reduce their speed and take more notice of their surroundings. This coupled with the addition of bike and pedestrian access, will make traveling on Blue Star a much more enjoyable and safer route.”

Retired Allegan County District Judge Steve Sheridan and his wife Tanya sue the Local Observer for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A NorthShore of Saugatuck archaeological study released to satisfy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requirements needed to permit the firm building a boat basin north of the Kalamazoo River channel to Lake Michigan, finds there is no “buried town of Singapore” under the sand in terms of intact buildings from lost lumber village’s 1800’s heyday, but four “archaeological sensitive” sites that could be information-bearing must be circumvented in building plans.

Area residents seeking heretofore-unavailable broadband service to their rural areas have good news: Comcast Inc. has approved installing a fiber-to-home network for Laketown and parts of Saugatuck townships.



Saugatuck Township icon Patty Birkholz — a former state senator and representative, township and Allegan County treasurer, and lifelong environmental champion — dies at age 74 of cancer. “We should all remember Patty for her dedication to protecting Michigan’s environment and residents, which will benefit Michiganders for generations,” Gov. Rick Snyder says.

District voters flunk Saugatuck Public Schools’ request for a $50.7 million facilities-improvement bond 1,005 to 719. They approve extending the school’s 0.5-mill sinking fund levy for five years 968 to 779.

The Saugatuck-Douglas District Library Board will ask voters Aug. 7 for a 25-year, .4271-mill tax increase to build a new $4.35-million library across the street from its current home in an 1870s-built former Douglas church.

Gregory Alan Marsman, 55, pleads no contest but mentally ill to one count of torture for pouring muriatic acid on his former girlfriend’s face.

Allegan County and the community commemorate the centennial of World War I’s end on Memorial Day, dedicating spruced-up veterans monument at West Side Park.

The City of Saugatuck wins a $160,000 Michigan grant to help it cover costs of changing its police service from Douglas to Allegan County.

The S.S. Keewatin will stay in Port McNicoll, Ontario, for the time being after a deal is struck for her to stay in her current home.



Saugatuck-Douglas Area Convention & Visitors Bureau lodging members approve hiking room assessments from 2 to 5 percent, a move the CVB board says will generate $500,000 plus a year in new revenue.

Saugatuck High School junior Corey Gorgas wins his first and second individual Division 3 state track championships within 90 minutes of each other, sweeping the 1600- and 3200-meter runs.

The Saugatuck Township Planning Commission votes 5-2 to approve a sand mine near Old Allegan Road and 133rd Avenue over objections by project neighbors, one of whom claims, “My concern is we’re going to die. And you’re responsible.”

The Saugatuck-Douglas area’s only full-service grocery — now Lake Vista SuperValu, formerly DeMond’s — can, with an ownership change, once more sell beer and wine.

What better reward for Douglas’ first dental office than be pulled to Pullman? Laraway & Sons House Moving does the honors, uprooting and towing the 2,100-square-foot home turned by “Doc” Marty Raebel into a dentist’s office in 1971, after Dr. Tracey DellaVecchia completes a new office at 430 Wiley Road.

Add to the “Only in Saugatuck” archives a tom turkey who, just after sunrise most mornings, chases cars at the corner of Blue Star Highway and 64th Street to protect “his” hens. No vehicle has turned him into drumsticks yet.

More than 150 supporters gather and raise $40,000-plus at a Toast to the Blue Star Trail gala to support engineering and building a nonmotorized path from Saugatuck to South Haven.

Guardian Brewing Co. begins work on converting Saugatuck’s Red Barn Theatre into a brewery, event center and yurt-rental business.

The 16th annual Town Crier 10K and 5K Runs and second annual Michigan Art Coast Half Marathon see 285 entrants raise more than $6,000 to support Saugatuck High School track and cross country programs.

The Saugatuck City Planning Commission tables acting on Vine Street Cottages’ request to develop a private street and divide 6.7 acres into 10 single-family home lots north of dead-end Vine and west of Park streets. Members ask for traffic and engineering studies regarding potential impacts.

It may not have been hellfire but police are unsure what did cause a blaze that burns down Christian radio station “The Pledge”’s building east of Saugatuck.

County Circuit Court Judge Roberts Kengis refuses to consider NorthShore of Saugatuck’s claim that an environmental group fighting its plans to develop land north of the Kalamazoo River channel to Lake Michigan is fraudulent because the group has no members.



Rev. Jeff Messner baptizes eight Community Church of Douglas teens and one adult in Lake Michigan at Oval Beach.

Former Saugatuck Township supervisor and Allegan County commissioner Terry Burns celebrates his 75th birthday jumping out of an airplane — with parachute strings attached.

More than 230 volunteers package 70,416 meals for needy families during the ninth annual Kids Coalition Against Hunger event at Community Church of Douglas.

First-ever Saugatuck-Douglas History Center executive director Nathan Nietering resigns after three years to become a department technician at the Michigan State Historic Preservation office.

Ganges Township poet Paul Gainor is conducting free street-corner readings, some involving listeners spinning a stand-up wheel to choose topics, in downtown South Haven.

Douglas opts in on allowing as many as two medical marijuana provisioning centers and two secure transporters within city limits, given satisfying licensing conditions.

Retired Allegan County District Judge Steve Sheridan files complaints with the state claiming that the City of Saugatuck is using the Local Observer illegally to publish its legal notices. He cites a 1963 act requiring such publications have a minimum 25-percent editorial content, adding an independent audit of the last three years of LO editions falls well short of meeting that.

Saugatuck City Council gives City Manager Kirk Harrier an 11-percent salary raise to $100,000 a year.

Gregory Marsman, 55, pleads guilty but mentally ill for blinding his former Ganges Township girlfriend by rubbing acid in her eyes and is sentenced to prison for 30 years.

A Douglas vs. Saugatuck kickball game held at a Douglas Social goes to the Douglas Dogs, who bring home a trophy apparently made by sawing off the generic guy bowling on top, replacing him with a mini-bridge that looks nothing like the Blue Star Highway one linking the two cities, and scrawling “Battle of the Bridge” on it semi-legibly with a Sharpee.



Saugatuck Public Schools hire Mark Neidlinger as new Saugatuck Middle/High School principal. He replaces now-district superintendent Tim Travis.

The Old Root Beer Barrel, closed 40-plus years ago, reopens under operator Mick White in a rehabbed structure catty-corner from its old home to long lines of customers.

Voters approve a 25-year, .4271 mill tax increase to build a new $4.35-million library, 1,377 yes votes to 768 no.

Saugatuck’s All Saints Episcopal Church joins the Village (now City) of Saugatuck and Commercial Record celebrating their 150th anniversaries.

Saugatuck City Council opts out of allowing medical marijuana facilities within city limits.

The Saugatuck Yacht Club Sailing program wins its second-straight West Michigan Youth Sailing Association series title.

Douglas City Council approves the first reading of an ordinance allowing development of a 31-condominium project to be called The Furrows on 20 acres at 64 Wiley Road.

The façade of the former Saugatuck Masonic Lodge falls at the ands of the building’s new owner, plus its own deteriorating state and time.

Saugatuck resident and lifelong Chicago Cubs fan Dan Fox sues the team claiming its marketing of a 2016 World Series ivy leaf commemorative constitutes at copyright infringement.

The Commercial Record sponsors summer’s last Douglas Social in celebration of the paper’s 150 years.

Saugatuck city is replacing the Park Street bumps with humps to smooth over a neighborhood debate about controlling speeding on the residential road.

No, it’s not the “Hollywood Squares” painted on the Douglas City Hall front lawn. Just spaces in which medical marijuana license applicants can wait, first come first served, for three days before forms are accepted inside.

The Saugatuck Chain Ferry closes early due to a captain crunch.



A firm headed by builder Scott Bosgraaf sues the Saugatuck Township Fire District claiming the district requiring it to extend municipal water to 6519 135th Ave., where Bosgraaf is building five storage structures, constitutes an improper imposition of a public burden on a private landowner.

The 19th annual Mt. Baldhead Challenge draws its best numbers in a decade and raises record proceeds for Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club-sponsored charities.

The 7th annual Lakeshore Harvest ride involves more than 400 bicyclists raising close to $15,000 to support engineering and building the planned Blue Star Trail.

New Salem’s Wurst Festival Ever offers a haunted corn maze, witches’ woods, zombie attacks, Hippo Chowdown, inflatable barnyard combo and worse … er, more.

Overnight break-ins at two downtown Saugatuck businesses within 24 hours of each other have new Allegan County Sheriff’s deputies policing the city informing residents and asking them to take protective precautions and help apprehending culprits.

Douglas Elementary School’s third annual Rock the Walk event raises a record $44,500 to support school activities.

Taylor Daniel Smith is ruled not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the Michigan Forensic Center after killing his stepfather, Glenn Antique Store owner Robert “Mark” Hill.



It didn’t take Douglas long to find medical marijuana provisioning center license applicants. Hoping to fill the two city openings are Choice Labs LLC, eyeing the former Bearco car wash space at 435 Blue Star Hwy., and Lakeside Dispensary in the former Olde Farm House Antiques store at 2918 Blue Star.

Edward George Allen IV, 58, released in February after more than 40 years in prison for assault with intent to commit murder during a robbery, is arrested and charged with five counts in connection with the Sept. 23 burglary of the Star of Saugatuck.

Police are searching the Kalamazoo River seeking Justin Michael Brown, 39, of Grand Rapids, last seen at 1:15 a.m. outside a Saugatuck bar five days ago.

The Douglas Downtown Development Authority adds a big red arrow pointing motorists to the shopping district atop a smaller one painted on a sign at the corner of Center Street and Blue Star Highway.

The body of Justin Michael Brown is found floating in the Kalamazoo River 10 days after a surveillance video last showed him traversing a boardwalk outside Coral Gables, where he was last seen.

Four-year Saugatuck Township Zoning Administrator Steve Kushion resigns for another job nearer his home on Halloween, a week prior to a recall vote involving four of five township board members.

A sign topped by large Douglas DDA-installed red arrow installed five days earlier pointing Blue Star Highway motorists to the Center Street shopping district blows down in a wind storm.

The new Saugatuck Township Fire District Board of Appeals votes 3-0 to dismiss developer Scott Bosgraaf’s claim district leaders misapplied the International Fire Code to require him to extend municipal water to 6519 135th Ave., where he plans to build five commercial storage units.

Discovery Art Center announces it will close at 347 Water St., downtown Saugatuck, two days before Christmas upon the retirement of Peggy Boyce, who 21 years ago founded the local artists’ co-op.

A barn-garage fire at 387 Mountain Ash Lane in Saugatuck Township brings large flames and explosions due to building contents. A hydrant in Douglas, on the other side of Wiley Road/I-196 bridge, is used for tanker refill. Engines are idled several times due to tanker limits and waiting for water to be brought in.

Eric Gollannek, who holds a Ph.D. in art history and has taught at Grand Valley State University, is named to replace Nathan Nietering a Saugatuck-Douglas History Center executive director.



Saugatuck High School’s boys cross country team, led by individual champ Corey Gorgas, wins the school’s fourth state championship in the last six year, while the girls team places runner-up, both in Division 4.

All four Saugatuck Township recall candidates are elected by similar margins over incumbents. Bill Wester tops Brad Rudich for clerk 1,112 to 837, Jon Helmrich beats Lori Babinski for treasurer 1,061 to 875; and trustee hopefuls Stacey Aldrich (1,174 vote) and Abby Bigford (1,106) best Roy McIlwaine (815) and Doug Lane (750).

Fighting invasive species is not for the faint of heart. Add to the 2011 spraying that unexpectedly killed Mt. Baldhead hardwoods an incident where a helicopter pilot mistakenly treats an island near Heron Bay for phragmites.

Waypost Brewing Co., open on the 58-acre former Earl’s Berry Farm north of Glenn, joins neighbors making the area a year-round craft brewing, winery and cider-making destination.

Oval Beach goers can now follow a scenic 1-mile walking trail between the Saugatuck Chain Ferry landing on Park Street and the Lake Michigan attraction thanks to familiar land donor John A. Woollam.



Saugatuck’s 160-year-old chain ferry will keep cranking out river crossing a aft her U.S. House grants the tourist attraction a waiver from U.S. Coast Guard captain licensing requirements.

No news is good news when it comes to PFAS in our water. Results from state-contracted testing of local supply sites find 3 parts-per-trillion of the contaminant at the Douglas Iron Removal plant near Wade’s Bayou and non-detectable levels at four other local Kalamazoo Lake Sewer & Water Authority well sites, all well below the 70-ppt limits established as posing health threats.

New Back Bay Cottages owners Sean and Jenni Steele are asking Saugatuck for a special land use to “bring the quaintness the property — a motor home court at 625 and 645 Lake St. since 1939 — deserves.”