By Scott Sullivan
No one wants to end up dead because Lakeshore Drive dead ends where it washed out 31 years ago.
But most residents attending a Sept. 27 public hearing opposed re-establishing the north-south Allegan County primary road alongside Lake Michigan, instead favoring a one-lane emergency access across the four-lot stretch between Wiley Road and M-89.
Who pays — and how to do so — may be the keys.
Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik voiced concerns to the Saugatuck Township board last October about danger to life and property posed by delayed response times to emergencies south of where Lakeshore ends.
“As it stands, we have to go south to get north,” Janik told a crowd of about 80 people at last week’s board hearing. Fire trucks leaving 3342 Blue Star Hwy. station now follow Blue Star south, go west on M-89, then head north on Lakeshore.
Janik estimates STFD responses south of the washout take 42 percent — roughly four minutes — longer than a more-direct route would make possible.
Douglas Lake Shore Association president Herk Vanden Bosch told the crowd in the Saugatuck High School cafeteria the increased response time estimate applied to firefighters from their station, not ambulatory police cars or ambulances.
“How many homes are really affected by this?” asked Vanden Bosch.
“I lived here before the road collapsed,” said David Stanley. “We saw tour buses go through at 60 mph. Restoring the road here would make things less safe.
“The speed of EMTs arriving has not been an issue,” he continued. “It doesn’t take that much longer. It’s been 30-plus years and no one has seemed concerned. I don’t see a problem with the way things are.”
“I bought my property in 2000 under the assumption Lakeshore would not be restored,” Steve McKown said. “If it were reconnected, the increased traffic will make it less safe.”
“I’m not in favor of restoring the road,” said Janik. “I am in favor of establishing emergency access. No one expects to have a fire or heart attack, but when they happen you want fast access.
“I’ll do whatever you want me to do,” he said.
“I think a one-lane emergency access is a good idea,” said Suzanne Dixon. “A two-lane road is not. What about current homeowners at the washout site? I’m concerned about adverse-possession issues.”
“Going through that property may involve lots of litigation,” said Vanden Bosch.
“The expensive way would be eminent domain,” said lakeshore homeowner and lawyer Frederick Eagle (“Fritz”) Royce III. “The cheaper way is to negotiate with homeowners to get what Chief Janik wants.”
“As a taxpayer, I oppose eminent domain,” said Maggie Conklin. “I might support creating access that’s more affordable.
“The lakeshore is a major recreation way,” said Dana Burd. “I’m in favor of opening it up as a recreational corridor.”
“It does take our buses longer to access the south side,” said Interurban Transit Authority executive director Phyllis Yff. “But we’ve been able to reach it for 30 years. I support those who would like a bike path and emergency access.”
“I was county treasurer when we rebuilt Lakeshore (in the mid-1980s),” said Patty Birkholz. “You are missing one of the most important people — the county drain commissioner —tonight. You are going to need her involvement.”
“Who here favors re-establishing the full road there?” township supervisor Jon Phillips asked the audience. Only two people raised their hands.
“I think the majority favors pursuing a one-lane emergency access,” said Phillips. “It is something for both our board and the county (represented that night by commissioner Dean Kapenga) to pursue,” he said.