By Scott Sullivan
The new Saugatuck Township Board is getting onboard with Douglas and Saugatuck cities supporting Kalamazoo Lake Harbor preservation efforts.
Members Oct. 2 agreed to join the two neighbor governments contributing up to $5,000 to help fund a Kal Lake sediment contamination analysis, plus passed a resolution of intent to participate as a full member of the Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority.
The former board balked in 2016 at the latter step, citing concern over costs and what members saw as ambiguities in the two cities’ proposal.
Township general funds, unlike those of cities, are generally used for essential services, with other functions funded by extra-voted millages or other special revenues. Board members also noted that the authority has no fiduciary powers and the cities themselves were not in accord on harbor plans.
Members voted Aug. 3 that year 3-2 to table voting on a resolution of intent and the matter was not revisited thereafter.
Until now. The new board, all five members of whom have taken office since a recall election last November, largely has largely followed through on calls for greater township collaboration with its neighbors.
Also last week, members voted to reinstate special assessments totaling $6,964 this year for parcels in its south portion to rejoin other governments funding and receiving services from American Medical Responses (AMR) ambulance in Fennville.
The former board ended that 34-year agreement in 2014. Its reinstatement, picking up with current terms, means assessments will first show up on southern parcels’ winter tax bills.
Harbor Grant Match
The sediment study, as detailed here after Saugatuck city signed on Sept. 9 and Douglas followed suit seven days later, is part of a larger effort to, if study findings indicate, make dredging more affordable and “save the harbor,” per Tower Marine owner and prime study advocate R.J. Peterson, for boat navigation.
The Michigan Waterways Commission has agreed to pay half of up to $160,000 to sample, map and study local harbor contamination. The goal, should levels be found low enough, that dredging spoils no longer, per law, need expensive hauling for storage in contained facilities.
A goal (and cost estimates of a full study, to be conducted by the Michigan Technological University-based Great Lakes Research Institute, would be:
- Generate depth and lake bottom maps ($25,000),
- Sediment contamination analysis ($60,000), and
- Sediment deposition modeling ($75,000).
At a meeting of prospective cost-sharing match partners, in the cost-sharing match, which included Allegan County and Peterson’s Saugatuck-Douglas Chamber of Commerce, it was determined the scope and costs of the full project might be prohibitive due to the limited budgets of local government units, and that the sediment analysis was the most critical starting component.
GLRI director Bob Schuchman, who has a home in Saugatuck, says the institute hopes to complete its analysis this fall and report results to the state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for possible future action.
“We don’t have $5,000 in our budget allocated for this now,” township manager Griffin Graham told the board. “I can bring optional means for doing so at our next meeting.
“The figure may come in less, depending on R.J’s efforts to raise additional funds,” Graham said.
At their Sept. 4 meeting board members, KLHA representatives Ken Trester and Mike Van Loon asked that the township reconsider joining the authority.
“If the three municipalities could come together and speak with one voice regarding dredging and other improvements to the lake and river,” said Van Loon, “the likeliness of qualifying for (state and/or federal) grant money increases.” The authority will not charge the township start-up fees, he added.
“Pending legal review,” said treasurer Jon Helmrich, who for two years represented the township as a non-voting KLHA member, “I would support us rejoining.”
As such, the township would have two voting seats on the authority, same as the two cities, but property owners affected by proposed improvements would not be obligated to pay them unless any such measures be approved by the township board.
Members voted 4-0 to have their attorneys review a resolution of intent near-identical to the 2016 one. Should they subsequently approve an agreement to join, it would be submitted to the cities for their consideration.