The Village of Grand Beach Council met Wednesday, May 17, and held a Special Budget Hearing prior to their regular meeting.
Village residents filled the hall to standing-room-only while listening to two presentations. Ron Watson of the New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance gave an overview of the erosion issues along the southern/western shoreline of Lake Michigan and Marcy Hamilton from the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission (SWMPC) presented the recently completed E. Coli Report. The board also discussed the opportunity to acquire 42 acres of green space for the Village, with those in attendance vastly supporting the possible land acquisition.
Watson gave an overview of the continued beach erosion and a history of why it may be occurring. He said it is documented in studies that the construction of the New Buffalo harbor break wall by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, in 1975, is to blame for the erosion and poor beaches, along with the unusually high lake levels. He invited all present to a presentation by the Shoreline Alliance Saturday, May 27, at 10 a.m. at the New Buffalo High School Performing Arts Center. The presentation will also address possible remedies to the ongoing problem. Watson also invited those interested in making a difference to join the Shoreline Alliance board. The current board, which has been active for the past two years in attempting to remedy this problem, is made of representatives from the City of New Buffalo and The Village of Grand Beach and Home Owners Associations along the southern/western shoreline: Dunewood Condominium Association, Sunset Shores, Warwick Shores and Forest Beach. He said that only one governmental entity, the City of New Buffalo, is willing to try to help. He said that there is no state, federal or U.S. Army Corp of Engineers money available to aid in the remedy.
Marcy Hamilton, Sr. Planner with the Southwest Michigan Planning Association (SWMPA), gave an up-date on the recent SWMPA waterways study which involved waterways contamination. She reported that E-coli was found in White Creek and at the entrance to Grand Beach, possibly coming from across route U.S. 12 and near Cresent Road, near the state line, coming from off the Village of Michiana; these areas could all be affecting the contamination in White Creek. She said that White Creek is on the state’s top 10 “hot spots” list. White Creek, which flows through New Buffalo Township, into Grand Beach Village and into Lake Michigan, has been identified as a top 10 Michigan polluted waterway. The contamination far exceeds safe levels, and she urged residents and their pets to stay away from the water in the creek.
The study of waterways contaminations in coastal towns and municipalities along Lake Michigan, from Stevensville, Michigan, to the Indiana state line, included the use of trained dogs to verify what are referred to as “hot spots” for E-coli contamination. Both of the inspection dogs hit on the Grand Beach areas as problem sites. The state has jurisdiction over White Creek, but remedies would be the responsibility of local municipalities and property owners. The study map indicates areas of E-coli contamination in both New Buffalo Township and the Village of Grand Beach, with some of the contamination possibly originating in Indiana and from the south side of U.S. 12. LaPorte County, Indiana, has agreed to work with the State of Michigan and the municipalities to remedy these spots. E-coli contamination could come from human waste, the result of a failing septic systems, or from wild life, farm run off or from illicit connections between sanitary and storm water systems or from failing sanitary sewer infrastructure. The problem poses a very serious public health issue as well as a threat to beach closures, which effect recreation and tourism. Hamilton will coordinate a follow-up meeting with local municipality officials effected by this study: New Buffalo Township, the Village of Grand Beach, the Village of Michiana, LaPorte County departments and the county health departments. She said that they are all interested in working toward finding a solution to the problem.
The Berrien County Health Department tests public beaches weekly. If E-coli is found in the water, the beach is closed temporarily. Grand Beach Village beaches have been closed, on occasion, in past years, as have other areas beaches.
In unfinished business, the Council discussed two options for acquiring Wi-Fi and a Firewall protector for the Village Hall. The Village Council can either purchase the equipment and software outright or they can lease it on a monthly basis. The members all agreed that leasing is the better option for the Village, as the leasing company would provide support and upgrades to the software and hardware, rather than being saddled with equipment and software that could become obsolete in the future. The installation cost has been donated by resident Norm Cherrett.
The Council discussed the 42-acre parcel, owned by Grand Beach Land Development Company, which is being offered for sale. The green space includes the current Village driving range, which has been on a “sweetheart” lease agreement with the GBLD Company. The asking price for the parcel is $3 million, which the Village does not have available. The acquisition would have to be made by applying for, and successfully receiving, grant funding or by receiving private contributions for the purchase. Most grants that may be available from the state would also require a percentage of matching funds from the Village, possibly as much as $750,000.
After hearing much support from residents and a discussion on the benefits of keeping the green space asset in the Village, the Council voted unanimously to pursue efforts to buy the 42-acre parcel. The Council will have to spent approximately $30,000 in Village funds to pursue a grant for the purchase. The Council approved up to $40,000 to come from the Reserve Funds for the purpose of pursuing the land. They appropriated expenditures for a Title report, land survey and an appraisal report, to determine fair market value, and they will hire a firm to write the grant. It was estimated that a grant writing firm would charge approximately $7,000 to $10,000 to write the grant.
Ryan Postema, Executive Director of Chikaming Open Land (COL), attended the meeting and was in support of the acquisition, which is adjacent to the COL Grand Beach Wetland marsh. He stated that the area is environmentally sensitive and an important area to protect and preserve. He estimated that five to 10 acres of the parcel are probably identified as a Coastal Plain Marsh area and 30 acres are probably considered environmentally sensitive.
Leonard stated that the land, if acquired by the Village, could be kept as it is or a portion may be available for home development, depending on grant stipulations. He stated that home development would bring in revenue to the Village, but all future land use decision could be made in the future, if the grant funding was approved. Other options for the parcel included developing walking trails and picnic areas. The current driving range would also be kept intact. Leonard said that if the grant was successful, there would be many meetings held to determine what the village residents wanted for the future use of the land. The grant must be submitted by April 2018, with an answer coming in the fall of 2018. The GDLD Company is willing to cooperate in the grant funding timeline.
In new Council business, the members voted unanimously for a resolution to collect delinquent property taxes and the following budget amendments:
General Fund 16/17, Water Fund 16/17, Golf Fund 16/17, Local Street Fund 16/17, and Major Street Fund 16/17.
The Commission reports were kept at a minimum, due to the lengthy meeting. All commissioners reported that all was going well. Golf and Pro Shop Commissioner Blake O’Halloran reported that the golf course maintenance is ongoing. The sale of paver bricks for a memorial walkway in front of the pro shop is underway. Engraved bricks may be purchased for family or friends. The bricks are 4 inch by 4 inch for $150. A larger brick is also available, which is 4 inches by 8 inches and costs $350. Each brick may have up to 21 characters of information per line, with four lines for the smaller bricks and eight lines for the larger brick. Proceeds from the sale will go towards future remodeling of the Pro Shop. He hopes to install the bricks in mid-July, pending sales.
The Council approved a hall rental request for Norm Cherrett for Saturday, June 10.
A budget review meeting will be Wednesday, May 31, at 7 p.m. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 will be adopted at the special meeting. A copy of the complete budget is available for public inspection at the Clerk’s Office located at 48200 Perkins Boulevardin Grand Beach. The next regular meeting of the Grand Beach Village Council is Wednesday, June 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Village Hall.