South Haven officials will now impose a hefty fine on beachgoers who venture into Lake Michigan or walk along the piers in inclement weather.
Last Monday, city council members approved a new Beach Closure and Pier Barrier Ordinance, which charges $ 1,000 to offenders who enter Lake Michigan waters from city beaches or who exit on the piers when they are closed.
Additionally, people who dive or jump off the jetty, swim within 50 feet of the jetties, or drop or jump a person off the jetties into Lake Michigan or the Black River could face the same penalty.
Council members unanimously approved the order on Monday after holding a public hearing.
“The adoption of this ordinance establishes a process for closing the city’s beaches and jetties due to inclement weather,” said city manager Kate Hosier. “This ordinance is the result of a year and a half of work to set the criteria for beach closures.”
The ordinance is modeled on a similar ordinance passed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in the fall of 2021, which prohibits swimming in state parks during inclement weather. Sports board enthusiasts would be the only people exempt from bad weather swimming under city and MNR regulations.
But, unlike the DNR order, which fines violators $ 500, the city plans to double the fees.
“This reflects the seriousness of the violation of the order,” Hosier said. “Based on comments from City Council at the December 20, 2021 meeting, the fine for violating the ordinance was set at $ 1,000 per event. “
Additionally, Hosier said violators who are rescued from the water by first responders may face more expense related to rescue efforts.
The order would be administered as follows:
The City Manager, Chief of Police, Harbor Master or Director of Emergency Services for the South Haven area will have the authority to shut off or partially shut off the waters of the public beach due to a risk to human health and safety, including contamination, washing of hazardous debris ashore, rescue / recovery efforts, severe weather identified by the National Weather Service, or wave heights greater than 8 feet. These same individuals can also close piers due to the windy conditions on Lake Michigan that cause a third of the waves to crash on the piers.
When a swimming closure is ordered, signs will be posted around the closed areas indicating that swimming is prohibited. In the event of a jetty closure, the entrance to the jetty will be barricaded with a barrier, and a sign will be displayed.
Because violating the order is considered a civil offense, violators may be cited by police or code enforcement officers.
An additional provision in the ordinance allows the city to obtain permission from the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the jetties, to install guardrails at the entrance to each jetty at a cost of approximately $ 20. $ 000.
During the public hearing, several people questioned whether the order could be administered effectively.
“If we stay ‘swim at your own risk’ on the city’s beaches, are we sure we can enforce this ordinance? South Haven resident Kam Daugherty said. “If conditions change while the swimmers are in the water, I don’t think we can force them out. I don’t think (the) city has jurisdiction to do this.
Another resident questioned the dollar amount of the fine.
“I think $ 1,000 is a bit too much,” said Mary Hosley. “The fines won’t deter people because they probably won’t know about the fines. They don’t know the dangers of the lake and the jetties. The constant changes in the lake cause problems. The most critical aspect seems to be educating people.
Council members agreed that a learning process will be involved in enforcing the ordinance and that efforts to educate swimmers about the hazardous water conditions in Lake Michigan must continue. These efforts were stepped up in late summer 2020, following three drowning deaths off the beaches of Lake Michigan.
“Last summer we had no drowning and, more importantly, no drowning calls,” Hosier said. “I think it was due to more education, the Nixle alerts (emergency text) and the SHAES having more people at the beach… It’s just another thing we’re trying to do.”
She said the city would consider adding another code enforcement officer to monitor beach activity.
Council member George Sleeper said the new ordinance will complement efforts city council has undertaken to improve beach safety. Among those efforts was the formation of a Beach Safety Committee, which analyzed ways the city could make its beaches safer for water-related activities.
“I think the prescription is the first step,” he said. “Education is the next step in making sure we have a safe summer next year. “