HARBERT — Severe erosion problems continuing to plague the township’s two beaches and five road end lake accesses as well as lakefront property owners was the main topic of conversation during the Dec. 16 Chikaming Township Park Board meeting.
Chairperson Deborah Hall-Kayler headed a Dec. 7 walking tour of properties north of the Harbert Road lake access to get a better idea of the damage being done there. The gathering included a presentation by George Webb, an engineer whose brother Bill’s property and others in that area are threatened by the vanishing shoreline.
He said the family is seeking permission to allow equipment and materials to reach the beach via the Harbert Road access so a barrier wall can be built to repel the high lake water level and damaging wave action in front of the home.
Webb said this could be done by creating a temporary 26-foot wide sloped access path at the township access (currently closed due to the bottom portion of the stairs being washed away).
According to Webb, the plan would eliminate the use and repair of the timber stairs that have been used to access the beach, as well a beach inaccessibility caused by the stairs being closed.
Another thing he noted in his plan as a plus would be safer and easier access there for young children and older citizens than the tall, steep stairs that have been there; as well as providing access for those who are handicapped as well as emergency equipment.
Also, according to his plan, the Park Board would retain complete control of the access path and could even possibly even charge a fee for the construction equipment to use the access for a defined period of time.
Webb’s original lower impact idea was to have construction materials shipped on a barge from New Buffalo up to Harbert, but that plan proved to be unfeasible.
“Several families both north and south of the Harbert Road lake access would be interested in using this 26-foot wide cut we would be making that would be used from maybe Oct. 15 through May 15, and in the process there may be some revenue for the Park Board,” Webb said. “We need some way to get to the beach and stop the erosion happening right below my brother’s house and other properties there.”
However, Park Board member Janet Schrader informed Webb that there was an ordinance and a process in place to request permission to allow equipment through one of the township’s gated road-end lake accesses.
Webb said that he wasn’t informed of that process, and Schrader told him that there was a “Beach Access Application/Permit” that needed the approval of the township supervisor, or could be granted by the police chief or fire chief in cases where immediate emergency action needed to be taken.
That permitting process was recommended by township attorney Charles Hilmer, and a motion to adopt it as part of Ordinance No. 126 received unanimous support during a Chikaming Township Board meeting on Jan. 8, 2015.
“I’m sorry this process hasn’t been expressed to you, but you’re talking about a critical dune there, and you can’t just tear it down and then refill it,” Schrader said. “This Park Board can’t help you tonight, and I’m sorry about that.”
After further discussion a motion to deny the request by Webb to create a graded path to the beach ultimately died due to lack of support.
Member Joseph Reed suggested that some other ideas for a solution should be explored, including the possible use of a helicopter to airlift the necessary materials to build a barrier to the site without any negative impact on the dunes.
“If enough of the neighbors there agreed to share that cost it could be a feasible solution,” Reed said.
Prior to the motion being withdrawn, Schrader said that she would like Webb to follow the proper procedures that had been put in place.
“I don’t want to vote on this because I believe it would open us up to liabilities,” Schrader stated.
In other business, it was announced that the Park Board’s proposed budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that begins April 1 will be $149,825, and that includes a $24,000 that would allow for the hiring of a part-time Facility Manager.
It was noted that the Park Board has stewardship over 400 acres of township properties while in comparison New Buffalo has 60 acres and Bridgman has 40 acres.
Treasurer Kathy Sellers reported that $42,278 remains in the budget for the current fiscal year that ends March 31.
It was also reported that the 30-day period for public review of the Park Board’s proposed new Five Year Plan had ended, and the next step would be a vote on it by the members. After that it will be sent to the state in February for their review.
Schrader gave praise to all of those involved in the successful Cherry Beach project.
“It was a truly remarkable feat by all, and over 950 people made pledge donations,” she said.
It appears that there is an excellent chance that the popular mountain bike trail at the Park & Preserve that was developed entirely by volunteers under the leadership of Schrader’s late husband Kirk will be named in his honor and memory.
Finally, it was also announced that the official opening for the lighted ice skating rink at Harbert Community has been scheduled for Saturday evening, Jan. 18. However, it should be noted that the rink will be open prior to that date whenever the weather is cold enough for the formation of ice there.