NEW BUFFALO — Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II spent much of Earth Day in New Buffalo.

He visited classrooms at New Buffalo Elementary School, participated in a roundtable lunch with local leaders at Redamak’s Restaurant, and got a first-hand look at a section of New Buffalo shoreline threatened by erosion linked to effects from the nearby harbor breakwall and high lake levels.

The first stop on Monday, April 22, was the Elementary School, where Gilchrist was taken to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms by Principal Adam Bowen and Superintendent Jeff Leslie.

“We wanted to show him how we use technology to help differentiate our instruction and meet the needs of each individual learner,” Bowen said of the classroom tour.

A program third-grade pupils were using on Chromebooks was Achieve 3000, which Bowen said allows students to learn about the same topics and skills at their exact level.

At the fourth-grade level pupils worked on large Promethian boards during Gilchrist’s visit (which Bowen said were purchased using state money).

“We also showed him how we use IXL (a math and reading program) in fifth grade … to meet the needs of each individual student.”

At one point a third-grader asked Gilchrist if there could be clean water in Flint, and he answered that he and Governor Gretchen Whitmer are doing everything they can to try and achieve that goal, adding that they are scheduled to visit the city on Thursday.

Gilchrist is a University of Michigan graduate (with a degree in computer science engineering) who has worked at Microsoft, the Center for Community Change, MoveOn.org, and the administration of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (where he created the Improve Detroit Smartphome app).

He was elected Lieutenant Governor in November 2018 when running mate Whitmer was chosen by voters as Michigan’s new governor.

Gilchrist met with a group of about 20 community leaders at Redamak’s to discuss a variety of issues including the upcoming state budget process, road repair, erosion problems along the lakefront and more. Those in attendance included  New Buffalo Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV and City Council members Robert Spirito, Elizabeth Ennis and Mark Robertson; New Buffalo City Manager Dave Richards; New Buffalo Township Supervisor Michelle Heit and Township Board member Judy Zabicki; County Commissioner Ezra Scott; State Sen. Kim LaSata; Kim Thompson of the Southwest Michigan Leadership Council; Chikaming Township Supervisor Dave Bunte; Three Oaks Village Council members Colleen Newquist and Becky Thomas; Three Oaks Village Manager Mike Greene; Heather Gradowski representing the local Marquette Greenway effort; Ted Grzywacz, president of the New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance; Robert Kemper of the New Buffalo DDA; Katie Maroney and Karen Poff of the NBBA;   

“It’s important for us to go and have this conversation and meet people where they are … We need to hear these questions and the real, local concerns about what the priorities need to be, so we welcome the conversation,” Gilchrist said, adding that he appreciated the participation by LaSata (who also toured the Elementary School).

“She’s going to be a great colleague to work with, I believe, on the budget process.”

He said visits to communities everywhere in the state are planned to deliver the message that Michigan’s infrastructure needs to be upgraded, the skills gap needs to be closed, and educational outcomes need to be improved.

“We believe that it’s going to take $2.5 billion in additional revenue to make that happen, and we know that if we raise the revenue in the right way so we truly have enough to spend on roads and infrastructure that we’ll unlock the opportunity to make a once-in-a-generation investment in education in the state of Michigan. And that will improve our outcomes and make it better for our kids, our families and the people who are working and doing business in Michigan.”

One of the subjects that came up both at Redamak’s and at the lakefront near the city’s water system pump house was the possibility that the Michigan DNR/DEQ would allow sand that has washed away from shore out into Lake Michigan leaving little or no beach to be dredged back along the coast.

County Commissioner Ezra Scott and New Buffalo Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV noted that Indiana recently allowed such actions to replenish beaches in that state.

“The beach that was here, is now out there,” Scott said. “So common sense is going to tell you let’s put a dredge out there and pump the sand that was the beach … back onto the beach.”

O’Donnell said pumping sand back on shore seems to offer the most cost-effective way to battle erosion.

New Buffalo Township Supervisor Michelle Heit said she is hopeful state and federal funds will be made available to replenish the beach.

Construction of a $1.5 million addition to a protective barrier in front of the Warwick Shores condominiums was going on during Gilchrist’s visit.

It was noted that the flow southeast of the breakwater pushes the sand out for about five miles along the coast toward Indiana, leaving homes along the coast in New Buffalo, Grand Beach and Michiana threatened by erosion/

O’Donnell pointed out the vacant lot where a home at risk of falling into the lake was torn down several years ago, adding that Warwick Shores condo association and a neighbor on the other side have teamed up to thwart the erosion by placing a wall of boulders as a revetment structure at that site.

He also said the city is seeking to persuade a homeowner on the other side of the pump house to protect his property by installing some sort of revetment structure.

“It effects the neighbors as the waves come in and it eats away,” O’Donnell said.

“It was important to come and see it for myself,” Gilchrist said. “It’s an issue that I’m looking forward to learning more about … to make sure that we understand everybody’s concerns and what can happen in partnership with the state government and federal government.”

Blagica Bottigliero of New Buffalo arranged the visit.

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