NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo City Council took action to resolve flooding and road deterioration issues on North Whittaker Street between the bridge and the public beach during a June 24 special meeting.
The council also approved ordinances to allow expedited approval processes for outdoor dining and retail sales on sidewalks and other public spaces through the end of November.
Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV said the city had a professional diver seal the underwater ends of two storm drains with inflatable plugs on the morning of June 24 to reduce the amount of river water backing up onto North Whittaker Street between the bridge and the beach.
“The river’s so high that we’re getting horizontal pressure pushing river water out into the street,” he said, adding that a high water table adds to the problem.
O’Donnell said the plan going forward is to repave the road at an angle so rainwater runs off toward the river where a small retention pond will be excavated (hopefully this summer if a paver can be found).
He said the city’s overall costs are estimated at between $25,000 and $30,000, and the council later voted 5-0 to approve allocating up to $30,000 for the project.
Tony McGhee of Abonmarche said after the road dries out a plan will be formulated to make the road passable and in good shape again until a longer-range strategy is in place.
Crushed concrete and gravel have been placed on the affected stretch of North Whittaker Street to alleviate the potholes created by the flooding — a constant process as traffic and water take their tolls on the temporary surface.
On Tuesday, June 30, the following was posted on the city’s website: North Whittaker Street is CLOSED from the north side of the bridge to the beach parking lot until further notice.
By Tuesday afternoon the road was back open again according to a witness at the beach.
In a related matter, the City Council approved the second phase of a plan to improve and expand the temporary seawall originally in place between the Whittaker Street bridge and the beach lot to place concrete blocks along the Galien River/harbor channel (supplied by Ozinga and installed by Burkholder Excavating) in an attempt to prevent waters from rising onto the playground and adjacent areas of the beach. The estimated Phase 2 cost is $9,950 to install blocks from the northern edge of the beach parking lot to the stone breakwater jetty.
During its June 15 meeting the council approved Phase I (adding concrete blocks along the length of the parking lot at a cost of $7,070 — sealing the existing blocks to make them work better also was mentioned), but held off on Phase II until questions about the ownership of the riverfront could be answered.
McGhee said Berrien County is asking municipalities to keep track of their spending to mitigate the impacts of high waters with an eye toward seeking reimbursements from FEMA.
Also on June 24, the City Council voted 4-1 in favor of an ordinance to expedited the approval process to allow restaurants and bars to temporarily (through Nov. 30) expand their outdoor service areas to adjacent sidewalks and other public spaces.
City Manager David Richards said the city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) had recommended the move, allowing businesses to make applications to the DDA, which will forward them to the city manager and clerk who are authorized to sign license agreements on behalf of the city,
He said applications will require a site plan, signatures, and an application fee (the fee was later waived by the council).
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Ennis cast the lone “no” vote after expressing concerns about alcohol being served outdoors “on the main street downtown.”
It was noted that businesses have to apply to the state Liquor Control Commission and follow its rules
“It’s up to the businesses to really police this,” said O’Donnell. He also noted that permits can be revoked if the city has issues with an individual business.
O’Donnell said he recently saw similar outdoor dining set-ups in communities such as Holland, Grand Haven, Saugatuck and South Haven, noting that some were using parking spaces “which we can’t do” due to space limitations.
The council then voted 5-0 in favor of an expedited approval process for retail merchandise displays to be expanded to outdoor areas through Nov. 30 with applications submitted to the DDA and forwarded to the city manager and clerk via the same approval process used for the expedited outdoor dining. An application fee also was waived for the outdoor sales ordinance.
Council member Mark Kroll said he sees both outdoor ordinances as a test to see if such arrangements work for the city.
In another June 24 matter, the City Council unanimously OK’d applying for an Economic Development Administration grant funded by the federal CARES Act (which includes $40 million for economic development projects in Michigan).
Richards said the proposed New Buffalo project would contain two components, the first and largest being the addition of a broadside dock downstream from the marina (on the riverbank along Whittaker Street) to accommodate larger vessels, increase marina capacity and provide erosion control. The broadside dockage would consist of 732 feet of steel sheet pile wall, 600 feet of fixed fender system, slip utilities, fire extinguisher/life ring cabinets and a dry standpipe fire suppression system. A concrete promenade with lighting, wayfinding signage, site amenities and landscaping would be included to provide user and ADA access.
The second (and smaller) component of the project would include improvements to the public boat launch area including the
launch ramps and skid piers.
Richards said if city is successful in securing the grant, other money would be sought to offset the local match (estimated at $1,290,966.36), adding that the city currently has a $500,000 pending grant application with the State of Michigan that would cover a portion of the required matching funds.
McGhee said attempts were being made to schedule a return by the diver to help install the city’s transient marina docks (since underwater welding is required) before the Fourth of July weekend.