BRIDGMAN — Water is on the rise in Bridgman — in more ways than one.
In addition to approving long-anticipated water (and sewer) rate increases, Bridgman issued a call for volunteers to help place sandbags around the Weko Beach House on Saturday, Dec. 7, beginning at 10 a.m. Rising lake levels are threatening the structure which was last protected with sandbagging in the 1980s.
“The water is knocking on our Beach House door,” said City Manager Juan Ganum, adding that the city needs to protect what many consider one of its most valuable assets.
“The more, the better,” said Bridgman Parks and Recreation Director Milo Root on Tuesday, Dec.3, regarding the number of volunteers needed.
He said the city has received 1,000 sandbags from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that need to be filled with sand and placed along the western edge of the beach house.
Volunteers are asked to bring gloves. Root said some shovels will be available, but volunteers are encouraged to bring shovels.
For more information, email Root at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Root estimated that the water’s edge was about 100 feet away from the structure. But he said that on windy days, the lake is much higher, throwing debris next to the beach house.
He said city workers have pulled all the debris away from the beach house in preparation for the sandbags.
Root showed where erosion has exposed sandbags that were placed around the beach house in the 1980s, the last time Lake Michigan was so high. Root was told that the beach house was also surrounded by sandbags during a high water event in the 1940s.
Ganum said he was told that in the 1980s, officials waited until the water’s edge was lapping the beach house before they started putting down sandbags.
Root said they aren’t waiting that long this time.
“We’re trying to be proactive and get out ahead of the rising water levels and hope that the sandbags are not necessary,” Root said.
The structure was initially built in 1928 and reconstructed in 1991. Ganum said several upgrades have been made in the past few years, including adding air conditioning, putting down new flooring and placing large overhead doors between the community room and the cafe, so they can be separated if necessary. He said it’s an asset that the city wants to protect.
Treasurer Debbie Lambrix said that when she moved to Bridgman in 2012, the large caisson near the beach house that is connected to the city’s water system was surrounded by sand, with the water’s edge about 75 feet away. The concrete structure has been surrounded by water this year, and the water level shows no signs of decreasing.
Data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District shows that the Great Lakes were at their highest in 1985 through 1987, since they started recording data in 1918. This summer, the level of Lake Michigan was only one inch below the highest recorded level in July.
Experts predict that near record high lake levels will continue through at least April.
Also at Monday's City Council meeting, a request to extend leaf pick-up from resident Bill Boyd resulted in Ganum saying leaf pick-up would end on Friday since city crews will be helping “the mess at Weko Beach.” He pointed out that the pick-up had already been extended this year, adding that the schedule will be reviewed and may be extended in coming years.
Most of the lengthy Monday, Dec. 2, meeting was spent on a review of the reasons behind the water and sewer rate increases which will become effective March 15.
The average household customer’s monthly ready-to-serve water bill will increase to $9.50 from $6.25. Monthly ready-to-serve sewer rates will increase to $69.91 from $47.66. Contributing to the sewer increase is the council’s decision to repay 100 percent of the more than $1 million that was transferred from the General Fund to the Sewer Fund during past years.
Director of Public Services Tim Kading explained that the water rate increase was based on information gathered for the city’s Water System Asset Management Plan that was completed in October. The increase, the first beyond the Consumer Price Index since 2015, will allow the city to set aside about $40,000 per year to fund capital improvements anticipated over the next 20 years to ensure a secure supply of safe, high-quality water for current and future demand levels.
Prior to the vote on the water increase, Council Member Rick Fuller said he would like to see the “whole picture on the table,” including the sewer rate increase and future considerations, before the vote. Council Member Stacy Stine disagreed saying the information had been included in several presentations already. The increase to $9:50 passed unanimously.
Prior to the vote on the sewer rate increase, Kevin Marks, an engineer with Wightman & Associates, reviewed the results the 2019 Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater (SAW) Program study, including maps, pictures and video showing the condition of the sewer pipes. The footage included examples of cracked pipes allowing groundwater to flow into the system which contribute to rising operational costs or “real money down the drain.” He estimated one leak can cost $10,000 per year in added charges from the Galien River Sanitary District that treats the city’s wastewater.
Mayor Vince Rose raised the need to address the problem of sump pumps that are illegally or incorrectly connected to the wastewater sewer system. He said residents need to be educated on the huge cost this represents to the city.
“The vast majority of your system is in good shape,” Marks said, noting there are no major emergency repairs needed. Included in his information was a 20-year $1.9 million capital improvement budget.
Andy Campbell, senior manager with Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors, presented a detailed financial analysis underlying the various sewer rate recommendations. He said the current rates put Bridgman right in the middle of average rates across the state. However, he said the Bridgman system is not paying for itself and has been subsidized by the General Fund. He also set $250,000 as a target for a reserve fund so unknown situations can be handled without a bond issue.
Campbell spelled out the different scenarios for the increase, ranging from “100 percent forgiveness” of the debt to the General Fund for a new monthly rate of $65.16 to “no forgiveness” of the debt with a new monthly rate of $69.91.
After much discussion, the council opted for “no forgiveness” which they agreed was “the hard vote but the right vote.”
“We inherited the problem, now we have to stop the bleeding,” said Council Member Georgia Gipson.
“It’s painful but it’s the most responsible,” Rose said.
Sticking with the water theme, Fire Chief Joel Buist announced the city received a Public Protection Classification rating of 3, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being best. He said of the 1,600 fire departments in the state, less than 75 had a rating of 3 or better and only one other in Berrien County. Buist urged residents to contact their insurance agents since the change, effective in March, should mean a savings on their insurance policies.
In other business, the council approved the annual Holiday Village event in downtown Bridgman on Saturday, Dec. 14, from 3 to 6 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Bridgman Community Growth Alliance.
In his Manager’s Report, Ganum said the Planning Commission has decided to seek public input on marijuana regulation in the city through a community‐wide survey distributed in May 2020 edition of the “Community Buzz.”