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SL Township denies no-wake zone request

Marie Havenga • Sep 15, 2017 at 12:00 PM

SPRING LAKE TWP. — A proposed no-wake zone for the Grand River in front of Boom Road appears to be dead in the water.

After listening to public hearing comments from residents, which were divided for and against the measure, the Spring Lake Township Board voted 6-0 this week to not pursue the issue with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Last spring, a couple of Boom Road residents expressed concern about property damage from boat wakes. They cited floating dock systems being destroyed, shoreline erosion and undermining of Boom Road asphalt as primary concerns.

Neighbors said most of the boats causing damage are in the range of 26-30 feet or more. They suggested the Township Board consider enacting a no-wake zone, similar to what is in effect on Spring Lake, where boats larger than 26 feet can only putz at no-wake speeds.

Township Supervisor John Nash said the problem is a high water issue, and that offenders whose wakes do damage should be prosecuted.

But an Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office officer who spoke at the meeting said the department has staffing issues and is unable to be everywhere at once. Even if residents report license numbers, the Sheriff’s Office has no way of knowing who was actually operating the vessel at the time of the infraction.

Boom Road resident Bill Gordon said he bought property on that section of the river a dozen years ago because he liked seeing boats go by and kids could go skiing.

“Times have changed,” he said. “I never thought I'd be in favor of a no-wake zone, but I am now. Large boats come by and throw enormous wakes. You are responsible for your wake, but nobody cares about their wake. I've never seen them pull anybody over for wake.”

Dan Wilkinson, who has lived on that stretch of the river for 60 years, said the water is 19 inches higher than its long-term monthly average.

“Once a no-wake zone goes into effect, I don't know one that's ever been canceled,” he said. “The present no-wake zone is difficult to enforce. I spent time counting the boats that threw big wakes. The average is 1.5 per hour, but it's only on weekends. I think a no-wake zone is more of a problem than it will be a solution.”

Dr. Mark Ivey, who has spearheaded the request for a no-wake zone, said a large wake broke his dock apart while his wife was standing on it.

“Your responsibility is to protect us,” he told the Township Board. “This part of the river is now a concentrated area of lawlessness. There's clear ongoing evidence of damage to the environment. I've seen small boats swamped by large luxury craft. They come to our area of the river to play and they do so at our expense.”

Township Clerk Carolyn Boersma said she's always been against a no-wake zone there.

“It's too far-reaching,” she said. “I think it would affect the economy. If we take away the river as a playground, Labor Day weekend, the Big Lake was way too rough. Where are (boaters) going to go?”

Boersma said property owners knew what they were getting into before purchasing their riverfront homes.

“It's very high water,” she said. “I'm sorry, but you guys bought on the river, you protect your property.”

Nash said he spoke with every marina in the area and the owners were on board with talking to boaters about being more mindful of their wakes along that stretch of the river.

“Personally, I see people's concerns,” Nash said. “I really think the perpetrators should be prosecuted. But to set up something that would be in my estimation a high-water regulation, I don't think is prudent for the future.”

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