Michael Cramer, chairman of the five-member board, said they're looking at a device that will make mooring along the Grand Haven seawall safer for both boats and boaters.
When seas are rough, boats tied along the wall often surge to and fro, which can make it difficult to keep the protective fenders in place. Even on calm days, the corrugated gaps in the seawall can swallow up fenders and cause the banging.
The prototype device — a series of 15-foot-long frames fronted with wood that would hang from chains — is designed to even out the wall surface. That would alleviate the problem many boats have with their fenders slipping into the corrugated crevices.
Cramer said the units would be less than 3 inches thick and cost about $1,600 per panel. The total cost for the length of the seawall would be $200,000.
There would be gaps for access to existing safety ladders.
City Manager Pat McGinnis said the city budget includes $5,000 for a seawall evaluation — confined to the integrity and longevity of the wall — but no funds are earmarked for even a test model of the safety panels.
City Council has discussed charging boaters for overnight stays along the wall. Although there has been much public comment and concern from boaters worried about future mooring charges, Cramer said the Harbor Board isn't recommending fees at this time.
Cramer said his board would only consider charges if there were major improvements to the wall, such as utility hookups that would make the temporary slippage more like a marina stay.
City Manager Pat McGinnis said the municipality isn't looking to make money off boaters, but he wants to ensure the wall functions positively for the community.
McGinnis said city staff needs time to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the seawall to determine if boats have been damaged there, if the city should encourage or discourage mooring there, and if protective panels have been effective elsewhere.
If mooring along the wall is unsafe, McGinnis said boaters might be wise to rent a slip at the Municipal Marina, in which the city has invested millions of dollars.
Cramer said the Harbor Board would like to build and test a protective panel this fall or next spring.
“What we're trying to do right now is come up with an idea for better fendering —something that's not horribly expensive but would allow a range of boat sizes to safely tie up,” he said.
Cramer said he wants to use a few local boaters as guinea pigs to test the device.
“We want to build three 15-foot sections, hang them from the seawall and see what boaters think,” he said.
McGinnis said any tests or permanent scenario would require a green light from City Council and the city's risk management team.
“First, we have to define the problem, then identify if this is the right solution,” he said. “We need a good, solid understanding of what our vision is and where we're going with it.”
McGinnis said he would welcome an open community dialogue about future mooring along the seawall to assist in the decision process.
Boater John Lynch said he is in favor of protective panels along the wall, as long as boaters won't be forced to pay to dock there.
“The biggest issue is, unless you have huge fenders, they fall between the corrugated sections of the wall,” the Grand Haven man said. “I'm in favor of anything that helps that, as long as they're not going to tax the boaters directly for it.”
Amanda Buelow, also of Grand Haven, said she and Lynch moor along the wall nearly every weekend. She said their boat has been damaged from the wave action.
“As long as they put some serious thought into how to do this, I think it would be a really good thing,” Buelow said. “... It gets pretty rough when there's a storm surge out there.”
Buelow said she and many other boaters likely wouldn't visit the seawall as often if there were a charge for docking.
“It brings business to our city,” she said of the current free mooring opportunities. “All of our friends are at different slips in the Grand Haven and Spring Lake area, and we use the seawall as our place to get together.
"I don't want it to turn into a marina — it's not," Buelow continued. "It's the Grand Haven seawall and it's the only place left like that. We tie off and run up and have dinner or go shopping.”