Who cleans Government Basin?
Jul 21, 2015 at 12:46 PM
"I have lived in the city for a couple of years now and enjoy walking along the channel and pier," Traci wrote to Mailbag. "I cannot help but notice how filthy and sometimes littered the water is by the Coast Guard station. In fact, just today (June 13), I actually saw what appeared to be a large mammal of some sort floating in their waters. Any tourists that walk by this could be disgusted by this and, as a community member, I am embarrassed for my beautiful city. Since this is government property, who is responsible for the cleanup and why doesn't it happen?"
The short answer — according to Cmdr. Sean Brady of the U.S. Coast Guard — is that the Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Grand Haven are all partly responsible for Government Basin.
However, Brady said the crew at the Coast Guard station tries to keep the basin clean for two main reasons: to keep debris from clogging up their boat motors and for public relations. He apologized for how it looked last week.
"Stepping back from any legal or regulatory definitions, the Coast Guard doesn't want garbage littering our shoreline, and takes responsibility to clean up the basin on a regular basis," said the commander of Sector Field Office Grand Haven. "... We have a vested interest in its cleanliness due to the impact on our operations, as well as public opinion. Running over a log or sucking a plastic cup into our engines could do significant damage to our boats and prevent us from carrying out our missions, such as search and rescue."
Brady said debris coming down the Grand River tends to collect in the basin, which is good because it acts as somewhat of a "filter" for Lake Michigan.
"Between the floods earlier this season and even recent storms, high waters have loosened up shoreline vegetation and pushed uncommonly high amounts of debris into our basin — including chemical drums, trees, deer and even a porta-potty (which was likely vandalism)," he explained.
As for the deer carcass that floated into the basin last week, Brady said (again, last week) that they were taking care of it "and trying to keep it from getting messy."
Here is Cmdr. Brady's full response:
"Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The appearance of our facilities and the impression they make on the community are very important to us, especially here in Coast Guard City USA. The Government Basin is, as the name implies, government property. But like all questions on real estate in the maritime domain, there is no easy answer. The person who owns the land may not own the water, or the land on the bottom of the water. Like the Grand Haven pier, someone may be responsible for the pier itself, another person for the structures on the pier, a third party for the land beneath the pier, and yet others if they are renting or leasing a section of the property.
"That doesn't even address the water. Is it garbage and jettisoned debris or natural flotsam, hazardous material or part of the environment? Is it in the federally navigable channel or a potential hazard to navigation? Just some of the many question to determine 'responsibility.'
"Stepping back from any legal or regulatory definitions, the Coast Guard doesn't want garbage littering our shoreline, and takes responsibility to clean up the basin on a regular basis. While parts of the basin are owned by the Army Corps (of Engineers), the Coast Guard and the city, we have a vested interest in its cleanliness due to the impact on our operations, as well as public opinion. Running over a log or sucking a plastic cup into our engines could do significant damage to our boats and prevent us from carrying out our missions, such as search and rescue. To address these concerns, the Coast Guard works hand in hand with the city and the Army Corps.
"Government Basin has the natural characteristic of being a collection point for debris coming down the river, a garbage filter for the Big Lake. That's unfortunate for the Coast Guard, but good for the lake. Between the floods earlier this season and even recent storms, high waters have loosened up shoreline vegetation and pushed uncommonly high amounts of debris into our basin — including chemical drums, trees, deer and even a porta-potty (which was likely vandalism).
"While our boat crews do not have the resources to conduct daily cleanup of the basin, we do get out there at every opportunity, even when there isn't debris that could damage the boats. The appearance of our waterways is not just in the Coast Guard's Environmental Protection Mission, it is part of our commitment to the community.
"Because our staffing is lean and our missions are broad, our personnel often have to stay after their shift is over to clean up the basin. We therefore apologize for any delay in addressing garbage that floats down river and collects near our docks. We also ask that everyone stay vigilant concerning pollution while recreating on and near our waters. Although there is little we can do to prevent natural debris, we all as a community have the opportunity and the obligation to stop pollution."
Cmdr. Sean Brady
USCG SFO Grand Haven
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