Councilman explains sign decision

To the Editor: Coverage of the "Coast Guard City USA" sign decision by City Council has been rather one-sided.
Jul 1, 2013


For reasons unknown to me, the only persons who’ve asked why I voted against the continuation of the sign on Dewey Hill have been Mike Smith and Cmdr. Brady of the U.S. Coast Guard. Both were very gracious in their response to my viewpoint, as well as I to theirs.
To me, this is not about the Coast Guard; it’s about Dewey Hill.
The hill was named after Adm. Dewey, who played an important role in the Spanish-American War. So by its very name, it is meant to honor a service member.
We haven’t always treated our hill very kindly. We’ve used it for the placement of a musical fountain; a light pole that can be a star, anchor or cross; as the backdrop for a Nativity scene; as a staging site for fireworks; and most recently as a site for a temporary sign to remind everyone that we are Coast Guard City USA.

Dewey Hill used to be much taller. Erosion from activity and time have taken its toll. Nothing in this world lasts forever, but I want to remind everyone that the mighty Dewey Hill is a fragile dune.
My chief concern in voting against the placement of this temporary sign is to let people know that when the door for groups to place signs promoting worthwhile activities is opened, it is not easily shut. This is a case in point. We all love and honor the men and women of our Coast Guard. We have displays and signs which testify to our love and respect. Council was asked to approve the placement of this sign for two years, which was approved twice by the narrow margin of one vote. However, now that the door has been opened, most members of the community want to leave it open.
How can the council tell other worthwhile city-based groups that they can’t use Dewey Hill to promote themselves or their causes? Is it OK to promote only city causes? How about other causes?
These are the questions I wrestle with as a council member. I was elected to represent everyone, and I’m trying to do that, the best way I know how.
Our old friend, Dewey Hill, won’t fall down tomorrow because of the uses we’ve made of it. However, I would hate for us to get in the habit of using it as our community billboard. Such constant and unrelenting use will hasten its demise. Help us to set reasonable limits on its use.

John Hierholzer
Grand Haven City Councilman




Get rid of the all religious Christmas stuff on Dewey hill, and we will start to believe this dribble Mr. Hierholzer. Until you apply this policy in blanket form, this is just a bunch of smoke & mirrors.


Additionally, someone also needs to get the trespassers under control. Every day, you can see people beaching their boats and climbing up the hill. This causes a huge amount of erosion as can be seen by all the sandy paths and the large piles of sand at the bottom of the trails.



So this is not about the Coast Guard? Why, then, does Grand Haven call itself "Coast Guard City USA"? For the life of me, I do not understand why Grand Haven's Council is suddenly making an example of the Coast Guard when it should be addressing real problems! You cannot have it both ways, Council. You cannot bank on the CG Festival bringing in tourists, yet refuse to suuport the event with the traditional sign!


i remember back in the sixties as kids, we used to swim across the channel just to play on the other side, dewey hill, there was a rope swing that was at the base of the hill, it was a summer fun thing but never thought maybe we were trespassing, to this day people with boats would beach over there and have picnics and campfires and have fun, maybe there is a concern with erosion and perhaps all activity should be put to a stop if this the case and look for other places to erect signs, hate to see the case where there would be 8 foot fences around the property to keep out, much like cosummers energy, fences everywhere and trespass would result in a felony, lol


As someone who grew up in Grand Haven and never once saw a sign on the Hill advertising Coast Guard City USA, I must say that I don't understand the uproar here! For example, theQuin asserts "You cannot bank on the CG Festival bringing in tourists, yet refuse to [support] the event with the traditional sign!" What tradition?? Two years of use does not make the sign a 'tradition', by reasonable definition. There was never any sign up there when I grew up, and there were enough tourists for all of us townspeople to complain about!

As someone who might now be called an out-of-towner (living in Grand Rapids with weekly visits to GH to see family and friends), I would say from a tourist perspective, the sign comes off pretty tacky. For what it is, I am sure the sign is well-made, but putting giant letters over top of a beautiful natural formation doesn't typically make that formation more beautiful (in my opinion.)

Finally, for those who bring up the nativity scene and fountain, maybe you have a point, but that question can be dealt with separately. Besides, if you truly believe those things shouldn't be there in the first place, then wouldn't you think the letters should definitely go?


I agree - signs of any sort are tacky on our dunes. Except the ones at the base asking people to stay off of them. Of course, these are regularly ignored, if not destroyed. Travel anywhere else they have dunes and you will pay a hefty fine for ignoring a "Stay off the dune" sign.


So can you advise what section of the Michigan Criminal law has been violated???... It maybe be some silly city ordinance violation which has not been challenge yet. With all this fighting going on I'm sure their is some other lakeshore community which would like to take over the Coast Guard festival. I would like to know if a fire is started on the hill this year who will pay for the the hill restoration project. The planting of new grass and the sand dune restoration from the firefighter walking on the hill and dragging hoses up to the top. This issue is nothing but smallville politics. It seems the city coucil has more worries then this... like fixing the streets...


1. This is not a matter of a criminal violation; it is a matter of city council permitting (or not permitting) certain use of land under their oversight. From the rest of your response, I will presume you would not prefer that legislative time be spent on this issue; were a law violated, then this would be an issue of law enforcement, which isn't a duty of city council. I am confused why you are bringing state law into this.

2. Which other lakeshore communities do you suspect will "take over" the Coast Guard festival? Which other lakeshore communities are home to a Coast Guard station? I am doubful that festival organizers will start to "shop around" for a new city. There have been many dozens of successful Festivals without this sign, and there have been two (2) festivals with the sign. To use your words, I think the Festival planning committee "has more worries [than] this..." If not, I think they (and Grand Haven) would be well-served for them to spend time on other considerations. I suspect that they already are.

3. I can only guess who would pay for dune restoration in the event of a fire, if it is needed. That guess would be city general fund, city parks fund, DNR assistance, possibly even some federal grant. Since the risk of fire exists with or without the sign, I would ask how this should affect my opinion, or more importantly, any decision that you would wish the Council to make?

4. Do you suspect that road maintenance will suffer because a Councilman wrote to the paper, or because this issue was considered by Council? Wasn't the time already spent to consider and approve this sign? Would you prefer that the use of Dewey Hill, especially as it pertains to publicly visible displays, is no longer regulated so that City Council time will not be spent approving or denying such requests?


citizen, please don't bash on newspaperlawyer. He just prefers the beaches up in Muskegon and has a generally bad attitude.


Once again......if this isn't about the Coast Guard then remove the nativity scene. The Coast Guard sign didn't open the door for other signage....that signage already existed. And Citizen, please watch your use of the term "tacky".....from your language it's rather clear you have never, and will never, serve your country. And why should the Nativity scene be handled separately? Those angels are currently laying flat on the hill covered in burlap. But I'm sure that is causing absolutely no erosion. I suspect the NCLU might be receiving a call soon.

Skeptic Trucker

When the illegal cross, angels, and nativity (1st amendment) are taken down, then you can discuss whether or not to allow the sign. Until then, put it up with the others or take them all down.


Duplicate comment.


Why the ad hominem attack? What does my military service have to do with anything? Can a mere civilian not appreciate those who do serve, if we do not also support a tacky new sign that was never there until two years ago?

Go ahead and petition Council to remove the nativity scene too if you think that is the right thing to do. It should be considered on its own, just like the sign. At least that one has been here as long as I can remember (and no, I don't claim to have lived longer than any other commenters, so please don't challenge my age.) Another difference is that one is a textual sign and one is a lighted scene. In any case, it is still a separate issue, but talking about it here just seems to be a case of "they got to, so we should too." If the nativity scene is your gold standard, maybe a monument with a similar footprint would have been a more tasteful and conservative choice, rather than spreading letters across the hilltop.

Oh yes- there already is just such a monument, in the form of an anchor. In fact, this new sign seems to redirect the honor toward the city and not the USCG itself. That isn't tacky?

Let me be clear- there is nothing tacky about the USCG or holding the Festival in its honor, but the sign is not worth fighting for. Maybe the reason it was approved and supported in the first place is because anyone who has a criticism as mild as "tacky" has their value as a citizen called into question.


Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on Create a new account today to get started.