Grand Haven Tribune: Perils of high water
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Perils of high water

Becky Vargo • Jun 28, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Emergency officials are urging caution to people enjoying area waterways, as the rising waters are causing many safety concerns this summer.

“Over the past few years, we have seen increased amount of precipitation leading to higher-than-average water levels in our lakes, rivers and streams,” said Sgt. Eric Westveer of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office marine patrol. “These higher-than-average levels have created many safety concerns including electrical shock drowning and floating debris, as well as property damage to the shorelines with erosion, flooding and damage to docks and seawalls.”

Marine patrol deputies responded to a call of a dock floating loose on the east side of the Petty’s Bayou bridge over Spring Lake early Thursday afternoon.

Westveer said boaters need to be aware of uprooted trees, branches and dock pieces that are floating around.

Sr. Chief Kirk McKay, of Coast Guard Station Grand Haven, encourages boaters to be especially aware of the no-wake areas.

“Anytime you’re getting close to the no-wake signs or buoys, slow down before you get there,” he said. “And wait until you are well out of the no-wake zone before picking up speed.”

He said the rumors of Spring Lake being a no-wake zone to all boats on the entire lake are just that – rumors.

“But we’ve hit extreme levels,” McKay said, noting that waves washing over seawalls and onto the shore are having a greater negative impact.

He encourages boaters to be respectful of property owners, other boaters and the no-wake zones.

Electrical shock

A big concern with the high water is the potential for electrical shock drowning. This is caused when electrical current enters the waterway, creating an electrical charge.

“This generally occurs around docks and marinas that have electricity on their docks,” Westveer said. “When this current enters the water, it energizes the water. Individuals swimming can then be electrocuted, causing them to drown.”

Ferrysburg resident Ted VanderVeen said he was concerned that one of the electrical boxes on his dock was underwater and the grandkids were coming over. He called an electrician, who cut the power going to his dock.

“When the box on the end of the dock was put in, it was chest high,” said VanderVeen, indicating that the box was several feet above the water.

Over the years, with the rising water, his permanent dock was raised once. Now he has an extra deck on top of that.

“I’ve lived here since 1975 (and) 1986 was the last time it was almost this high,” VanderVeen said.

Jill Kinkema, general manager of North Shore Marina, said that most of their boaters are educated about electrical shock, and that fliers and information are posted in different spots at the marina.

“Our docks are not under water right now,” she said. “We’re aware of (the potential for problems) and we encourage people to turn off their power if they see a problem.”

Kinkema said she has heard that some marinas are shutting off power, but that’s not the case at North Shore.

Westveer said that if the electricity to your dock is submerged or in poor condition, shut off the power to it until a professional can inspect it and make sure it is safe to use.

The sergeant said there has been no electrical shock drowning reported in Ottawa County, as of this week.

“However, there have been quite a few nationally,” he noted.

Westveer also asks people to use caution when walking on area piers.

“The water on the top can create slippery and hazardous situations, and we ask that you use with extreme care to prevent falls,” he said. “Also, be mindful that even the smallest of waves will now wash over the top of the pier, creating the potential for being swept off.”

Westveer also asks residents and visitors to practice water safety by wearing lifejackets, limiting alcohol consumption, know your abilities as a swimmer and pay attention to the warning flags posted at the beaches.

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