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Holland station downgraded to weekend-only operations

Audra Gamble/The Holland Sentinel • May 9, 2018 at 10:00 AM

HOLLAND — Among several changes coming to Coast Guard operations in West Michigan this summer, the Holland Coast Guard station will only be operational on weekends.

Currently, the Holland Coast Guard station is manned full-time by Chief Adam Smart and Machinery Technician Joshua Sanders. Throughout the summer, the two were joined by Coast Guard reservists at the station on Ottawa Beach Road.

This summer, though, the Holland station will only be manned on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, along with some holidays. Coast Guard members stationed at the Grand Haven station will travel to Holland for those hours of operation, then return to Grand Haven during the week.

The change was not made for any budgetary reasons, Smart said, but rather was an effort by the Coast Guard to find a more efficient way to use its personnel on the Great Lakes. Smart said the Holland Coast Guard station was always budgeted to only have staff respond to a water request during the weekend, but that he and Sanders considered themselves always “on call” in the case of an overnight weekday emergency. Over the summer, the Holland station would receive summer reserve members that worked two day-shifts.

“With that one person there Monday through Friday, we could operate the boat overnight with me and Josh if we needed to,” Smart said. “It just so happens that he and I lived close enough to do that, but it was always above and beyond what the expectation was for Station Holland. It was always just a weekend-only operation.”

Smart, who has been in Holland since 2016, is leaving May 25 and will return to the Coast Guard station in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Sanders will be transferred to Hawaii. After that, the Holland Coast Guard Station will be considered a “station small,” rather than a full-time operation.

“We’ll be down there on major holidays and weekends,” said Kyle Thomas, Grand Haven Coast Guard executive petty officer. “Any time the (Holland) Coast Guard vessel there isn’t actively manned, we’ll be responding from Grand Haven.

“Grand Haven is basically in control of Station Small Holland. The vessels out of Grand Haven and they’re very quick to get down there.”

While Smart said he’s never personally made the trip from Grand Haven to Holland in a Coast Guard vessel, he thinks the response time to an emergency on the water would only vary slightly if a boat is coming from Grand Haven compared to Holland.

“The response time from Grand Haven versus the normal response time is a hard thing to comment on, but I would imagine that it’s probably only a little different,” he said. “If it was mid-day during the week, obviously our response time was short because we were right there. Now during the week, it’s important for people in the water to understand that response is coming from Grand Haven.”

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office marine division, which has an office inside the Holland Coast Guard station, will still be docking its Holland rescue boat at the Coast Guard’s dock like normal. The sheriff’s office will not be adding extra marine patrols in Holland to pick up any weekday slack.

“We’re not doing anything different,” said Marine Division Sgt. Dean DeVries. “We have access to the building and the boats, so it will be status quo for us. It’s going to be a little strange not having the (Coast Guard) around.”

Current Grand Haven Master Chief Justin Olson will also be leaving this summer to go to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Taking over for Olson following a change of command ceremony on June 22 is Chief Kirk McKay, who held Olson’s position previously.

“Our crews are very familiar with the area, so we’ll be standing by to help,” Thomas said. “There really shouldn’t be too much of an impact.”

Last year, the Muskegon Coast Guard station underwent a similar transition. Grand Haven staff manages the Muskegon station, but that station is staffed throughout the week. Grand Haven now will manage its own station, the Muskegon station and Holland.

“Basically, they’re just looking at a more efficient way to utilize personnel,” Smart said. “We had about 20-something requests for assistance last year, and they really have dwindled down for search and rescue. Grand Haven definitely has more calls for assistance, I’ve always been shocked how few calls we get compared to how much boating traffic we get.”

Smart said a big reason for the lack of water emergencies in Holland is the work of the Holland Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla, which is a group of non-active Coast Guard members that teach the community about boating safety.

“They do a great job educating the public on safe boating,” Smart said. “The low number of issues in the water, that is because of their efforts.”

Terry Boersen, a member of the Holland Coast Guard Auxiliary, said the Holland station has known about being downgraded to a station small since last year.

“This hasn’t been a secret — we’ve known this since the fall,” Boersen said. “But, people aren’t really going to know until boating season and they say ‘Where’s the Coast Guard?’”

With the changes to personnel, though, Smart said people should be aware the Coast Guard is coming from farther away.

“The Coast Guard will still be out there responding to requests,” he said. “But people need to give the lake the respect that it deserves.”

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