OTTAWA COUNTY – Three Holland-area men who say they just want to take their kids fishing have sued Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over her stay-at-home order that bans use of motorboats.
They say that the executive order – a response to the coronavirus crisis – is overly broad, particularly in a county where relatively few been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Nathan Vander Zwaag, Chase Turkstra and Henry Frerik filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids asking that a judge issue an injunction on enforcement of the motorboat ban.
“I can’t imagine a safer place to be than in a middle of a lake practicing social distancing,” Holland attorney William Sikkel IV told MLive/The Grand Rapids Press on Friday, April 17.
“My clients all understand the importance and need to adhere to social distancing, but activities that can be safely done within (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines should not be criminalized.”
He said in the lawsuit that a ban on boats with motors “is an overreaction and overly broad” way to slow the coronavirus spread.
"It would be the equivalent of banning the use of a vehicle if too many people were speeding on the highway, instead of issuing tickets to those who were speeding.”
Michigan United Conservation Clubs also said it would file a lawsuit challenging the motorboat provision of the executive order.
A spokesman for Whitmer declined to comment.
Sikkel said his clients have small boats and trailers that can be launched while staying away from others not part of their households. He said that concerns of crowded launches at places such as the Detroit River and Saginaw Bay could be addressed by ticketing those violating social-distancing rules.
Whitmer is facing other lawsuits over her executive order. Thousands this week took part in “Operation Gridlock” in Lansing what they consider to be overly restrictive orders.
Whitmer contends the restrictions are necessary and are saving lives. Through Thursday, Michigan has reported 2,093 deaths and 20,263 cases of COVID-19. The deaths are the third highest in the country.
“This is the most important tool we have ... to save lives," Whitmer said of people staying home.
She said on Good Morning America on Friday that she hoped for “some relaxing” of the stay-at home order by May 1.
Michigan is under a state of emergency.
Under the executive order, Whitmer said residents could take part in recreational activities, like walking, running, cycling, canoeing and kayaking but could not use a motorboat or jet ski.
Sikkel said neighboring states allow motorboats. The lawsuit challenges only the motorboat exclusion.
He noted in the lawsuit, however, that census data showed Ottawa County has 291,000 people while the county reports 71 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, as of Wednesday, April 15.
“Given the small number of reported cases within Ottawa County, Michigan, the absolute ban on motorboating within the County is overly broad and not narrowly tailored to further the government’s compelling interest of maintaining public health,” Sikkel wrote in the lawsuit.