PARK TWP. — The Park Township Board of Trustees is looking to start a conversation about safety at Holland State Park after a deadly weekend in Lake Michigan.
At a Thursday board meeting, trustees voted on a resolution to start a dialogue with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (which governs Holland State Park), the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which owns the pier) to work on a response to the dangers presented by the pier at the state park.
Even though the township doesn’t have control over the pier or the state park, Township Manager Howard Fink said he feels compelled to do something after two boys, ages 6 and 17, drowned at the park on June 6.
“As local leaders, as local government representatives, leaders in the community, we have an ethical, moral obligation to identify when there may be opportunities for safety improvement,” Fink said. “It’s not to say that the township is stepping out there and is going to take on this issue and become the enforcer and resolve all the problems and find all the resources, but I started realizing I think we need to be part of that conversation.”
Although the deaths earlier this month were not tied to the pier, the pier is a major safety concern for officials, especially while lake levels are high and in stormy conditions. In January, a teenager from the Flint area died in the water after she and her friend were swept off the pier.
The township’s goal is to start conversations about the safety issues and to work together more closely on solutions.
“What happens when we’re in a high water state? What happens when there is a storm on the horizon? How do we communicate? What do we do to help prevent loss of life, to help prevent injury?” Fink said.
Although the Township Board has not suggested specific solutions yet, coming up with a consistent mechanism for closing the pier when conditions are dangerous is one issue that was brought up.
Sean Mulligan, the DNR unit supervisor for Holland State Park, has said he is requesting permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to install a gate on the pier that would allow for a more effective means of closing the pier.
The resolution also specifically mentions “discussing how to strengthen the visibility of early warning systems for severe weather storms and/or dangerous undercurrents present in Lake Michigan.”
Currently, the beach communicates dangerous swimming conditions to visitors through a flag warning system, but many visitors ignore red flags or don’t understand how dangerous the lake can be. The state park had also been unable to erect its warning flags yet on the beach due to the coronavirus-related furloughs and staff cuts when the two boys drowned this month.
“The township is not going to be the one to fix it,” Fink said. “That’s not what I’m suggesting. ... What I’m suggesting is we be a partner in that dialogue and be a part of a solution, and not just look the other way.”