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March 19, 2019 12:56 pm

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RJ Peterson

Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority & RJ Peterson Spar Over Fundraising Request

    “The concept of ‘speaking with one voice’ has been jeopardized,” says a September 6 memo Bob Sapita, chairperson of the Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority, sent out to harbor and city representatives.

     Sapita is referring to local Tower Marine owner RJ Peterson who last year was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder as special consultant to the Michigan Waterways Commission.

     Sapita and several of his fellow harbor authority members are upset over Peterson’s recent fund-raising efforts related to the harbor under the auspices of the Saugatuck-Douglas Chamber of Commerce of which Peterson is president.

     The chamber’s/Peterson’s mailings to several area residents states, in part:

   “Doing nothing is not an option. Your financial support will be used to support an immediate long-range planning project. Your support will also be needed to contact our various state and federal representatives who will be needed to apply pressure on the regulatory agencies to participate in the planning process.” 

     This represents a very special segment of the citizenry, Peterson told Observer Newspapers about who the chamber mailings were being sent to. 

     “We are only asking those people that are interested. We are not saying everyone with a dock should be taxed, as some have proposed,” said Peterson.

     In a September 5 letter made available to the media, Sapita says Peterson’s fundraising is not affiliated in any way with the harbor authority’s own efforts to improve the harbor. 

     “The planning project being promoted by Mr. Peterson is in fact redundant. These efforts are already being pursued by the authority,” Sapita states, in part.

     The relationship between the authority and the marina owner has been rocky. 

     Earlier this year there was talk of a partnership forming between the authority, the City of Douglas, and Peterson for a dredge spoils site at Peterson’s Tower Marine related to the authority’s improvement plans.

     Those talks broke down and now the authority is pursuing a confined disposal facility at the north end of the local wastewater treatment plant, a much costlier proposal because it entails dredged material being pumped from the harbor and transported two miles.

     The authority’s emergency dredging proposal, presented as the first phase of a longer process and estimated to cost $2 million, was suppose to happen this summer, but the project is taking much longer to get off the ground than the authority anticipated.

     The work for a permit, ensuring an appropriate disposal facility and funding for the project are all ongoing.

     Peterson says he has received some support, but noted not all welcome the chamber’s request for funds. 

     At the latest Saugatuck Township Board meeting, local resident Gerrit Sturrus said, “Being a waterfront property owner, I kind of resent it (the mailing asking for support). I’ve never been contacted by anyone to be informed if it’s even needed.”

     Despite the shallow harbor waters, Sturrus added, “I don’t use the harbor, but I do spend a lot of time in the lake. Right now you see a lot of canoes and kayaks on the harbor. It’s probably used more than before.”

Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority & RJ Peterson Spar Over Fundraising Request

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