Park Township Official, Visitors Say Duck Owner Brent Birkholz Often Shouts Foul, Inappropriate Comments At Pedestrians; City Takes Action
A Holland Park Township official is asking his counterparts in the City of Saugatuck to consider revoking the license of the Harbor Duck Adventures Co., which uses a World War II amphibious vessel to provide sight-seeing trips for tourists, over “sadistic” and “lewd” remarks the Harbor Duck owner and operator subjected he and his family to while they visited the town.
Holland Park Township Trustee Jeff Hoekstra was on hand at Monday night’s meeting before Saugatuck City Council to express his disgust at Birkholz’s actions also detailed in his recent written communication to the city.
“While walking down the sidewalk (in Saugatuck) the Duck operator pulled up from the river launch and began insulting me and my seven-year-old son as we held hands waiting for him to pass,” Hoekstra informed the city in his September 10 email about his experience.
According to Hoekstra, Birkholz used a megaphone to yell out inappropriate and defamatory comments knowing he had an involuntary audience on his Duck and people on the sidewalks, and called out to Hoekstra saying: “Isn’t he a little too young for you?”
Hoekstra says he was in town with wife and kids to visit friends who were up from Chicago on a yacht moored by the Ship ‘N Shore hotel and boatel.
“(The experience with the Duck and Birholz) is such a poor reflection of this community and this town,” he told the council Monday.
“He fancies himself a comedian, but he is not even funny; he just insults people,” he told The Local Observer.
Complaints by visitors and some locals about Birkholz’s biting sarcasm and rude - and what some visitors have even called racist and homophobic remarks - is not new. Even Saugatuck City Council Member Jeff Spangler admitted Monday that he has been a target of Birkholz’s jabbing remarks a number of times.
“However, the point where it crosses the line is unacceptable,” said Spangler.
Some colleagues concurred. And while city officials will not be revoking the Duck’s permit to operate in Saugatuck, as suggested by Hoekstra, if for a mere symbolic move, Saugatuck Mayor Bill Hess did say the city will send a “warning” letter to Birkholz.
Online reviews are awash with complaints about the Duck and Birkholz, with headlines such as, “Sarcastic-condensending [sic] driver ruined the adventure. Never again,” in a May 27, 2014 tripadvisor post.
And comments such as, “The driver was rude and obnoxious. He tried to humiliate passengers and bystanders for sport,” also in a tripadvisor post, dated July 19, 2012.
Hoekstra asserted the insults didn’t stop at the initial encounter: “He (Birkholz) continued to harangue my family and I at least for another half a block.
“As we hurried away he followed us down the street continuing his sadistic attempt at being funny at our expense.
“It was simply some of the most disgusting behavior I have ever witnessed, and frankly makes me sick to my stomach even recalling it.”
Now in its 16th year in operation, the Duck is the only one of its kind in the Saugatuck area and has become an iconic feature. It is designated as a “commercial tour vehicle” per the city’s ordinance and requires a permit to operate in the city.
In this case, the Duck uses Saugatuck’s public Spear Street launch ramp and some parking space in front of Coghlin Park as a pickup point.
The Observer called the Harbor Duck office for a response from Birkholz, but the phone number is disconnected.
It is the same number listed in a letter Birkholz sent Saugatuck officials to respond to the incident and Hoekstra - and others - complaints.
Asserting it was a mere misinterpretation, Birkholz writes, in part, “Although he was not one of our customers, we reached out to Mr. Hoekstra via phone and expressed our sincerest apologies for any misconstruances [sic] he or his family may have had in the area during his visit.”
Hoekstra told city officials Birkholz did call him, but then lied by saying it was some other employee of the Duck - and not him - who had made the “repulsive” comments.
“It was Birkholz,” said Hoekstra. “He’s pathetic!”