Public Voices Issues, Concerns Over Possible Reconstruction & Reopening Of Lakeshore Drive Washout
Only two persons raised their hands to show they favored complete reconstructing and opening of the washout section of Lakeshore Drive at Wednesday’s special public hearing.
The standing room only crowd at the Saugatuck High School Cafeteria was resoundingly against opening the road, but at the same time strongly encouraged Saugatuck Township officials to maintain some kind of emergency service access and a public pathway for pedestrians and cyclists.
Speakers also cited safety issues to argue against opening the road because it would lead to a hike in traffic volume and vehicular speed.
“Unfortunately, the road washed out. But we (Lakeshore Drive neighbors) are all benefiting from it (because of a lot less traffic),” said Lakeshore neighbor Frederick “Fritz” Eagle Royce III.
“The expensive way to do this is eminent domain. The cheaper way is to get an agreement with the private property owners, get an easement, a covenant.”
Township officials called the meeting to gauge the pulse of the Lakeshore Drive community relative to the washout section. They and Saugatuck Township Fire District personnel have voiced concern about the delayed emergency response times and not being able to access the road from either direction of the washout.
However, a couple of speakers who live to the south of the washout said they had made use of emergency services in the past and they were pleased with the response time.
“I have occasionally called 911, around four times. To me, they got there in time,” said Barbara O’Brien. “I like the idea of the bike path and a walk path and an emergency road,” she further noted.
Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik was on hand. He told the audience he would heed their comments, while also warning them they could not rely on first responders from the City of Fennville to respond quickly to emergencies within the Lakeshore neighborhood.
“I am not in favor of opening the road. I am in favor of emergency access, a two-track, limited access, low-impact road. Give me a chance to get to you,” Janik told the public.
Doug Curtis, who lives south of the washout, said, “It is not realistic to rebuild the road; it is only going to fall again. But I also do not want it to be a private road. At the very minimum, have some road access for cyclists and pedestrians.”
Even if Allegan County wanted to rebuild the road (Lakeshore Drive is a primary road under its jurisdiction), it does not have the money to do so. Allegan County Road Commission Managing Director Larry Brown told the The Local Observer last spring that he estimated such a project to cost between $2 million and $3 million, with possible use of limestone as reinforcement.
Saugatuck Township, within which the washout section lies, could dip into its resurfacing roads fund to finance the project in a process Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan described as a potentially “political issue.”
“It can be just the county (that funds the possible reconstruction); (or) it can be both (county and the township). It’s your money in either instance,” Sheridan told the audience.
The road was never rebuilt after it gave way due to wind and wave action back in the 1980s. It affects about five township waterfront property lots.
Some property owners have used portions of the waterfront property where the public road used to be to landscape it as part of their own property and even build structures, (i.e., gazebos).
This prompted the county to send those homeowners notices they were encroaching on public right-of-way, warning that the county was in the legal right to remove any obstructions if it needed to in the future for, but not limited to, road improvement projects.
Some attendees spoke to this.
“I want a conversation about adverse possession, complete blockage of any access to the public right-of-way (on the part of some owners whose property sits in front of the washout),” said Suzanne Dixon.
“Obviously, I do enjoy the low traffic, but that has to be open for use as a recreational corridor,” said local resident and Saugatuck Township Parks Commission Member Dana Burd.
He said there are pedestrians and cyclists, like himself and family members, that live north of the washout that would like easier access to Pier Cove and the West Side County Park via Lakeshore Drive. The two parks are located along the shoreline less than three miles south of the washout.
He urged the township to seek grants to offset any future improvements.
Township officials said they will consider the audiences’ comments in future discussion and eventual solutions.