Thanks To Saugatuck City Manager, Harbor Authority Meeting This Friday At Douglas City Hall Will Now Be Open To The Public
Thanks to the efforts of Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, an initially closed meeting of the Saugatuck-Douglas Harbor Authority scheduled for this Friday with representatives of the engineering firm representing both cities, and state environmental officials, will now be open to the public.
The meeting, to be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Douglas City Hall, will be a workshop session of the harbor authority and no public comments will be permitted, but interested citizens can now be present to learn more about efforts to clean up their local silt-filled harbor.
Douglas City Manager William LeFevere had said Monday during a city council session that Friday’s meeting would be closed to the public despite the fact that there was “nothing secretive” about the planned discussions.
Scheduled to attend the formerly closed meeting are representatives of Edgewater Resources - the engineering firm hired by both Saugatuck and Douglas to study and make recommendations on possible harbor remediation solutions; officials of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes; the local harbor authority and other leaders of the two cities.
Asked to clarify why it was not an open meeting or why the public - which is footing the bill for both cities’ hiring his firm - should not be allowed to attend, Edgewater President Gregory Weykamp told The Local Observer Tuesday:
“It’s not necessarily a ‘closed’ meeting’, but we did want to hold an informal, small workshop session to discuss ideas openly about the possibilities for strategies and the permitting process. This will not constitute a quorum. (If a quorum of government officials attended, Michigan law would require it be open to the public).”
Weykamp described the session as a rare opportunity to meet with state agencies in a less formal setting to dive into issues more profoundly that have previously been discussed, in some fashion or other, in various settings in public formats.
Neither LeFevere nor Weykamp addressed what possible ideas or discussion points could be brought up by the state environmental officials that should result in the the public being barred from attending and hearing about them, especially since any future decisions on the best ways to solve the harbor siltation issues would impact all area residents.
A call by The Local Observer to Harrier Wednesday found the city manager agreeing that there was no apparent reason to close the meeting to the public, and after a quick telephone call to Weykamp, the Saugatuck city manager announced the public could attend.
“We will be putting out a public notice for the meeting tomorrow (Thursday) so it will be an open meeting and anyone can attend,” said Harrier. “It just makes sense to keep the public informed about this important issue whenever we can. There may be reasons in the future to hold closed meetings…but this one is more informational.”
Weykamp said the overall reason for calling for Friday’s meeting is a good one.
“The permitting process is slow and complicated; you don’t actually get specific feedback without submitting a permit application. Rather than have the community invest a lot of time, money, energy on it, we think this strategy (Friday’s session) is a good alternative,” said Weykamp.
An agenda for Friday’s meeting states:
“The main goal of the meeting is to review the draft report sent in December and to continue conversations of strategies to address the sedimentation issues in Kalamazoo Lake.”
I. Review Draft Report Dated December 9, 2015
• Project Alternatives
• Agency Concerns & Comments
II. Upstream Sedimentation Mitigation Strategies
• Agency Input & Assistance
III. Dredge Material Disposal Strategies
• In-Water CDF (confined disposal facility
• Schultz Park
• Agency Creative Solutions/Ideas
IV. Opportunities for Funding/Partnerships
V. Other Community Issues
VI. Other Agency Comments
VII. Next Steps”
In general, Weykamp said meeting participants will be discussing such topics as ways to reduce siltation before it gets downstream to the harbor and where to best locate a possible confined disposal facility (CDF) for dredged siltation, funding sources, and so on.
This Friday’s workshop is by no means a first; Douglas and Saugatuck representatives along with their engineer Edgewater have met with the state regulatory reps on numerous occasions in the past about plans for Kalamazoo Harbor improvements and have done so in the context of open, public meetings.
Still, the process of the cities has not gone without its critics, including R.J. Peterson, owner of the most prominent local marina, Tower Marine.
Peterson says that despite being a consultant to the Michigan State Waterways Commission, the cities’ officials - especially those in Douglas - have presented obstacles to his participation in the harbor improvement planning process.
He says the Edgewater Resources firm is highly influenced by what the cities’ officials dictate and those officials do not have the expertise, knowledge, or network to properly advance the best plan for the harbor and its community.
Some of those same government officials, he added, are also members of the Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority, the body charged with correcting the deterioration of the harbor and its maintenance over time.
Peterson is particularly critical of Douglas city leaders for what he says has been a very strong reluctance on their part to hold meaningful discussions about his proposal to sell his marina to that city for public use, as well as how to deal with the growing siltation problem in the river.
“I have the answers for how to handle the silt problem,” he told the Douglas City Council.
“Money is not the problem, the problem is zero communication. You have refused to meet with me or hold workshops with me and the harbor authority,” he told Douglas leaders.
Douglas officials unequivocally repudiated his claims. “I’ve been there (to your marina to meet with you) two times,” noted Douglas City Council Member Lisa Greenwood, echoing comments from colleagues.
“We don’t need workshops; we get good advice from Edgewater,” asserted Douglas Mayor Jim Wiley. “We tried to communicate and buy your marina, R.J. We respect you and your knowledge, but this (proposal for a public marina) must be a two-way street.”
The back-and-forth arguments are exemplary of events over the last year concerning the issue.
As for Edgewater, Douglas and Saugatuck hired the engineering company last year—each city with its own respective contract with the firm, not together as originally planned under the auspices of the Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority—to create a long-term plan highlighting strategies and identifying funding sources.
Any expenditures and contracts to that end require approval by the two city members before the authority can act on any proposals to deal with the harbor issues.
State officials also have said that Saugatuck Township - which currently has a representative on the harbor authority, but with no voting rights as it has not agreed to allocate any money to address the issues - must be part of the authority if state grants and loans are to be awarded.
After this Friday’s session with the DEQ and Office of the Great Lakes, Weykamp said he hopes to have a long-term harbor plan that is closer to the definitive one and his company can then go before Douglas and Saugatuck councils to say:
“Here are the strategies we are recommending and the most likely to be permitted.
“We want help (from regulatory agencies) on what is going to be the most cost-efficient and effective strategy (to deal with siltation),” said Weykamp.