Oceana County, just like the rest of the nation and world, felt the fury of the coronavirus as it made its way through the community in 2020.
District #10 Health Department officials attempted to be proactive in heading off the spread of the disease as early as mid-March. The lockdowns and cancellations began a week later, and the health department confirmed the first two cases in Oceana County March 26 and March 28, respectively. A potential “low risk” exposure also was reported at Pentwater Schools just before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shuttered schools statewide. The first death in Oceana County due to COVID-19 was reported in early April. As spring turned into summer, the lockdowns continued with restaurants being forced to provide carryout only and many traditional summertime events canceled, including Oceana County signature events, the National Asparagus Festival and the Oceana County Fair. Even though school students were allowed to return to class in the fall, regular school sporting events were postponed and then postponed again with some high school tournaments still in limbo. As of Dec. 29, the health department reported there have been 1,547 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 40 deaths.
Many new faces will be in place when the new Oceana County Board of Commissioners is seated Jan. 14. Many of the long-time commissioners such as Denny Powers, Dean Gustafson, Jim Brown and Andy Sebolt chose not to seek re-election, and another long tenured commissioner, Larry Byl, lost his reelection bid in the August primary. The new board members include Craig Hardy, Tim Beggs, Ron Christians, Paul Erickson and Phil Morse. The City of Hart elected a new mayor in Vicki Platt and several positions as the township level changed hands, too.
The Village of Shelby saw a number of personnel transitions in 2020. Three staff made the decision to leave village employment this summer; all three were unrelated. In July, former Village Administrator Rob Widigan announced he would be resigning his position to take a job with the City of Lansing. Widigan held the position of village administrator for two years. Prior to his departure, the search for a new police chief was already underway. Chief Robert Farber, who had been employed as village police chief on and off since October 2017, announced he would be retiring as soon as a suitable replacement could be found. Village Administrative Assistant Randy Mahoney also made the decision to move on as well. The village hired an Interim Village Administrator Bill Cousins, a veteran of city government from Ottawa County, in July. Cousins became very instrumental in keeping the village day-to-day operations moving forward, while helping the village hire the next village administrator, a new police chief and administrative assistant. In August, Kelly Omness was hired to replace Mahoney as administrative assistant. By mid-October, retired Muskegon police officer and local resident, Steven Waltz, was hired as the new chief of police. Two weeks later, Brady Selner, of North Muskegon, was hired as the new village administrator.
In June, Emily Stuhldreher, a recent MSU grad from Pickney, joined village staff to fulfill a 15-month fellowship in cooperation with the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM). Since June, Stuhldreher facilitated a land acquisition for a downtown pocket park, participated in the DNR Land and Water Conservation grant process for Getty Park, worked on certification for Shelby’s Redevelopment Ready Community status, helped in preparing Shelby’s 2020 Draft Master Plan for adoption and worked on small improvements to the Hart-Montague Trail, including updating the kiosk with local information.
In July 2020 the Shelby Village Council was made aware of a state-proposed water main extension meant to replace wells at the Peterson Farms Oceana Acres housing complex on Baseline Road. Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE) says the present wells are not a safe long-term solution. A feasibility study conducted in October 2019 determined the pre-design construction cost estimate to be $2.68M.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) have each pledged to contribute $800,000 to the project ($1.6M); the balance (approximately $1.1M) would be paid either through a grant from the USDA/RD or a USDA/RD loan that would be repaid by Peterson Farms. The village has been promised that no village funds will be required for the project and to date no village funds have been committed. In September, Council gave approval for then Interim Village Manager, Bill Cousins, to start the application process for $1.1M loan needed for the balance. An escrow fund has been set up by the various stakeholders to cover costs associated with the grant.
The proposed project has been discussed in great length by the council and stakeholders since hearing about it in July. They recognize that housing is key to attracting and retaining a reliable workforce, however for the council there is still much to consider. Possible future costs to the village and the ability of Shelby’s wells to meet demand for the long term, remain their top two concerns as they move through the process.
For two months, the main artery between the City of Hart and the far west side of the county was shut down while the Michigan Department of Transportation replaced a culvert under Polk Road at Russell Creek. The $1.1 million project began after Labor Day and was wrapped up just before the first of November. Various detours were established to direct residents and visitors into town.