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Muskegon Winter Sports Complex is open for business

MUSKEGON – With the temperatures being up and down this winter, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex has had to delay their opening.

The facility that offers luge, cross country skiing, ice skating, snow shoeing and more is largely dependent on snow and cold weather to be operational. After a snow storm on Friday, Jan. 17, the Sports Complex was able to open the following day, but was only able to offer cross country skiing and snowshoeing to its customers.

“You get predictions and a forecast that it’s going to be a good winter, or get a really good storm, and nothing happens. So we’ve been waiting on winter, and then this last Friday brought us about six-inches of really good fresh snow. That allowed us to get our snow shoeing and cross country skiing going,” said Dan Bonner, outdoor adventure specialist.

The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex is one of only four luge tracks in all of the United States. Muskegon’s track, however, is shorter in length than the Olympic sized ones in Lake Placid, N.Y. and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The luge track wouldn’t open until Monday, Jan. 19; making the luge available to a visiting Boy Scout group of about 30 people. With a scarcity of snow in the area, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex had to import it from off site to get the luge ready for the season.

“Before we got all this new snow we were going to local parking lots (to get snow). Like a Methodist church in North Muskegon, Laketon Township, a campground at the state park. We basically imported all of our snow into our luge track from all over those areas,” said Bonner.

Bonner said it took about five days to get the luge constructed. Construction, he said, required staff members to pack, shape and freeze snow inside of the track.

“The biggest thing is the construction of the luge takes about five full days,” said Bonner. “It’s not like five eight hour days, it’s like five 14 hour days.”

The final activity to open at the complex was the ice rink, which started Tuesday, Jan. 20.

Even with a delayed opening staff have been busy at the complex. Prior to opening for the season they had to make sure that trails were marked and equipment like skates were ready.

“We are a non-profit organization so we are a small staff, the people that we do have, have a lot of different specialities. We have over 200 acres, and we have to make sure that those acres are ready for people to all of a sudden show up,” said Bonner.

In addition to preparing for the winter the new dual mega zip line is now being tested, and is expected to open to the public sometime in either March or April. Once the zip line opens, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex will have something to offer customers once the temperatures begin to rise again.

The complex has also become more handicap accessible. It received a track chair, which is best described as a motorized wheel chair with army tank treads.

These treads let the user traverse a variety of terrains. This now opens up the ability for people with disabilities to enjoy the ski trails and other types of terrain that was previously inaccessible to them at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex.

There are a number of events happening this year at the sports complex. Some of the more notable ones are The State Games of Michigan Winter Try-athlon on Feb. 2 and the 2020 Parkas and Plates on Feb. 15.

For a full list of events visit: https://www.facebook.com/lugemuskegon/.

Property owner at odds with Montague city manager

MONTAGUE – It is no secret that the lake levels have been unusually high in Michigan, and they aren’t expected to go down any time soon.

One of the people who has been affected by them is Montague resident and property owner Jim Brewer. Brewer owns the property at 4464 Dowling St., which sits alongside the causeway connecting the cities of Whitehall and Montague.

In 2019, the high water spilled out onto the road there a number of times, requiring it to be closed for pumping. It got so bad that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) was forced to close two lanes of the road in October, and install barriers to keep the water at bay.

It isn’t just the road that closes down when the water spills out of the lake, but also Brewer’s parking lot. The high water essentially turns his lot into a swimming pool making it impossible for customers to park.

Formerly, the property was rented out to Steve Crooks, the owner of WaterDog Outfitters. However, Crooks decided the water wasn’t worth dealing with, and plans to move his operation to Whitehall.

Brewer spoke to the Montague City Council on Monday, Jan. 20, to voice his frustration with the city, and it’s city manager Jeff Auch.

“I watched as the waters breached my seawall on the south, and overflow into my parking areas from the county drain on the north and east sides. It nearly missed entering my building. In my 20 years of ownership I have never seen this. Over 12 inches covered the road,” said Brewer who was speaking about a flooding that occurred on Nov.27, 2019.

Brewer said the city spent several thousands of dollars to evacuate water from the road, installing a pump on the property next to his own, and then pumped the water on to his property. He went on to tell the council that he asked Auch to stop pumping the water on to his property, and to move the discharge further back and away from his building.

“So we were trying to, as this was all being set up, to divert that water, and get it out of the parking lot, so that the business could still operate. The issue was, two things, we didn’t have the size of the pump or the distance to pump it all the way back here (Buttermilk Creek), said Auch in an interview with the White Lake Beacon.

“(We) don’t have a big enough pump, MDOT doesn’t have a big enough pump to get it that distance to pump it all that way. So we were only able to pump it to the ridge.”

The ridge Auch is speaking of is a slightly elevated area just between WaterDog, and the vacant medical services building next door. It was believed if the water could have been pumped over that ridge it would have flowed backwards into Buttermilk Creek.

The pump was removed, but Brewer told the council that he’d requested the pump be used to remove water from his parking lot as well. In his recollection of events he said he was told by Auch that the city had been doing him a favor, but were not responsible for removing the water.

“With discussions with them (MDOT), it wasn’t meant as a slight to him (Brewer), both the city and MDOT said worst case scenario if we have to we will put sandbags along the causeway and the easement there. Yes it’s going to temporarily block access, but it will preserve the causeway as a travel corridor,” said Auch.

During Brewer’s speech to the city council he said that he spoke to both Crooks, his tenant, and a civil engineer from MDOT who had both told Brewer that they’d heard he’d demanded the pump be removed. Brewer said this was not the case.

Brewer installed sandbags in his parking lot to build a seawall, but was given a cease-and-desist by the city, and said he was told that he would need a permit. He believes he met the requirements for the reasonable use rule, and did not need a permit from the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy department (EGLE).

“After viewing permit requirements I do not believe I need a permit to extend my wall, or to install the sandbags. I also noted that EGLE permit process takes 60 to 90 days — which I do not have,” said Brewer.

“In my research I also found the state of Michigan also recognizes the reasonable use rule which the state supreme court specifically use for drain and wetland disputes.”

Auch said he doesn’t dispute that the city issued a cease-and-desist against Brewer, or that he might have met the requirements for reasonable use. However, Auch said he or anyone at the city are not authorized to decide if a property owner is meeting those requirements, and had told Brewer to contact EGLE to determine if he met them.

“My understanding of it is that his review of the state criteria for what he would need a permit for he was saying based on what he had looked at that he didn’t need a permit. So his argument, even to the city, that he didn’t need a permit based on what he had reviewed and found out. The city’s standpoint was we need to verify with the permitting agency, we can’t make that judgement call,” said Auch.

Auch would go on to say later, “If he gets the permits to do the things that he is doing, if he doesn’t need permits for the things that he is doing, I’m fine with that.”

Brewer said he did receive an inspection from EGLE, and was found to not need permits for the sand bags he installed, but in waiting for approval may have put his property in future peril.

“Not only has my property been put in peril due to the cease and desist, but the community and businesses also. I am fearful I will not be able to complete the wall and sandbag project before it is too late for my building to be damaged by rising water,” said Brewer.

In his speech to the city council Brewer said he heard the city was taking over ownership of the vacant property next to his own, and that he fears Auch might have ulterior motives to take over his property as well.

“He has told me the city is in the process of taking over ownership of the building next to mine, and the building is considered a blight and will be demolished,” said Brewer.

“When asked what the city is planning on doing with the empty lot I was told that it would be a good location for the retention pond.”

It is Brewer’s suspicion that the takeover has something to do with the city’s campground.

Auch said the city taking over the property has nothing to do with the campground, and that Brewer doesn’t have to worry about his property being condemned.

“So it wasn’t really condemnation, we are working with the U.S. Marshals to work on the med(ical) stop building. They acquired it because we had already cited that property several times for property maintenance issues,” said Auch.

“[...] So it has sort of gone down the process, abandoned building, dangerous structure. His building, no, we aren’t trying to close the building or close the property.”

Auch said what the city wants to do is work with businesses and make sure they stay operational.

Fire authority coming back to voters

It may seem rushed to place a new millage proposal on the March 10 Presidential Primary after voters narrowly defeated a proposal last November, but the White Lake Fire Authority (WLFA) is under a time crunch to fund and build a new fire station to replace its outdated and cramped 66-year-old Station One.

The time crunch is the fire authority must raise the funds for a new Station One before WLFA’s 30-year operating millage expires in 2024, according to Fire Chief Gregory Holman. And, the sooner a new facility is built hopefully the costs of construction won’t increase significantly.

That’s why the new proposal is one year shorter than last November’s five-year millage which was defeated by just 21 votes.

Both proposals are asking for 1.65 mills.

However, the March 10 proposal will only fund an estimated $3 million fire station, while last November’s proposal also included the purchase of two fire trucks to replace aging apparatus. The upcoming proposal is expected to raise $3 million while last November’s would have raised $3.75 million.

Holman said the replacement of the fire trucks was taken off the new proposal to keep the millage the same with one less year. He said relocation of Station One is the most critical need at this time.

“We’re still trying to be fiscally responsible,” he said.

And, Holman said the proposal is being placed on the March 10 ballot because it can tag onto the Presidential Primary ballot to reduce costs of the election for the authority, and so WLFA can begin collecting the millage this year.

“We’d like to start construction of the new fire station this year,” Holman added.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Holman commented on the move to put a millage request on the March 10 ballot. “I understand it’s a lot of millage.” For a homeowner whose dwelling is valued at $100,000 ($50,000 taxable value) the added property tax would be about $82.50 a year.

However, WLFA was encouraged to bring the millage proposal back to voters by many community members because of how close the vote was in November.

Holman said the key to getting the millage passed this time is to educate the voters on the need for a new, relocated fire station.

But, relocating Station One is important at this time, Holman added.

Not only is the current station inadequate because it lacks needed space for the apparatus, it does not have living quarters for the full-time firefighters who stay at the station for their 24-hour shifts and the station is not located for the most efficient coverage of the WLFA’s territory.

When Station One was built in downtown Whitehall in 1954 Holman said the location made sense because the fire department only served the City of Whitehall with a contract to serve adjacent Whitehall township.

When WLFA was formed in 1994 the the territory included the city, and the township’s of Whitehall and Fruitland.

The current Station One is closer to the City of Montague which is served by the Montague Fire Authority District. Holman said Station One is .6 miles from Montague, while it is .9 miles from Whitehall Township using Colby Street as the most direct route, and it is 2.5 miles from Fruitland Township (intersection of Zellar Road and White Lake Drive).

The proposed 4.17 acre site for the new station is on the southeast corner of the City of Whitehall in the industrial park. The site, located at the corner of Ullmans Way and Delaney Drive is one block from Fruitland Township and .75 miles from Whitehall Township on White Lake Drive.

The design and construction of the proposed 12,000 square foot fire station is not changing from the 2019 proposal. Holman said the the apparatus bays will be constructed of a pre-engineered steel structure like the new Viking Athletic Center recently opened by Whitehall District Schools in an effort to keep costs down. The office-living quarters will be stick-built.

The WLFA levies 1.4404 mills for operational costs. The millage was set at 1.5 mills when the authority was formed in 1994, but has been reduced by the Headlee Amendment which reduced the rate when the taxable value increases.

WLFA is the sixth largest fire department in Muskegon County, and last year responded to a record 1,162 alarms for service.

Absentee ballots will soon be available to voters for the March 10 election. According to the Muskegon County Clerk the ballots will be available in a few days. They were supposed to be delivered January 24, but the clerk’s office said the ballot printer is backed up. The ballot language was approved by January 13.

Public Meetings on Millage

Public Meetings

on Millage

The Citizens Supporting the White Lake Fire Authority will be holding two public meetings to explain the 1.65 mill levy proposal which will be on the March 10 ballot.

The four-year millage will provide funds to build a new fire station.

The first open house will be held Wednesday, January 29, 6:00 p.m., at WLFA Station One, 115 S. Baldwin Street, Whitehall. Whitehall Fire Chief Gregory Holman encourages interested residents to attend this meeting because it will be held in the fire station which WLFA hopes to replace with a new station.

The second open house will be held Wednesday, February 5, 6:00 p.m., at Station Two, 4206 Duck Lake Road., Fruitland Township.