SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — The South Haven City Council approved an ordinance that aims to improve beach and pier safety at a meeting on Monday.
Under the new rule, people could be fined for swimming in Lake Michigan during bad conditions.
“This is one more thing that we can do to help educate people as to when it is not an ideal time to be in the water,” said Kate Hosier, city manager.
According to the ordinance, public beaches and piers could be closed for a number of reasons, that include contamination, rescue and recovery efforts, and severe weather.
The city manager, police chief, harbormaster, and the director of the South Haven Area Emergency Services Authority would have the authority to enforce the rule.
People who violate the ordinance could face a fine up to $1,000. It would not apply to board sport recreational individuals who go into the water when it’s high, like surfers or kite boarders.
Hosier said people would be warned before being ticketed.
Last summer, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources approved a similar policy that gives conservation officers the power to ban swimming and ticket people who enter the water during a ban.
The ordinance also calls for the city of South Haven to install gates at pier openings, similar to the ones at Holland State Park.
Gates would be painted the same “safety” blue color as the existing railings. The estimated cost of materials and installation is $20,000.
“There might be areas and there might be times when the beach or the pier need to be closed down for safety reasons and this ordinance does give us some teeth as well as some incentives to not violate those closures when they’re made,” Hosier said.
During a public hearing before the vote, three people spoke against the ordinance.
While all of them said they supported measures that ensured people’s safety, they thought there were flaws with the rule.
According to Hosier, a beach safety committee, that formed after three people died in drowning incidents in 2020, brought forth the ordinance. She says they also have enacted other educational and safety campaigns since their work started.
“We already have our ready flags, we have NIXLE outreach, we have it posted online, and there’s just tons of ways that people can become informed but this is one more step that we can do to further deter incase of people were not aware of those other warning measures,” Hosier said.