South Haven Tribune
308 Kalamazoo St.
South Haven, MI 49090
It's that time of year
South Haven beaches open for summer season; New swim warning signs installed
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
As Memorial Day draws near and people envision a day at the beach, South Haven Area Emergency Services is turning its attention to ensuring the safety of swimmers.
Emergency Services personnel spent the past week installing 14 new warning flags at South Haven's seven public beaches and water access points.
The flags will replace ones that were installed three years ago as part of the city's ongoing efforts to warn swimmers about the dangers of Lake Michigan's waves, according to Ron Wise, director of South Haven Area Emergency Services.
The new flags are the same colors as the old triangle-shaped ones — red means people should stay out of the water; yellow means swimmers need to use caution, while green indicates calmer waters, but a need to remain cautious. Five flags will be installed at South Beach, four at North Beach, and one each at Woodman Access, Dyckman Access, Packard Park, Newcome Access and Oak Street Access.
But the flags differ from the old ones in other ways. Because some people are color-blind and cannot tell the difference between shades of yellow and green, the words “yellow” and “green” are imprinted on the new flags. The red flag contains a “no-swimming” symbol on it to make it clear that people need to stay out of Lake Michigan during inclement weather.
“The new flags are rectangle which shows the lettering on them much easier than the triangle ones, the triangle shape had a lot less surface area,” Wise said.
In addition to purchasing the new signs, SHAES is also devising a way to number the poles so that if 911 is asked to respond to the report of a drowning, the caller can give them the exact location of the beach where the victim was last seen.
“The number would be on top of the poles to be seen from a distance,” Wise said. “A prototype is being developed and soon to be tested on one of the poles.”
Four interns monitor the flag warning system on a daily basis, from May 15-Sept. 15.
“SHAES interns begin working at 8 a.m. each morning and place the flags on their poles utilizing a Kawasaki Terex to travel across the beaches,” Wise said. The flags are usually placed by 9 a.m. and monitored throughout the day in case the weather changes. SHAES Interns also inspect the safety equipment on the North and South Pier to make sure the throw rings and throw bags have not been damaged or stolen.”
A drowning hasn't occurred at South Haven beaches since June of 2012 when a 3-year-old girl from Kalamazoo died, and first responders hope one won't occur again.
“I really do believe that families with young children use our flag system as a guide,” Wise said. “I realize that the 18 to 30 year olds are not as likely to use it. I compare our flag system with seat belts and helmets, not everyone uses them, but if you give as much information on their safety, you will make a difference. The results are impossible to measure when a loss of life is prevented because of the flag system, (but) it is easy to blame the system when someone does drown in the water because that is a measurable event.”
City officials originally approved installation of the color-coded flag warning system as part of a legal settlement with the family of a man who drowned in Lake Michigan off South Beach in 2009. The settlement also required installation of 911 call boxes at North and South beaches.
But call boxes and warning flags aren't the only methods the city uses to urge caution when entering Lake Michigan.
• 19 signs on public beaches educate swimmers about the dangers of rip currents;
• Signs on the North and South piers inform people about lifesaving devices located on the piers and the city's ordinance that forbids people from diving, jumping or swimming near the piers
• Signs at city beaches explain the flag warning system and what the colors on the flags mean
• Three life rings and throw bags containing 90 feet of rope have been installed on both the South and North piers
• Buoys are placed near the beaches at North Beach, South Beach and Packard Park to mark areas for swimming and jet ski lanes. The buoys, which are placed at a distance from shore not to exceed 8 feet of water or 125-feet from shore, warn boaters to stay away from the swim areas. Although people can swim in the swim area, swimmers should realize the water may be over their head and to exercise caution.
PHOTO: Allison Dean, a summer intern, helps install one of the new warning flags at South Beach. (Photo by Tom Renner)
Keeping an eye on eroding beachfront
Scientist explains coastal erosion during walk along the beach
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
It doesn't take rocket science to know Lake Michigan beaches are shrinking these days, but it might take a coastal scientist to explain why.
Beach lovers will get a chance this week to hear why there's less sand at beaches when a scientist visits Van Buren State Park to discuss coastal erosion.
Dr. Jim Selegean, a hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will lead “Beach Walk With a Scientist,” from 7-8:30 p.m., Thursday at the state park, 23960 Ruggles Road, South Haven. The event will take place rain or shine. Participants should meet at the northwest corner of the park's middle parking lot.
Most people assume Lake Michigan's higher water levels in the past two years are responsible for shrinking beaches, but Selegean, who has been studying coastal issues for the past two decades, said erosion is the main culprit.
“Erosion occurs whenever waves are present on the lake, regardless of water levels,” Selegean said. “During low water, the erosion occurs to a portion of the coastal profile that is underwater, and it usually goes unnoticed. When the lake level rises, the eroding zone moves closer to shore and in many cases begins eroding the dunes or bluff along the shoreline. This erosion is particularly noticeable since many communities have built houses and infrastructure in this zone.”
The ongoing erosion problem coupled with higher lake levels has caused a number of lakeshore homeowners to install stone revetment walls at the edge of their property that faces the lake.
Since 2013, Lake Michigan's water level has increased quite a bit. Above-average snowfall, coupled with cold winters in 2013 and 2014 caused the lake to freeze nearly completely.
“In 2013, there was very high precipitation and runoff to the lakes, especially during the spring,” said Lauren Fry, lead forecaster at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District Office of Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology. “Then, in 2014, there was a combination of above average precipitation and runoff as well as below average evaporation...A combination of below average evaporation and high precipitation and runoff during the late fall and early winter (of 2015) has led to above average (water) supplies.”
Measurements of Lake Michigan's water level in April of this year showed that it is 28 inches higher than April 2014, and 40 inches higher than April 2013.
The higher lake levels this past fall prompted several South Haven beachfront homeowners to install stone revetments. But Selegean cautioned that revetments can actually increase erosion.
“Stone revetments are intended to stop the coastal bluff from eroding,” Selegean said. “These structures, however, have the effect of reducing the sand supply to the beach. Each year, waves in the South Haven area carry sand to the south, ultimately to be deposited at Indiana Dunes. If there is not a regular supply of new sand to the beaches, they will shrink as the waves carry sand to the south.”
The level of the lake, Selegean contends, has very little to do with how fast erosion occurs.
“With the increase in shore protection over the last few decades, the supply has been reduced and beaches have been shrinking, regardless of water levels. Furthermore, it is likely that shore protection will increase as lake levels rise, causing an even greater deficit in the sand budget. This is the most concerning trend to the health of the beaches on Lake Michigan.”
The answer to dealing with erosion lies with restoring the supply of sand through beach nourishment activities that occurred in the mid and late 1990s up and down the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan, according to Selegean. He also thinks that homes should be moved away from bluffs, whenever possible.
“Every time someone builds shore protection, such as the popular stone revetments that have become ubiquitous on Lake Michigan, the neighboring beaches will shrink as the sand supply is incrementally reduced,” he said.
Albemarle plans to stay in South Haven
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Sixteen months after announcing plans to sell its plant in South Haven, Albemarle Corp. has changed its mind and will retain ownership of the 160-employee facility on Kalamazoo Street.
“That's good news,” said South Haven Mayor Bob Burr, who met with Albemarle's officials in South Haven, Wednesday, along with other community leaders to discuss the matter.
News of the Baton Rouge-La.-based company's decision to keep its South Haven plant means local employees can focus on their jobs without having to worry about a pending sale, according to Albemarle's South Haven Plant Manager David Russell.
“We're happy to to be a part of Albemarle,” he said. “To finally find out the company decided not to sell was calming for employees. I give a lot of credit to people that they did not allow the unknown of the sale affect productivity. That's a real testament to the people who work here.”
Albemarle Corp. announced plans in January of 2015 to sell its Fine Chemicals division and focus on its core businesses that involve bromine, lithium and surface treatments.
As a result, the company announced plans to sell the South Haven plant, which produces pharmaceuticals; a plant in Tyrone, Pa.; and a research and development facility in Baton Rouge to pay down debt from its $6 billion acquisition in 2014 of Rockwood Holdings Inc.
However, corporate officials did not like the bids that were received and changed their mind, announcing in April they would retain the Fine Chemicals Division as a stand-alone business.
“They just didn't get the value they wanted,” Russell said.
Although the Fine Chemical Division is a small portion of Albemarle's business portfolio, it remains profitable, according to Russell, who pointed out that more stringent federal regulations on imported generic drugs is starting to give American pharmaceutical manufacturers a competitive edge.
“It's a good business to be in,” he said.
Albemarle Corp.'s first-quarter earnings report, released earlier this month, indicated net sales in the first quarter of this year were up 7 percent over the same period in 2015, excluding the impact of divestitures and unfavorable currency exchange impacts
“I am very pleased with our start to 2016,” said Luke Kissam, Albermarle's president and CEO in a news release. "All of our businesses improved profitability year over year...With that start to the year, we are positioned in 2016 to deliver growth in our core businesses and an increase in free cash flow over 2015.”
South Haven sells former Bohn factory
New owners plan to redevelop site
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
A South Haven couple is buying the 16.8-acre, former Bohn Piston plant site from the city, with redevelopment plans in mind.
The city Local Development Finance Authority, which owns the property, voted to approve the sale to the Lukela Group LLC for $338,338 last week.
Lukela is owned by Sean and Renee Russell, both South Haven High School graduates. In the short-term, they plan to make improvements and use space for climate-controlled commercial boat and RV storage.
Their long-term goal is to attract manufacturers to the site, which is one of the last industrial spaces in the city. The Bohn plant closed 20 years ago.
The project was described to the LDFA as a $3.4 million proposal with the potential to generate 116 or more full-time, permanent jobs.
"We hope to attract the right entity to use that space," Sean Russell said. "We're talking about a multi-year project to get to the end state."
There are three main buildings left on the site, and one may be demolished due to its poor condition, he added.
"We're pretty excited," Renee Russell said. "It's been vacant for quite a while. It's a challenging property, for sure. Our big thing, long-term, is to try to find a best use for it, creating value to the community. There's a lot of potential for commercial/industrial use. We're definitely excited about the opportunity. The city has been really great to work with."
The city's Local Development Finance Authority bought the former factory site in early 2013 for $1.3 million. It initially put the property up for sale for $750,000.
"On behalf of the LDFA board, I am pleased to see the sale of 220 Aylworth moving forward," said board Chairman Art Bolt. "The LDFA has worked for years to assist with the redevelopment of this property and I believe that we have found the right team to complete the revitalization of the site. We wish them complete success."
City Manager Brian Dissette said he expected the city would lose money on the sale, but there are greater benefits at stake. They include getting the property back on the tax rolls, creating jobs and additional water, sewer and electric revenues, he said.
In 2010, the property was appraised at $1.5 million. The city bought the site for $1.3 million as part of a legal settlement with former owner Steve Larsen and his company South Haven Redevelopment LLC.
Under the agreement, Larsen dropped his lawsuit seeking more than $100 million from the city related to his unsuccessful efforts to redevelop the former Bohn plant over the years.
The site has been idle since the Bohn plant closed in 1996.
Larsen's suit alleged that city officials blocked his efforts to redevelop the Bohn plant site between 1999 and 2011. It alleged a "consistent and continuous pattern of bad faith and misconduct," resulting in economic losses.
This is the second time the city has bought and sold a former Bohn site with the intention of redeveloping it. In 2005, the city had a former Bohn warehouse on Kalamazoo Street downtown demolished. The city later sold half the site for development of Verano Place condominiums, and used the other half of the property for a new public parking lot.
City council OK's new short-term rental ordinance
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
After months of meetings and public hearings, South Haven city officials have put their stamp of approval on a new short-term rental registration ordinance, but they predict it won't make everybody happy. In fact, some council members expect the new rules will be legally challenged.
The city will now require short-term rental owners to register their properties, and there will be limits on how many renters can stay in homes. City officials hope the registration and occupancy caps will help them gather data on just how many vacation rentals there are in South Haven. After the data is gathered, there may be modifications to the rental ordinance later this year.
There will be different occupancy caps for rental properties, based on the zoning district, previous rental history and other factors.
For existing rental properties in the city's three single-family residential districts, the cap would be 16 people. Kids under 2 wouldn't be counted. New rental properties in those three zones would be capped at 12, however.
For other residential districts and B-3 commercial districts, the property owner could apply to get a cap of 24 retners. To get that higher cap the home would have to have automatic sprinklers on every floor and meet commercial-style safety and fire codes regulations.
The occupancy caps will be based on two people per bedroom and two more people per floor. For example, a three-bedroom ranch house couldn't be rented to more than eight people under any circumstances. Kids under 2 won't be counted.
A proposal to ban any new rentals in properties over 3,500 square feet in the three single-family residential districts was eliminated from the proposal Monday night with a 6-1 vote.
The city defines short-term rentals as between 2 nights and a month. The occupancy caps will go into effect next year.
The council then voted 6-1 to approve the changes to the zoning ordinance.
Voting yes were Mayor Bob Burr and Councilmen Scott Smith, Jeff Arnold, Clark Gruber, Andy Klavins and Vickiy Kozlik Wall.
Steven Schlack voted "no". He said he feels the city has enough regulations on the books now to handle any issues that may arise from problems with short-term rentals.
More than a dozen people spoke during the public hearing, with most of them in favor of some kind of regulations but not this exact proposal.
Resident Joan Hiddema submitted more petitions to the city urging the occupancy cap to be lowered to 10 and to not allow rentals of less than a week. That brings the total number of signatures on the petitions to 285, she said.
Real estate agent Jay DeBruyn cautioned the council that the proposal is so broad that it may deprive property owners of their property rights.
"Tourism is our number one industry," he said. "It's strengthening our neighborhoods, not tearing them down."
Resident Susan Ryan spoke about her concerns over fire safety in rental properties, in relation to the proposed occupancy caps..
"Tourism is important, but all lives matter," Ryan said. "What is a life worth? We may soon find out."
James Clark of LaGrange, Ill., said he plans to build a large new house in the city but is concerned that the regulations will hurt his ability to sell it in the future.
Councilman Klavins predicts there will be lawsuits over the proposal.
Attorney Rebecca Strauss, representing Linda Lamb, who owns a large rental home at 51 Cass St.,
said legal action will be taken if any limitations are placed on her client's ability to rent out her home as she sees fit.
"She has a right to rent that home without restrictions," Strauss said.
Most council members said they feel the new regulations are a good, reasonable compromise to address the short-term vacation rentals issue.
"I think this is a good compromise," Councilman Clark Gruber said. "We're not banning rentals. This will help us collect some data."
Councilman Scott Smith added: "This is about compromise. We're trying to find that balance. We're not going to make everyone in this room happy. But it's a starting point."
City officials said earlier the city this fall will undergo a master land use plan review, and data on short-term rentals collected through the new ordinance will be used at that time to determine what changes in rules are needed. A public hearing will be required before any changes are made.
Zoning Administrator Linda Anderson said the city plans a mass mailing on the new regulations to be sent out to all property owners. The council hasn't set a rental registration fee yet, so anyone who registers before June 1 won't have to pay a fee, she said.
By June 1, the council will set a registration fee, she added.
South Haven Schools on fast track to integrate technology
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
How technology will be woven into the ongoing, bond-funded high school remodeling and expansion project is coming into clearer focus.
The school board last week heard a detailed presented on what will be the high school's "Integrated Learning Center" from its director, Danielle Hendry.
The room will be combination of virtual learning lab, video production studio and flexible educational space for both students and teachers, she said.
Students will be able to take online advance placement and college courses, while others may visit the center to do remediation work at their own pace on a computer, she said.
The center is also designed with teachers in mind, Hendry said. Some professional development sessions could be held there and teachers will be able to work with Hendry on special class projects.
Another goal is to allow the public to use the center too, she said. Home-school children will also be able to take advantage of it, she said.
She hopes the center will be a magnet to bring in "Schools of Choice" students from other districts.
"South Haven will be a leader in instructional technology," she said.
In a related area, the board voted to approve a recommendation for the design of what has been a traditional high school wood shop, adding new high-tech elements such as 3-D printers, laser engravers and other computer-assisted design machines.
It is being called a "Fab Lab," a term for fabrication laboratory.
It will actually cost the district less to upgrade the space - at an estimated cost of $304,980 - because if it kept the traditional wood shop it would have to upgrade the dust collection and ventilation system to bring it up to modern codes, said Kevin Dee, director of noninstructional services.
"It will be like a hands-on engineering center," Dee said.
The board last week also authorized Dee to buy up to $283,000 worth of computer devices for students, classrooms and teachers, through a state bidding process. The district will likely buy up to 800 devices, and possibly more, Dee said.
They will be funded through a combination of bond funds and the district technology fund, he said.
The new devices will include Chromebooks for all high school students; high school CAD lab computers; core subject classroom computers for the middle school; Chromebooks for teachers; and replacement computers for teachers at the middle school and high school.
The superintendent presented North Shore Elementary fifth-grader Camborley Gleason the Student of the Month Award.
Lincoln second-grade teacher Susan Meyer received a Pride Award, and high school math teacher Madelyne Bettis was given the Golden Keyboard Award for her use of technology.
Herrera also introduced this year's district nominations for the Van Buren Intermediate School District's Educational Heroes Awards. They are pre-kindergarten teacher Joyce Weber and paraprofessional Arlene Campbell.
South Haven principal placed on leave
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
South Haven school board President Bryan Lewis has placed the middle school principal on a paid leave of absence. The action is related to an ongoing investigation regarding a May 2015 incident regarding the state M-STEP test, and possible inappropriate actions by Principal Bill Stitt related to it. In a message to Baseline Middle School staff Wednesday, Lewis said he has placed Stitt on indefinite paid “non-disciplinary administrative leave.” Stitt was given a handdelivered note shortly after the start of school Wednesday ordering him to leave and not go on school property or talk to district employees, he said. The note said there will be a meeting Friday at the district administration center with an investigator, Stitt said. Lewis’ decision follows the completion of a report regarding an investigation by Thrun Law Firm into the M-STEP issue, in which a teacher had emailed test topics to other school staff. The state Department of Education determined there was a violation of testing protocol. In January, Superintendent Bob Herrera suspended Stitt without pay for one day for his handling of the testing issue. Stitt asked for a public hearing before the school board’s Personnel Committee, which voted 2-1 to not reinstate Stitt’s pay for that day. The recent Thrun Law Firm report concluded Herrera had not acted in retaliation when he suspended Stitt. But Lewis said the report “uncovered additional concerns that require further investigation.” Thrun Law “expressed significant concerns regarding Stitt’s working relationship” with Herrrera, Lewis said. The report indicated Stitt “had engaged in potentially inappropriate behavior with regard to the superintendent,” Lewis said. In his summary, Lewis said the investigation showed Stitt had used district time and resources to communicate with a former district employee, and the two of them “discussed recording conversations with Superintendent Herrera, which may be illegal.” Also, the former employee “also offered to gather individuals at board meetings to vouch for Dr. Stitt, and she criticized Superintendent Herrera in profane terms. The general direction of the correspondence was to actively attempt to undermine and attack the superintendent,” Lewis said in the summary.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Stitt said no illegal actions were taken.
Lewis said that the superintendent typically has the authority to place an administrator on leave, but in this case the law firm recommended he take the action because the superintendent is involved in the ongoing investigation.
He consulted with the board vice president, secretary and treasurer before making his decision, he said.
“I let them know what the recommendation from our law firm was,” he said.
The school board policies “do give the discretion for the board president to take over such matters,” he said.
This is not a police investigation, Lewis stressed. Thrun Law is leading the investigation and will be using a third-party, independent investigator, Lewis said.
Lewis stressed this is not a “suspension.”
“He’s not being suspended. It’s a leave of absence. It does not mean there’s anything wrong.”
In the January hearing, Herrera said Stitt incorrectly concluded no violations were made when middle school teacher Cheri Stein emailed information about some of the M-STEP testing concepts from a sample test.
Herrera said he contacted a state Department of Education official, who said there was a security guideline violation when Stein’s email went out in May 2015.
At the time, Herrera said Stitt’s report on the incident provided to him in December had “inaccurate statements,” “did not follow the district’s investigatory protocol” and and Stitt “came to an inappropriate conclusion, or difference of opinion.”
The board discussed the Thrun Law report in closed session at its May 4 meeting.
Herrera disciplined Stein and district testing coordinator Carey Frost over the incident.
Stitt has been principal for three years.
The superintendent declined to comment.
PHOTO: Baseline Middle School Principal Bill Stitt
45 years and counting
South Haven man one of Elks' longest-running Hoop Shoot contest organizers
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Even though Gary Smith retired 34 years ago as a teacher and administrator at South Haven Public Schools, he's still a familiar face to many youngsters.
Each winter, Smith spends his mornings teaching students at North Shore Elementary and Baseline Middle School how to shoot free throws through a basketball hoop.
He does so as part of the annual Elks National Foundation Hoop Shoot competition.
For the past 45 years, Smith has taught youngsters the finer points of making a free throw, while getting them ready to compete in the local contest, which is sponsored by the South Haven Elks lodge. The winners of the South Haven competition move on to compete at the district, state and eventually the national contest, if they're lucky enough to do so.
“I started in 1971,” Smith said. “I was the first Hoop Shoot chairman for the Elks lodge, I started with 35-40 kids. This year we had nearly 400 athletes compete in the contest. Being chairman for the contest has been an ever-changing role.”
When Smith first organized the local contest he worked as an educator at South Haven schools and then later as an employee at Palisades Nuclear Power Plant before retiring in 2002.
But in 2004, he had more time on his hands and worked out an arrangement to meet with North Shore and Baseline students each day, Monday through Friday, from December through mid-March.
“I open the gym every morning for 45 minutes before school starts at North Shore. At lunchtime I go over to the middle school,” Smith said. “That's how I can have 300-400 kids participate. Everybody has a chance.”
Once the long list of competitors is whittled down, the local contest takes place. Girls and boys compete in four age categories — 8-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-older. Each contestant shoots 25 free-throw attempts. The one who makes the most shots wins. This year's winners at the local contest in January were Katelyn Foley and Evan Jackson, 8-9; Kayley Gorham and Raymond Parks, 10-11; Niaah Harmon and Xavier Ward, 12-13; and Mikayla Woodard and Dale Edwards, 14-older.
This year's local winners advanced to the district competition in February but were not able to advance to the state level, however, Smith fondly remembers some of the previous contestants who did.
“When Alaina Johnson (who plays on the South Haven High School varsity basketball team) competed, she tied for first place at the state competition. So they had a shoot-off,” Smith recalled. “Both girls then had five attempts to make a free throw. Each girl made all five. So they had to do it again. Alaina went first and missed the first shot but made the rest. The other girl won though, because she made all five.”
Another Hoop Shoot contestant, Bobbie Goodwin made it to the state competition three years in a row. Goodwin, who was named first team all-conference in 2015 for the Rams girls basketball team, now attends Siena Heights College where she competes on the track team.
Smith also has other fond memories, such as the time twins Marnie and Kate Frost (now South Haven High School freshmen) competed in the local contest. “Kate made 21 of 25 free throws and Marnie made 20 of 25,” Smith said. “So Kate won and Marnie came in second. When I told them, Kate cried for her sister. That was a very emotional moment.”
Smith's dedication to the Hoop Shoot competition has become somewhat legendary within the Elks ranks. Barbara Dotson, secretary of the South Haven Elks Club, said Smith holds the Elks' national record for serving the longest time — 45 years — as a Hoop Shoot chairperson.
“Gary runs our Hoop Shoot much differently than other lodges,” Dotson said. “Other lodges put information about what the Hoop Shoot is and the location. When kids show up, they conduct their competition. Gary takes the time to teach our kids how to shoot and gives them plenty of practice time. He devotes many hours of his time to do this and then transports the local winners to the district contest.”
Smith, indeed, takes a lot of pride in teaching youngsters the fundamentals of basketball, even if they're only interested in learning how to shoot free throws.
“I enjoy seeing the smiles on the kids' faces,” he said. “Competition brings out the best in kids. It gives them the opportunity to excel at something.”
And even though Smith is 77, he's not giving any thought of giving up his volunteer role as Hoop Shoot coordinator.
“As long as I'm physically able, I'm planning on doing it,” he said.
Bangor man accepts plea deal
Blackston pleads guilty to second-degree murder for 1988 slaying
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
PAW PAW — Junior Fred Blackston of Bangor has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 1988 slaying of Charles Paul Miller.
He accepted a plea deal last month, so his new murder trial in Van Buren Circuit Court was cancelled. The trial had been scheduled to start last week.
Blackston, 47, had previously been convicted twice for first-degree murder in the case - in 2001 and 2002 - and had been sentenced to life in prison without parole.
But a federal judge late last year ordered a new trial for Blackston in an appeals case that alleged he was not given fair trials the first time around.
Blackston will be sentenced July 11.
His lawyer, Randall Levine, Kalamazoo, said the plea deal will allow Blackston to be paroled in four years and out of prison in five years if he's not paroled a year earlier.
The deal takes into account that Blackston has already been in prison for 18 years, Levine said.
Blackston will also be compelled to give truthful testimony in this summer's trial of one of the two alleged accomplices in the Miller slaying — Guy Carl Simpson. Simpson's trial is set to begin June 28.
"I think it was a good deal for both the government and Mr. Blackston," Levine said last week of the plea agreement.
Van Buren County Prosecutor Mike Bedford noted that during Blackston's first trial 15 years ago, the prosecution offered a plea deal involving second-degree murder, but Blackston didn't take it.
Police allege that Blackston, Simpson and William Dean Lamb lured Miller to a wooded area north of Grand Junction and that Miller was shot and killed over a drug debt. The body was found in a shallow grave in Allegan County's Lee Township in 2000.
Lamb pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to 10-15 years in the case.
Simpson is being tried because his earlier plea agreement, in which he agreed to testify against Blackston in the 2002 trial, was negated when he refused to testify against Blackston.
Traffic deaths increase in Michigan
Michigan traffic deaths, which had been trending downward, jumped 10 percent last year, up from 876 in 2014 to 963 in 2015, according to latest information from the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center. Alcohol-involved, bicyclist, teen, and motorcyclist traffic deaths were all up more than 20 percent.
“Now that the crash data for 2015 is finalized, the next step is to work with our partners at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to identify factors that may have played a role in these increases,” said Michael L. Prince, Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning director. “There are a lot of socio/economic and environmental variables that can affect these numbers, including the economy, gas prices, changes in travel habits, weather, as well as driver behavior.”
The largest increase was among bicyclist fatalities, up 57 percent from 21 in 2014 to 33 in 2015.
Other significant increases were noted among motorcyclists and alcohol-involved traffic deaths. Motorcyclist fatalities were up 29 percent, from 107 in 2014 to138 in 2015. Alcohol-involved fatalities were up 28 percent, from 236 in 2014 to 303 in 2015. Drug-involved fatal crashes spiked 19 percent, up from 150 in 2014 to 179 in 2015. And teen traffic deaths (ages 13-19) were up 23 percent, from 80 in 2014 to 98 in 2015.
Despite increase in nearly all areas, commercial motor vehicle-involved fatalities dropped 19 percent, down from 105 in 2014 to 85 in 2015.
In other areas:
• Pedestrian fatalities increased 15 percent, from 148 in 2014 to 170 in 2015.
• Cell phone-involved crashes increased 13 percent, from 666 in 2014 to 753 in 2015.
• Deer-involved crashes increased 3 percent, up from 45,690 in 2014 to 47,001 in 2015.
A dream come true
South Haven ministry's job program links interns with area employers
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Most people think of We Care human service ministry as an organization that provides food and clothing to people in need.
That's what Angela Rose of South Haven thought several months ago when she went to We Care's food pantry to obtain groceries for her family.
“I wasn't working at the time and was going there for assistance,” said Rose, who had recently moved from Texas to South Haven.
By the time Rose left the food pantry, she not only had groceries, but a job opportunity, as well.
Rose is one of nearly a dozen people from the South Haven area who have obtained 20-week internships through the human ministry's new We Care to Work program.
We Care launched the program a year ago after receiving a $15,000 grant from the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies and matching it with funds from two anonymous donors. The ministry's staff and volunteers then got busy developing partnerships with local businesses to provide entry-level internships for unemployed and underemployed people.
“There are 20 businesses we are working with who have 33 positions we're recruiting for,” said Rachel Sankofski, We Care's Business Partnerships coordinator. “We're now getting to the point of fulfilling our dream of providing a non-profit employment service.”
Job opportunities range from bank tellers to lawn maintenance and from retail clerks to daycare assistants.
As part of the program, We Care screens candidates for prospective employers and provides half of the interns' wages and employee withholding taxes.
KidZone Preschool and Childcare Center at Lake Michigan College is one of the businesses that decided to be part of We Care to Work.
“It's all about helping people get back on their feet,” said Teresa Hosier, office manager at KidZone.
Hosier was one of the first employers who agreed to be part of the program and has hired two interns. She first hired Brenda Mata-Aguirre as an assistant daycare teacher last year and has been employing Angela Rose for the past month.
Mata-Aguirre's internship ended in December, but Hosier and KidZone director Lindsay Woolcock decided to offer her a part-time job as a teaching assistant and even volunteered to help her obtain a Child Development Associate certificate through Lake Michigan College.
“The more training she gets, the better it is for us,” Hosier said. “If Angela ends up staying we'll do the same for her.”
Mata-Aguirre's transition from intern to employee is a fete that We Care hopes all of its work program participants can achieve.
“Our goals are to ultimately help people obtain gainful employment and build a stronger economy and community,” Sankofski said.
Working with businesses to provide entry level jobs to local residents isn't the only aspect of the We Care to Work program, however.
We Care also seeks business owners who can help fund the program or who want to help mentor people seeking employment.
Currently, a total of 40 South Haven area businesses are involved in We Care to Work, either by offering internships, providing mentoring or helping to fund the program. For more information about We Care to Work, contact We Care, 637-4342.
PHOTO: Assistant teachers Angela Rose (second from left) and Brenda Mata-Aguirre (second from right) work with children at KidZone Preschool and Childcare Center at Lake Michigan College in South Haven. (Tribune photo)
LMC president out of a job after 3 months
By TONY WITTKOWSKI
HP Staff Writer
BENTON TOWNSHIP — Jennifer Spielvogel is out as president for Lake Michigan College.
Three months after taking office, LMC’s Board of Trustees terminated Spielvogel’s contract following a nearly two-hour just cause hearing this past Thursday. Trustees cited policy violations, improper conduct, improper management behavior, a lack of professionalism, providing inadequate goals and incurring $20,625 in unauthorized costs charged to LMC.
The hearing was in the Hanson Theatre at LMC’s Mendel Center to accommodate the more than 100 people in attendance. Seated at a table facing the board with a camera focused on her, Spielvogel remained mostly quiet – occasionally speaking in asides with her lawyer.
Among the board’s main concerns was Spielvogel’s behavior, which board Chairwoman Mary Jo Tomasini said created a hostile work environment. An investigation was conducted after Spielvogel’s first two months in office, which included looking over expense documents and interviewing colleagues who had issued complaints on her job performance.
According to witness statements collected at the April 8 special meeting that led to Spielvogel’s suspension, LMC’s president allegedly made defamatory comments regarding board members, community members, college officers and employees. Tomasini said Spielvogel admitted to making inappropriate comments when asked by the board and LMC’s lawyer.
Tomasini said Spielvogel engaged in behavior that could have placed LMC in jeopardy of lawsuits and she intentionally created a hostile environment by altering an employee’s job duties to make her to quit. Spielvogel also related a plan to force another employee to quit or retire, Tomasini said.
“We did not lose anybody, but they were not in good shape,” Tomasini said after the hearing. “They were polishing up their resumes.”
Spielvogel and her lawyer, Bradley Glazier, were given the stage after opening comments from Tomasini. Glazier said the hearing was a farce because neither he or Spielvogel could cross examine the witnesses that trustees spoke to during the April meeting.
Both Glazier and Spielvogel said their argument was unnecessary because the board had already made its decision.
“Only 17 days after I started as president, members of the board and cabinet began keeping notes on my actions and my words,” Spielvogel said during the hearing. “It is still unknown to me who the architect of the undercover work was. Perhaps she or they will one day have the courage to show themselves and offer an explanation.”
Spielvogel added: “I was not given the chance to correct or refute the list of misstatements and non-truths that were created. The notes were twisted to look like (just) cause.”
Spielvogel, who became president Jan. 1, said the board tried to usurp her from office after she allegedly discovered LMC was out of compliance with regulations with the U.S. Department of Education – the federal agency that regulates financial aid for students. Spielvogel said she told Tomasini about the non-compliance issue prior to a March 22 board meeting.
“As a new leader, I thought the best course of action was to address these issues,” she said. “Apparently, it was not in my best interest to pursue corrective action because soon after I told the board chair about the issues, the board’s attorney solicited those notes from members of my cabinet and the board to use as justification of my termination.”
Tomasini said she had no recollection of speaking with Spielvogel about any financial aid compliance issue before the meeting.
“I recall a lot of things about that meeting, but not that. This morning was the first time myself and the board heard there’s any trouble with financial aid,” Tomasini said. “We had hired consultants to advise us and to see what our process looks like. But we haven’t gotten the results of any report and no concerns have been brought to the board yet.”
LMC on Thursday night issued a statement saying it can’t speak directly to Spielvogel’s allegations until it gets more specifics.
“But LMC has a solid history working with student financial aid programs and resources,” the statement said. “LMC has been in the process of doing routine evaluations and assessments of all our student service functions, and we’re always looking for ways to improve, but we have no reason to believe this morning’s remarks should cause students, families or employees any concern whatsoever.”
The statement said LMC each year participates in a Single Audit, or “A-133,” audit, “a rigorous, organization-wide examination performed by an independent certified public accounting firm for the purpose of providing assurance to the U.S. federal government that we are managing financial aid and other government funds appropriately. It encompasses both financial and compliance components and is submitted to the Federal Audit Clearinghouse.”
LMC said it reviewed the last 15 years of A-133 reports and they are in accordance with accounting principles and there are no instances of noncompliance.
‘Time to mend’
There have been no conversations about hiring an interim president. Administrative responsibilities will fall on the cabinet and trustees until a new president is selected.
“It allows us to move forward and heal the damage that was done over the last 90 days,” Tomasini said. “The good news is it was only 90 days. We have a team that has been wounded by her leadership. It’s time to mend that.”
Before the board unanimously voted for Spielvogel’s dismissal, Trustee Stephen Small asked other board members if the damage was beyond repair between the president and other administrators.
“My concern is with a remedy. Whether this presidency is salvageable or not, people have been hurt,” Small said. “The relationship between the president and the board has been poisoned. My questions is can we get Humpty Dumpty back together again?”
A second motion was later made to commence action seeking reimbursement from Spielvogel for the $20,625 in unapproved expenses she incurred. Among the documented expenses, the board alleged she was planning a large inauguration, renovations to the president’s office and bought a chain of office medallion. The board first became concerned when reviewing expense requests for Spielvogel.
The board scheduled a 3 p.m. meeting for May 16 to determine its next steps in handling Spielvogel’s termination. Spielvogel is now off the LMC payroll as college officials say the college is fully insured to cover any potential forthcoming legal expenses.
Glazier said his client’s next step is to take the board’s decision to the Court of Claims, where Spielvogel can argue for payment for her contract that ends June 30, 2018. LMC officials have stipulated before that if the college should terminate Spielvogel for just cause, then the institution is under no obligation to award severance compensation or continue any fringe benefits provided by her contract.
Hearing set for vacation rental home ordinance
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
While South Haven officials are getting close to enacting short-term rentals regulations, more changes to the proposal are possible.
The City Council last week voted 5-1, with one member absent, to introduce the ordinance and set a public hearing, May 16, on the final set of proposed regulations.
The proposal includes required rental registration and occupancy limits for vacation rental homes.
But city attorney Catherine Mish, of Dickenson Wright, Grand Rapids, stressed that the council will be able to make changes to the proposal at the May 16 meeting, even if they're made after the public hearing.
If the latest proposal were to be adopted, there would be different occupancy caps for rental properties, based on the zoning district, previous rental history and other factors.
Existing rental properties in the city's three single-family residential districts would be allowed to house up to 16 people. The cap would not apply to children under the age of 2.
New rental properties in those three zones would only be allowed to house up to 12 occupants, however.
For other residential districts and B-3 commercial districts, the property owner could apply to have up to 24 renters at a time. But, to do so, vacation rental home owners would have to install automatic sprinklers on every floor and meet commercial safety and fire codes regulations.
Citizens comments made Monday night show some people think the proposed occupancy caps are too high, while some think they are too low.
Several citizens said they liked the previous proposed, recommended by the Planning Commission, to not include renters under 6 in the occupancy counts. Other residents want occupancy limits on newly built homes capped at 10.
But based on input from the city council and citizens Monday night, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the latest proposal is whether to ban any new rentals in properties over 3,500 square feet in the three single-family residential districts.
That would apply to new construction or expansion of a house.
Councilwoman Vickiy Kozlik Wall said she doesn't understand why the city would stifle the construction of larger homes, and is concerned about large new homeowners who have trouble selling their properties because they couldn't be rented on a short-term basis. The city defines short-term rentals as between 2 nights and a month.
"I think it's a bad idea," she said. "This is not something I agree with at all. I don't think it's right."
She cast the only "no" vote to introduce the ordinance and set the public hearing.
Voting yes were Mayor Bob Burr and Councilmen Scott Smith, Jeff Arnold, Clark Gruber and Steve Schlack. Councilman Andy Klavins was absent.
Resident Susan Ryan was among those who spoke in favor of lowering the occupancy cap to 10.
"Tourists will come to South Haven regardless of the occupancy cap," she said.
City Planning Commissioner Bill Fries spoke against the prohibition of new large rentals in single-family districts, saying it would cause "unintended circumstances."
Real estate agent Jay DeBruyn was among those opposing the lowering of renter age to 2 years and under, for occupancy count purposes. He prefers the planners' recommended age of 6 and younger
Meanwhile, the council voted 4-2 to extend the moratorium on the construction of large new homes intended for short-term rentals through May 31. The moratorium had been set to expire May 16.
Kozlik Wall and Schlack voted "no."
When a short-term rental ordinance is adopted, city officials said data collected from registrations will be used when the city reviews its master land-use plan in the fall. The data used will determine what changes might be needed to the short-term rental ordinance in the future.
Voters recall Covert school board president
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
COVERT — A marijuana arrest has cost Covert school board President Diana Parrigin her seat on the board, 13 months after the arrest.
District voters last week recalled Parrigin, by electing recall organizer Val Bury in her place. Bury won over Parrigin 195-50 on May 3.
Bury, a former Covert school board member, submitted 168 valid petitions to force the election.
The recall effort stems from Parrigin's arrest for marijuana possession in March 2015, and subsequent refusal to step down as president. Parrigin pleaded no contest to the charge.
The Covert school board in April 2015 could not get enough votes to pass a resolution asking Parrigin to resign as president. Parrigin has been president since January 2015.
Bury is a retired educator who served on the Covert school board for four years in the late 1980s. She retired from Hartford schools, where she worked in a computer lab; and had previously been a Coloma schools paraprofessional.
Just under 13 percent of the district's voters cast votes.
After the results were announced, Bury thanked those who came out to vote for her.
"It takes a village to move a mountain, and we moved the mountain," Bury said.
Murder verdict reached a second time for defendent
By JULIE SWIDWA
HP Staff Writer
PAW PAW — A convicted killer who last fall won a new trial in a Michigan Supreme Court ruling has been found guilty for a second time. A Van Buren County jury deliberated more than a day before finding Antonio Lewis, 37, guilty of second- degree murder in the death of his half-brother, Ivory Shaver III, in November 2011. Lewis was convicted in 2013 and last fall won a new trial based on his appeals claim that he was not allowed to represent himself in his first trial. The Michigan Court of Appeals had denied his appeal, which he then took to the state Supreme Court. The higher court ruled in his favor Despite the nature of his appeal, he did not represent himself this time either, but was represented by court-appointed lawyer Gary Stewart of Paw Paw. The case was heard by Van Buren County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Brickley. The trial started April 20 and lasted about a week before going to the jury at about 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 27. The jury deliberated an hour on Wednesday, all day Thursday, April 28 and for about 30 minutes Friday morning, April 29 before returning with the guilty verdict. Second-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Brickley, who in 2013 sentenced Lewis to 39 to 80 years for his first conviction, will sentence him again June 13. Shaver, Lewis and their girlfriends had lived together at a house in Geneva Township, and Shaver went missing in November 2011. His body was found in a farm ditch in Covert Township in 2012. In his opening statement to the jury, Stewart said the autopsy on Shaver was inconclusive as to the cause and manner of death, and the death had not been ruled a homicide. He said there were no witnesses or direct evidence leading to Lewis. But Assistant County Prosecutor Keith Robinson told the jury Lewis had implicated himself by changing his stories when talking to police early in the case. He said Lewis at first told police he’d seen Shaver leaving the house in a green car owned by Shaver’s girlfriend. Later he said he saw Shaver walk away from the house. He said there were other inconsistencies in Lewis’ statements to police, as well as a recorded phone conversation between Lewis and another man in which Lewis said he was angry at Shaver. Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa
Voters approve road millage for City of Bangor
Bangor city voters approved a five-year, 1.5-mill road levy that will generate an estimated $39,837 annually for road projects. It was approved 97-32. The city hasn't had a road tax before.
Bangor Mayor Nick Householder was reelected without opposition. He received 101 votes.
Bangor Council members Lynne Farmer and Jim Tanner were also reelected without opposition, taking in 89 and 92 votes, respectively.
Drain system improvements proceed along North Shore Drive
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Flooded yards in a residential area of Casco Township should soon become a thing of the past as a result of a $1.3 million project to improve and expand an Allegan County storm drainage system.
The new system should alleviate flooding and water runoff problems that occur at residences near North Shore Drive, specifically ones located on Euclid Avenue, Pershing Avenue, Washington Street, West Wing Condominiums and those within the vicinity of Columbine Drive.
“It's a large project,” sad Denise Medemar, Allegan County Drain Commissioner.
The project is expected to be complete by June 5. In the meantime, North Shore Drive, between Baseline Road and 74th Street, remains closed to traffic to enable Hoffman Bros. A Battle Creek-based excavating contractor, to lay drain pipes throughout the new drainage district and pave Washington Street. The project is being paid for through special assessments from local residents, who live in the district.
The extensive improvement project initially began in 2012 when Casco Township Board submitted a petition to the drain commission to address drainage issues that cause flooding of homes and properties.
Two drain districts currently serve the area — the North Shore Drain and the North Base Drain, but both were found to be inadequate to support the water runoff that occurred after heavy rains. A water runoff detention system at the West Wing Condominiums also contributed to the problem because the detention's basin would overflow its banks, at times, causing flooding of property along Columbine Drive. To make matters worse, a storm sewer collection system did not exist on Pershing and Euclid avenues.
Eng. Inc., an engineering and surveying company analyzed the water runoff problems associated with both the North Shore and North Base drains, as well as the lack of proper drainage on Euclid and Pershing streets.
The engineers proposed combining the three drainage areas into one drainage district, now known as the North Shore Drain district. To make the new district a reality, the drain commission had to obtain 28 easements from property owners to create new ditches and to extend the storm sewer systems. The drain commission had to also obtain permission from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to perform drainage work in wetland areas near Lincoln Street. In addition, a number of trees had to be removed to make way for the drainage system within the new district.
South Haven Health System seeks partnership with Bronson
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
South Haven Health System may soon be a part of Bronson Healthcare System.
The hospital's Board of Trustees, Monday, voted to pursue a partnership with the Kalamazoo-based healthcare system to provide more comprehensive care for patients and to ensure long-term financial stability for the locally based hospital.
The board made its decision after interviewing several potential regional partners, according to Dennis Palgen, chair of South Haven Health System's board of trustees.
“Our hometown healthcare will be stronger and better with this affiliation, and it will provide additional access to Bronson’s advanced diagnostics, specialty care and resources to better serve our patients,” Palgen said.
The hospital board of trustees has discussed the possibility of affiliating or merging with a larger, regional healthcare system for the past two years.
“So many influences are challenging our existence as an independent hospital,” Palgen said when the board first announced plans to seek a regional partner. “There have been many unprecedented changes from the Affordable Care Act. It has put a strain on hospitals. There are lower reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid and people now have higher deductibles to pay. They're not seeking medical care, As a result our volumes have diminished but expenses continue.”
In January, the South Haven Health System's Board of Trustees announced plans to find a strategic healthcare partner. Potential partners were identified in February through a request for proposal process and interviews were conducted earlier this month.
Bronson is a likely choice for a partnership, according to Joanne Schroeder, president and CEO of South Haven Health System.
“South Haven Health System and Bronson have a 30-plus year history of working together cooperatively to improve access to healthcare services for the residents of South Haven and the surrounding communities,” Schroeder said. “As healthcare continues to evolve, our organization will be better positioned to adapt to change as part of a regional system that will help us continue to provide coordinated, quality care in this community.”
Currently, Bronson provides several physicians for inpatient services at South Haven Health System. It also has a contract to provide pathology services not offered by the local hospital and has helped with implementation of a software system that has allowed South Haven Health System to digitize all patient records and clinical data.
Over the coming months, South Haven Health System and Bronson Healthcare will begin to work out details of the proposed partnership through a series of processes that include developing a letter of intent and conducting due diligence, according to Schroeder.
Once terms for an agreement are reached, the transaction will then be subject to regulatory approvals and will also require a public vote to remove South Haven Health Care from the hospital authority.
Currently, taxpayers in the hospital's authority area are assessed a millage that provides approximately $500,000, annually, to help support the hospital, according to Schroeder. The authority includes the City of South Haven, City of Bangor and townships of South Haven, Bangor, Arlington, Casco, Columbia, Covert and Geneva.
If the ballot request is approved by voters, citizens in the communities that make up the authority will no longer have to pay taxes to support the hospital.
It is too early to tell if enough details will be completed in time for the ballot request to go before voters in the Nov. 8 election. The election may have to wait until sometime in 2017.
“(We) will keep the community informed as work toward formalizing the partnership progresses and a timeline is established,” Schroeder said.
South Haven Health System isn't alone in considering an affiliation with a larger institution.
“Over the last 5 years there has been a 70 percent increase in merger and affiliation activities nationwide amongst hospitals,” Schroeder said in an earlier interview.
Several of those mergers have occurred right here in southwest Michigan.
In 2007, Lakeview Hospital in Paw Paw merged with Bronson Healthcare in Kalamazoo and is now called Bronson Lakeview. In 2010, Spectrum Health acquired Zeeland Community Hospital, while Watervliet Community Hospital was acquired by St. Joseph-based Lakeland HealthCare that same year. Two years ago, Holland Hospital developed a formal collaborative agreement with Spectrum.
Schroeder anticipates that if the partnership with Bronson is formed, it will be similar to the partnership that occurred with Lakeview Hospital merged with Bronson.
“Bronson Lakeview Hospital was an authority hospital also,” Schroeder said, regarding taxpayer money being used to help support the hospital. “Both organizations are in Van Buren County and while our footprint of services is not exact, it is very similar.”
Bangor settles lawsuit with former treasurer
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
BANGOR — The City of Bangor has reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought about by a former treasurer who claimed she was wrongfully terminated.
Earlier this month, attorneys representing the city and former treasurer Lisa Imus agreed to award her $2,400.
“Bangor has adamantly denied any wrongdoing in the handling of the employment of Ms. Imus and continues to do so,” Bangor City Attorney Robert Callahan wrote in a news release. “Nevertheless, Bangor has agreed to resolve the lawsuit by paying Ms. Imus the sum of $2,400 in exchange for a release of all claims and dismissal of the lawsuit.”
“The $2,400 was a negotiated amount we all settled on after several different dollar amounts were suggested,” said Bangor City Manager Regina Hoover. “Both sides were willing to settle on this. I think everyone was ready to just end it.”
Imus's attorney, Marlo Bruch of Kalamazoo could not be reached for comment. Imus, who is now the city planner for Douglas, chose not to comment.
Imus, who served as treasurer for nearly two years before city officials refused to renew her contract in May of 2015, was seeking in excess of $25,000 in damages and attorney fees in the three-count lawsuit filed with Van Buren Circuit Court in August 2015.
According to the court documents, Imus claimed she had received favorable comments from city officials regarding her job performance but was then terminated without cause. The lawsuit contended Imus lost her job because she pointed out wrongdoing by council members and that her professional reputation was compromised because of negative comments made by several city officials. Attorney Michael Bugren of Kalamazoo, who represented the City of Bangor, denied Imus's allegations, stating among other things that “Imus was not terminated,” so therefore there was never a breach of contract, as her lawsuit claimed.
Van Buren animal shelter hopes to pair vets with pets
By ROD SMITH
For the Tribune
PAW PAW — Pets can be a comfort to war veterans, at least that's what Van Buren County Board of Commissioners think.
The board approved creation of the “ Corps Companion” program that matches past and present military service members and their families to pet shelter animals that are in need of adoption.
The goal of the program, which is similar to the “Pets for Vets” program, is to help heal the emotional wounds of military veterans by pairing them with a shelter dog.
The idea was suggested by Van Buren County Animal Control Director Kasey Murphy, who said the program can accomplish two objectives: lowering stress for vets and their families and reducing the number of animals that have to be euthanized.
"Just the act of petting a cat or a dog relieves stress," Murphy said.
According to the brochure for Corps Companions, the rate of suicide among veterans with post traumatic stress syndrome is more than double that of the general population. Dogs and cats can help provide needed support and unconditional love.
"They're (pets) not asking anything," Murphy said. "They're not judging."
She asked for $300 as seed money to help vaccinate pets given to vets that take part in the program. A veterinarian is offsetting some of the costs by donating checkups, Murphy said. Commissioners wondered if it was enough money, but Murphy said she believed costs could be covered by other donations.
"I'd love to launch it Memorial Day," Murphy said.
The idea prompted positive comments from commissioners.
"I think it's a marvelous idea," Commissioner John "Mike" Henry said.
Commissioner Donald Hanson said he'd gotten favorable feedback from his township boards. "I thought it was very impressive," Hanson said.
In addition to helping veterans, Murphy said the program will also help reduce the number of animals that need to be euthanized. At one point, she said, the shelter euthanized up to 38 percent of its animals. "I've gotten it down to 11 percent right now," Murphy said. Ten percent or less is considered a no-kill shelter, Murphy said.
Euthanasia is actually more expensive, Murphy said, than vaccinating and then placing animals in homes.
Murphy said it's hard to find someone not affected by the war. "I want this program to be a very positive thing for everybody," Murphy said.
In other matters, commissioners OKd continuing with the $1.92 per device per month surcharge for 911 service approved by county voters in November 2014.
The surcharge is expected to raise $1.6 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. "The state estimates there are 0.92 devices for every person that's living in Van Buren County," Sheriff Dale Gribler told the board.
The total budget for Central Dispatch is just under $1.8 million, which includes $345,000 for five new base stations and new kitchen facilities. Gribler said the difference will be made up by state 911 funds.
Devices can include landlines, cell phones and some Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) providers.
Republican, democrat candidates file for township board seats
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
Here's a look at how Van Buren County township elections are shaping up this year. Republican and Democrat candidates had to file their candidacies by April 19. Candidates who are not affiliated with a party, or who want to run as write-in candidates, will have a later filing date.
Candidates currently listed for township board races follow:
Longtime Trustee Martha Bregger is not seeking a new term, and Jeff Melvin is unopposed in replacing her. Unopposed candidates are Supervisor Jacque Phillippe, Clerk William R. Pugsley, Treasurer Phillip Pitts and Trustee Douglas DeLeo. They are all Republicans. Melvin is a Democrat.
Supervisor Cindra Bishop is not seeking a new term, but there are two people vying for that position.
Seeking the supervisor's term are Republican Mike Sullins and Democrat Gary Householder. Meanwhile, Treasurer David Houdek, Republican, is not seeking a new term. He is, however, a trustee candidate. Sandra Karr, Republican, is unopposed for the treasurer's term. Houdek will be trying to unseat one of the two trustees: James Karr and Chad Simpson, both Republicans. Clerk Linda Poland, Republican, is seeking a new term without opposition.
There will be contested races this year for township supervisor and trustees. Supervisor James Lisowski has filed for a new term, as an independent candidate. He's being challenged by Republican Richard Stone, but that contest won't be addressed until the November election because Lisowski is not affiliated with a party. A three-way Republican race for the two available trustee seats will be settled in the August primary election. Trustees William Cain and Bernie Miller are being challenged by Glenn F. Nordbrock. Clerk Linda Stange and Treasurer Jerry Sommerfeld are unopposed. The are both Republicans.
Supervisor Larry Burgett has chosen not to seek a new term, but so far no one has filed to replace him.
Meanwhile, Treasurer Kathy Curtis, Republican, is trying to unseat one of the trustees this year.
Two Republicans filed for treasurer: Kristen Bus and Karen Gruss. Trustee John Huizenga, Republican, and Trustee Rosemary Hurley, Democrat, are being challenged by Curtis. Clerk Stacey Corke, Republican, seeks a new term without opposition.
Clerk Dennis Palgen is challenging Supervisor Barbara Rose for the supervisor position. Both are Democrats, so the race will be settled in the August primary election. There are also contested races for clerk and trustees. The clerk candidates are Daywi Cook and Isaiah Young, both Democrats. Vying for the two trustee spots are Trustee Gaetano and Trustee Kenneth Harrington, and challengers Dawn Alspaugh, Amy Muenchow and Lonzey Taylor. All are Democrats except DeRosa, who is Republican. Treasurer Marilyn Rendell, Democrat, is unopposed in seeking a new term.
Geneva Township is getting a new treasurer this year. Treasurer Sandra Capps is not seeking a new term, and Republican Deborah Diekema filed for her position. Unopposed candidates are Supervisor Nancy Whaley, Clerk Bridgette Gumpert, and Trustees Clare Olney and David Orr. They are all Republicans.
South Haven Township
South Haven Township will get a new trustee this year, as Trustee Mel Jessup has decided not to seek a new term. He's running for District 1 county commissioner this year. Unopposed for new terms are Supervisor Ross Stein, Clerk Brenda Bertorelli, Treasurer Hillary Fisher, and Trustees Mike DeGrandchamp, Paul Kiry and David Wiatrowski. Maureen Lewandowski also filed for the other available trustee seat. All are Republicans except Bertorelli, who is a Democrat.
Tessa celebrates life
Youngster's struggle to overcome leukemia sparks fundraiser at Lincoln School
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
At first glance, Tessa Hosier seems like most other third-grade girls her age. She enjoys school, her friends, amusement parks and animals.
But two years ago, life was much different for the South Haven youngster.
After being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Tessa spent much of her time visiting doctors, undergoing medical treatment and suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy treatments.
“When she first got diagnosed I started crying and ran out of the room,” said Tessa's mom, Michele Hosier.
Tessa's symptoms started off rather innocuously.
“She had leg pains (one of the early symptoms of ALL), but we thought it was because she had had a broken foot and wasn't walking on it enough,” said Tessa grandmother, Teresa Hosier.
Then the little girl developed a bad cold and stomach aches. When her mom took her to the hospital Tessa was diagnosed with a viral infection. But before she left the hospital, she threw up, prompting doctors to begin blood tests.
“Her blood counts were all off, and they admitted her to Bronson Hospital's Pediatric Unit,” Michele said. “They started doing tests. The last one they did was for ALL. I said, 'what the heck is that?' They told me and I said, 'she doesn't have that.'”
But the test confirmed Tessa did indeed have ALL, an acute form of leukemia, which is characterized by the overproduction and accumulation of cancerous, immature white blood cells, known as lymphoblasts.
The treatments and doctor visits for Tessa were traumatic, especially treatments that involved needle injections.
“She was really scared,” Michele said. “She didn't know what the treatments were all about.”
“I didn't like getting poked,” Tessa admitted.
She also missed school and her friends.
“She went for one month of first grade,” Michele said. Many days of second grade were missed as well while Tessa battled ALL.
But a little bit of light appeared at the end of the tunnel when the leukemia went into remission and her treatments ended earlier this school year.
She kept up with her school work at home and is now in the academically talented program at Lincoln Elementary School.
“She's at a 6.8-grade reading level,” Michele said proudly, adding that while undergoing medical treatments, Tessa was able to travel to Disney World, courtesy of the Make a Wish Foundation and was also able to attend Camp Catch a Rainbow, an organization that provides summer camp experiences to children undergoing cancer treatments.
As a way of honoring Tessa and her family's journey in dealing with leukemia, Lincoln School staff and students hosted a fundraiser earlier this month for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Students were asked to bring change to school while dressing up for spirit-themed days.
Monday, for instance, was designated as “Pajama Penny,” where students could wear pajamas to school if they donated pennies into donation jars. On Tuesday, students donned neon color clothes for “Neon Nickels Day.” Wednesday, students put on their best bling and sparkle attire for Dazzling Dimes Day.
Thursday turned out to be Tessa's favorite day because she got to wear a colorful and crazy looking hat and socks for Crazy Quarters Day. “Everything I wore was cancer (awareness)-related,” she said.
Tessa and other students not only enjoyed dressing up for a good cause, they also raised a total of $680.04 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, according to school secretary Nancy VanWynen, who helped coordinate the event, along with Tessa's teacher, Barb Guthrie, and Principal Bennett Tyler.
PHOTO: Tessa Hosier (center), a third-grade student at Lincoln Elementary School, who battled leukemia for the past two years, is shown with her mother Michele Hosier (left) and grandmother Teresa Hosier.
Changing of the guard
Familiar names absent from Van Buren County government primary election ballot
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
PAW PAW — This will be a year of many changes for Van Buren County government leadership.
Sheriff Dale Gribler, Clerk Tina Leary, District Court Judge Robert Hentchel and County Commissioners Mike Henry, Beth Griffin and Sue Hammond are not seeking new terms.
The candidate filing deadline was April 19.
There are five sheriff's candidates: Sheriff's Lt. David Walker, Sheriff's Sgt. Dan Abbott, James Worthington and Phil Oretsky, all Republicans; and Democrat Robert Overheul.
Gribler is retiring. Oretsky and Overheul are both from South Haven.
For clerk, county Chief Deputy Clerk Suzie Roehm has filed. She's a Republican. Leary is running for Hamilton Township clerk.
Three people have filed for the judgeship. They are Assistant County Prosecutor Mike McKay and Nichole Dunfield Hameed and Cirilio Martinez. Hentchel is retiring.
There will be contested races this year in three of the seven Board of Commissioners districts.
In District 1, Commissioner Mike Henry is not seeking a new term. Seeking that seat are Democrat Gail Patterson-Gladney and Republic Mel Jessup. Patterson-Gladney is from South Haven and Jessup lives in South Haven Township.
The District 5 contest will pit Commissioner Mike Toth, Republican, against Democratic challenger William Webster.
In District 7, Commissioner Beth Griffin is stepping down to pursue the 66th State House seat being vacated by Aric Nesbitt. There are two candidates: Former Van Buren County Circuit Court Judge Paul Hamre, a Democrat; and Republican Paul S. Schincariol.
Unopposed for reelection this year are Prosecutor Mike Bedford, Treasurer Karen Makay, Register of Deeds Paul DeYoung, Drain Commissioner Joe Parman and Surveyor Donald Gilchrist. They are all Republicans. All countywide terms are for four years.
Also, Probate Judge David Distefano is unopposed in seeking a new term.
Here's a look at the unopposed county board candidates: District 2, Kurt Doroh, seeking the seat being vacated by Commissioner Sue Hammond; District 3, Commissioner Richard Godfrey; District 4, Commissioner Richard Freestone; District 6, Commissioner Don Hanson. They are all Republicans. County commissioner terms are for two years.
Rental occupancy limit debate continues
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
South Haven's proposed short-term rentals regulations continue to evolve.
The heart of the proposal is still to require registration of short-term rental properties and establish occupancy limits. That hasn't changed.
But the City Council last week voted to send the proposal back to the Planning Commission with a new round of revisions.
The proposed maximum occupancy rules continue to be studied, and to change.
Planners originally recommended a occupancy cap of 16 people, ages six and over. That would be based on two people per bedroom and two more people per floor.
So, for example, a three-bedroom ranch house couldn't be rented to more than eight people.
The council last week suggested the occupancy cap be lowered to 14, and the age of renters counted be lowered to under 2 years.
Now there's a new proposal.
The council Monday night voted to ask the planners to review a new proposal that would have different sets of occupancy caps, based on the zoning district, previous rental history and other factors.
For properties that haven't had short-term rentals before, the cap would be lowered to 12 people in the city's three types of single-family residential districts.
Propertied in those three districts that previously had rentals could have up to 16 renters.
And in other residential districts and B-3 commercial districts, the cap would be increased to 24. However, to get that higher cap the home would have to have sprinklers and meet commercial-style safety and fire codes regulations.
Many residents speaking at Monday's meeting, however, were adamant that the city should not allow more than 10 renters.
Resident Susan Ryan presented the city with petitions signed by 124 residents urging the city to cap occupancy at 10 renters.
"Let us move forward with a reasonable compromise," Ryan told the council.
Added resident Joe Reser: "Let's get the number down to 10."
Another change being proposed is to ban any new rentals in properties over 3,500 square feet in the three single-family residential districts.
The planners will hold a special meeting Thursday night to review the new proposal, and report back to the city council on its thoughts, Zoning Administrator Linda Anderson said.
Then the city council at its May 2 meeting will set a public hearing for May 16 on the final proposal. At the May 16 meeting, the council would take a vote on the proposal.
Short-term rentals are defined in South Haven as between two nights and a week.
The city had a rental registration ordinance from late 2009 until early 2010, but the council then rescinded it.
City officials said earlier that the city this fall will undergo a master land use plan review, and data on short-term rentals collected through the new ordinance will be used at that time to determine what changes in rules are needed.
No-show jurist delays murder trail in Van Buren County
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
PAW PAW — The new murder trial for Antonio Lewis got off to a slow start last week in Van Buren Circuit Court.
The jury was selected earlier this month, week, but one of the jurors failed to show up for the trial's start, Wednesday.
More jurors were brought in, one more was selected and the trial began a couple hours late.
Antonio Lewis was convicted in 2013 of killing his half-brother, Ivory Shaver III, in November 2018.
The Michigan Supreme Court last fall ruled that Lewis, 37, deserves a new trial because he was not allowed to represent himself in his first trial.
Despite the nature of the Supreme Court ruling, Lewis is not representing himself this time either.
He is being represented by court-appointed attorney Gary Stewart of Paw Paw.
Shaver was found dead in a Covert Township farm ditch in 2012. Lewis was sentenced to 39-80 years in prison after a jury found him guilty.
Shaver and Lewis had lived together at a Geneva Township house with their girlfriends, and Shaver went missing in November 2011.
The autopsy on Shaver was not conclusive as to the cause and manner of death, and there were no witnesses or evidence dealing directly with the murder or any incriminating statements by Lewis about the murder.
Stewart in his opening statements stressed the autopsy did not determine there had been a homicide. The death could have been a suicide or accident, he suggested.
"We don't know what happened to Ivory Shaver," Stewart said. "The pathologist cannot rule out suicide in this case. There are theories and possibilities, but that does not equate to proof beyond a reasonable doubt (that Lewis killed Shaver). We don't even know if this is a homicide."
Stewart also attacked the credibility of Christina Rogers, the girlfriend of Antonio Lewis who was living them him and Shaver in 2011, in advance of her testimony.
"She's someone who makes up stories," Stewart said. "She cannot be trusted."
The key suite of evidence for the prosecution was inconsistent statements made to police by Lewis about the disappearance of Shaver.
Assistant County Prosecutor Keith Robinson outlined some of the evidence against Lewis to the jury in his opening statements.
He noted Lewis changed his stories about Shaver leaving the house to police, first saying he left in a green car owned by Shaver's girlfriend and later saying he saw Shaver walking away.
Shaver's girlfriend kept getting text messages - but no phone messages - for months, allegedly from Shaver, after Shaver and her car disappeared. The texts claimed Shaver had the car and was in Saginaw for a family emergency.
In the first trial, Rogers testified she later found Shaver's cell phone in her dresser she shared with Lewis. After Shaver's body was found in March 2012, however, the cell phone was found along a road in South Haven township and Shaver's ID card was found in Geneva Township.
Police also later found the car in question. It had been traded, illegally, by Lewis to two men in exchange for bailing him out of jail for $200 the day Shaver went missing. Police found the contract between the men for the transaction.
Group helps make park a reality
SHOUT pays for bridge to connect Black River Park with new park at site of former electric dept. building
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
A site along the Black River that once housed South Haven's Electric Department will be looking much more like a park this year, thanks in part to a $75,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and a $35,000 donation from a local organization.
Work is expected to start this spring at the park site, located on Dunkley Avenue, between J&B Landing and the Celery Pond outlet to the Black River, according to South Haven Mayor Bob Burr.
City officials had visualized turning the former electric department site into a park, but wanted to connect it to Black River Park.
SHOUT for South Haven decided to bridge the gap, literally, by contributing $35,000 to build a pedestrian bridge over the Celery Pond outlet to link the two parks.
“We've been struggling to get a bridge built there,” Burr said, “but it needs to meet certain specifications. It's not cheap.”
That's when SHOUT came in to play. The organization, which is dedicated to improving cultural and recreation attractions in South Haven, asked the city earlier this year what projects it would like to undertake.
When city officials suggested construction of a pedestrian bridge for the new park, SHOUT decided to provide monetary support.
“We thought it would be a good idea to help with the bridge,” said Robert Copping, president of SHOUT.
The 12-foot wide, handicap accessible bridge is expected to be installed in the fall, along with a parking lot, walkway, benches, bike racks, riverbank shrubs, stabilization rip rap and a handicap accessible fishing platform. The city also plans to put a gazebo in the park that once was located at Dyckman Park. The gazebo was put in storage after SHOUT donated a clock tower for Dyckman Park.
Prior to the construction of the bridge, the concrete slab for the electric building will be dug up this summer. Any contaminated soil around or underneath the slab will be removed and new sand and soil will be put in its place.
The entire project is expected to cost upwards of $200,000.
Popular Wilhelm Baum tugboat ready to return to its dock at Maritime Museum
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Two years ago, the historic Wilhelm Baum tugboat almost became a memory after it became encrusted in ice and sank at its dock at the Michigan Maritime Museum.
But, that will soon change when the restored tug returns to the museum as part of its permanent boat collection.
The tug's return is being made possible by SHOUT for South Haven, a group of local residents dedicated to improving the city's cultural and recreation attractions. The non-profit group plans to give the museum a $35,000 grant so that it can purchase the boat from its private owner, Mike Miles of Saugatuck, according to Robert Copping, president of SHOUT.
"We're delighted to have the opportunity to provide the Michigan Maritime Museum, long considered a gem in South Haven’s crown, with an important exhibit from Michigan’s maritime history," Copping said.
Patti Montgomery-Reinert, executive director of the museum, said she was very glad to add the Wilhelm Baum to the museum's list of exhibits.
“I promised them that (SHOUT) she would never stay in the water through another winter, and our hopes are that eventually we will be able to showcase her within a boat gallery protected from the elements,” Montgomery-Reinert said.
The Wilhelm Baum's return to its docking site at the museum has been a difficult one.
The tug, which was owned for 40 years by Jim Bradley of South Haven, had become a common sight on the Black River and Lake Michigan.
Shortly after purchasing the tug in the early 1970s, Bradley and his wife Sheral spent the next three decades using the tugboat for search-and-rescue operations for the Coast Guard Auxiliary in South Haven.
“I'd say 1,200 to 1,500 people were assisted in the 30 years the tug was used by the auxiliary,” Bradley said in a previous interview. Bradley then used the boat for his diving expeditions before retiring it several years ago to the Maritime Museum docks.
But tragedy struck in February of 2014 when the tug sank in icy waters at its dock at the museum. Because of the extreme cold and ice conditions on the Black River, attempts to rescue the craft had to wait until the end of March when Barney Pero, owner of J&B Landing in South Haven, undertook the task of getting the submerged tug out of the water.
It took three days to do so, but employees of J&B Landing finally lifted the tug and took it to their marina.
A year later, Miles, a maritime history buff, purchased the boat from Bradley and faced the arduous task of restoring it to seaworthiness.
“He (Miles) was so interested in the boat,” Copping said. “He put 3,000 hours of work into it.”
But, Miles also realized the boat had become a fixture over the years at its dock at the museum.
“He realized the historical significance of the boat,” Copping said.
When the museum staff and SHOUT approached him about selling the tug he agreed.
Mike has put a lot of time and money into her preservation and we are delighted to bring this tug back home,” Montgomery-Reinert said. “He has done a wonderful job. It really is thanks to him and to Barnie Pero and his crew that it is even possible to share this piece of history with our thousands of visitors and have her presence back in our harbor. They literally saved the Wilhelm Baum.”
The Wilhelm Baum was first built in 1923 for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and used on the St. Mary's River. At that time it was called the Captain Canfield. When Bradley bought it he changed the tug's name to Wilhelm Baum, in honor of a South Haven resident of the same name, who had served as Lt. Commander of the U.S.S. Swordfish submarine during World War II.
The tugboat will soon take its place at the museum, along with the museum's other vessels, including the Friends Good Will tall ship, the Lindy Lou river launch, the historic Bernida racing yacht, and the 1950s-era Flashback racing sailboat. Later this summer, the museum will acquire a restored United States Coast Guard motor lifeboat used in the 2016 Disney movie, “The Finest Hours.”
Downtown merchants pay it forward with "Spring Into Giving Day'
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
'Shop 'til you drop” might be rephrased to “give 'til you drop” when South Haven downtown businesses host “Spring into Giving Day” this month.
Now in its second year, the event consists of downtown merchants agreeing to donate a portion of their sales to the charity of their choice.
The success of last year's event, in which a dozen businesses donated $4,000 to 15 non-profits, prompted the Downtown Association of South Haven (DASH) to organize it again.
This year's “Spring into Giving Day” is scheduled Saturday, April 23 and has attracted 31 businesses, to date, who plan to contribute funds to two dozen non-profit groups. Some of those groups include the Historical Association of South Haven, We Care in the Name of Christ, Al-Van Humane Society, HOPE Parent Resource Center, South Haven Center for the Arts, Michigan Maritime Museum, American Youth Soccer Organization in South Haven and and Foundry Hall cultural arts organization.
“The response to this year's event has been wonderful,” said Jan Haglund, a member of DASH and owner of Janny's Beach House. “It makes you feel good to give.”
To entice people to shop downtown during Spring into Giving Day, participating merchants will offer discounts, prizes and games, as well as live entertainment, which will take place at the Huron Street Pavilion from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., featuring such local groups as the US Band, The Sounds of Elvis, Tom Rusin and The Witness Band. There will also be a children's story read by author Tracy Louise Sellers.
Businesses participating and the charities they have chosen to donate money to follow:
Artworks, Historical Association of South Haven; Bell + Harry, First Congregational Church Thursday community dinners; Black River Books, We Care; Black River Tavern, We Care; Cookies on Wall, Wings of Hope Hospice; Crescent Moon, HOPE Parent Resource Center; Decadent Dogs, Al-Van Humane Society; Ducy's General Store, Val-Van Humane Society; Ec*Lec*Tic, Stomp the Yard; Janny's Beach House, HOPE Parent Resource Center and American Liver Foundation Life Walk in Holland; Johnny's Jewelry, Historical Association of South Haven; N&R Department Store, South Haven Center for the Arts; Nature's Country Cupboard, Special Olympics; Needle in a Haystack, HOPE Parent Resource Center; Oh My Darlings, Elks Club; Olive Cart, American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Western Van Buren County; Papyrus, Hospice at Home; Phoenix Street Cafe, We Care; Props, Girls on the Run; Rambling Rose, Hospice at Home; Renaissance, World Wildlife Federation; Shooting Star, Michigan Maritime Museum; Soha Surf Shop, AYSO South Haven region; Taste, Foundry Hall; The Castle Spa, HOPE Parent Resource Center; Urban Studio Salon & Spa, Gloria's Place of Allegan and Youth Development Co.; Willow Tree, First Congregational Church Thursday community dinners; 12 Corners Winery, Hospice at Home; and Clementine's restaurant, Devon Smiley Memorial Scholarship fund.
South Haven City Council sets hearing for proposed rental ordinance
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tiribune
South Haven City Council has decided to make a few changes to a proposed short-term rental ordinance that was crafted by the city's Planning Commission.
The council this past week announced plans to reduce the proposed occupancy cap on short-term vacation rentals from what the planners recommended. The occupancy cap is part of the city's proposed vacation rentals registration ordinance, which was introduced to the council this past week.
The council will now hold a public hearing on the revised proposal Monday night, and then consider its adoption.
The proposed ordinance would require all short-term rental properties to register with the city. Short-term rentals are defined in South Haven as between two nights and a week.
The planners recommended that for all three single-family residential zoning districts, there should be a maximum adult occupancy cap of 16. But they recommended children age six and under would not be included in the occupancy amount.
Planners also recommended a means by which the occupancy cap could be raised to 24 adults in the RM-1, R-2 and B-3 zones under certain circumstances. That would have required Planning Commission review. One of the stipulations of the higher occupancy cap would be fire suppression in the house.
In the council version of the ordinance, however, the proposed occupancy cap would be 14 people, age 2 and over.
Also, under the council plan, the occupancy cap would not go into effect until 2017. The planners had recommended that the cap go into effect this year.
City Attorney Scott G. Smith said waiting until next year is designed as a courtesy for rental owners who have already booked reservations for this upcoming busy summer rental season.
Another change made by the council would grandfather properties that have in the past rented to more than 14 people ages 2 and over. To qualify, the owners would have to provide documentation to the city that they have rented to more people than that, but no later than 2015.
This year's rental numbers would not quality for that exemption, Smith said.
The council made two other changes to the planners' proposal.
No new short-term rental properties would be allowed in the R1-A residential district for at least three years. Also, in the R1-B and R1-C residential districts, no new or remodeled short-term rental properties would be allowed if they are more than 3,500 square feet - including unfinished basements.
While some citizens applauded the council for reducing the proposed occupancy cap at last week's meeting, several others said the proposed cap is still too high. They recommended the number be set at eight or 10.
Susan Woodhull was among the citizens who said the proposal does not go far enough to protect the single-family residential neighborhoods from large rentals.
"We're just trying to maintain the area we live in," Woodhull said. "It's our neighborhood. Please don't take it away. It's our home. Can you think of that?"
Susan Ryan outlined several specific items she wants included in the ordinance, including an occupant cap of eight in the R-1 district and no rentals of less than a week.
"We simply do not want businesses in our neighborhoods," Ryan said. "We're not going away."
While not part of the proposed ordinance, City Manager Brian Dissette also announced the city will have a police officer specifically in charge of monitoring and enforcing the city noise ordinance this summer. The officer will work evening and night hours, focusing on Thursdays through Sundays, Dissette said.
"The city is trying to be responsive to the public (regarding noise from rentals)," he said.
Group: 'Tis the season to plan for downtown's holiday decorations
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Christmas may be seven months away, but that's not stopping a committee from developing a plan to decorate South Haven's downtown for the 2016 holiday season.
James Leppa, owner of Urban Studio Salon and Spa, and Sarah Van Assche, a retired interior designer from Chicago, formed the committee which will unveil its ideas at a meeting at 6 p.m., Saturday, April 30 at Urban Studio Salon, 517 Quaker St.
“It's never too early to start planning, especially after what happened last year,” Leppa said. “Things are going to be different.”
Leppa was referring to the controversy that arose in 2015 when merchants voiced displeasure over the yellow-colored lights wrapped around light poles.
Some merchants wanted white lights, while others felt wrapping the lights around poles failed to create a festive atmosphere.
Van Assche felt the same way.
“I've had a home here in South Haven for the past 15 years and retired here in July,” Van Assche said. “I love this town, but I thought the downtown decorations were a little underwhelming.”
When she heard merchants complain about the “yellow-colored” lights strung on light poles, downtown, she resolved to do something about it.
She met with Leppa and the two decided to form a committee to raise funds and design a plan for turning downtown into “SoHa-liday Spectacular” during the Christmas season.
“Rather than dealing with something everyone disliked, we thought, 'let's start over,'” Leppa said.
The committee hopes to raise $25,000 to decorate the downtown, and will soon begin raising funds through a variety of events, including a gala, and sale booths at summer events and festivals.
“If we can surpass $25,000 that would be wonderful,” Leppa said. “We're trying to accomplish as much as we can so we can make our downtown shine brightly during the holiday season.”
Some of the plans include new soft white lights for downtown lamp posts, new decorations and up-lights to enhance Dyckman Park, new light strands and decorations for the downtown Welcome Island, new white light strands and up-lights for downtown trees and shrubbery, expansion of white light strands and decorations along Water Street to South Beach, and expansion of white light strands and decorations on Broadway Street.
“We would like to make use of more greenery and trees,” VanAssche said.
Warnings of Phoenix Street — downtown's main drag — turning into a wind tunnel because of its close proximity to Lake Michigan, is not scaring the committee too much.
“We're aware of the issues and we'll have to plan accordingly,” VanAssche said. “If (Chicago's) Michigan Avenue isn't a wind tunnel, I don't know what is.”
Fertile breeding ground
Breedsville is home to two of Michigan's largest trees
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
California is home to some of the largest trees in the world, but Michigan has a few of its own to brag about, including one on County Road 215 near Breedsville.
A weeping willow tree, owned by John Conner, has been named Van Buren County's largest tree in the Michigan Big Tree Hunt contest.
The contest, which takes place every two years, is sponsored by ReLeaf Michigan, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit organization that promotes planting and maintenance of trees in the Wolverine State.
The contest not only recognizes the largest tree submitted by entrants in each of Michigan's 83 counties, but the state's largest tree, which this year appears to be an American Sycamore that was discovered in Adrian, by a youth, Kindell Covey. The tree reportedly measures 315 inches in circumference but that will have to be confirmed before it will be declared the grand winner in the 2013-2015 Big Tree Hunt.
Conner's tree in Breedsville measures 301 inches in circumference, and was spied by Lance Koops of Saugatuck, who submitted it for the latest Big Tree Hunt contest.
ReLeaf Michigan created the Michigan Big Tree Hunt in 1993 to help state environmental groups keep track of the state's largest trees, according to Melinda Jones, executive director for the non-profit group.
“Paul Thompson, a brilliant botanist, searched for Michigan’s big trees and kept records since the early '40s,” Jones said. “Today, we encourage big tree hunting among all age groups to assist tree experts with tracking these vital historical living landmarks.”
Koops is one of ReLeaf's avid tree hunters. “I kind of caught the obsession years ago when my wife and I took a trip to Sequoia National Park in California and saw the world's largest (living) tree, 'The General Sherman,'” he said.
Koops' well-drilling business keeps him busy traveling many rural roads in Southwest and West Michigan.
“When I see a large tree, I'll stop and measure it and record it,” he said. “I have dozens recorded. When ReLeaf has the Big Tree contest I submit some of the trees I've found.”
Apparently, he has a good eye for spotting large trees. Not only did Koops submit the winning entry for Van Buren's largest tree for ReLeaf's latest contest, he also had winning entries for Allegan, Oceana and Ottawa counties. The tree in Allegan he found is a weeping willow, with a circumference of 302 inches. It is located on 116th Avenue west of 64th Street, near Fennville.
Koops has been submitting entries for the Big Tree contest since 2002. “I have submitted trees for Allegan, Ottawa, Van Buren, Oceana and Barry counties,” he said.
Three of the trees he spotted over the years have been named state champions, including another weeping willow, with a 355-inch circumference, he spotted in Conner's yard for the 2010-2012 contest.
“There are two big willows next to each other,” Koops said. “I submitted the larger one in the 2012 contest. I believe that tree is the fifth largest in the state.”
John Conner stands in front of one of his two weeping willow trees that have been chosen among the biggest trees in Michigan. The trees are estaimted at be 175-185 years old and measure more than 300 inches in circumference. (Photo by Becky Kark)
Fruit crops dodge frost damage for now
By KIM INGALLS
For the Tribune
Chilly temperatures in the 30s and a hard freeze this past Tuesday morning had many area fruit farmers crossing their fingers.
But it looks like most of southwest Michigan's fruit crop is safe for now.
"It is not unusual for southern Michigan to have several freezes in the spring that affect different fruit crops and different areas and in my opinion, this was not a major freeze event for us," remarked Michigan State University Extension Fruit Educator Mark Longstroth. "There are still a lot of flowers on the trees and we still have the potential to set and carry a good crop."
However, temperatures were cold enough Tuesday morning to cause some damage to early developing tree fruit but not cold enough to cause much damage to blueberries and grapes which have not yet developed buds.
Farmers kept a close eye on the weather these past two weeks when a blast of cold air hit Michigan and produced several inches of spring snow in the upper part of the lower peninsula.
But, Longstroth said the good news is the amount of damage depends on the stage of fruit development, and because it's been a rather chilly spring, many fruits had not started blooming as quickly as they did in previous years.
Luckily, blueberries are one of those crops.
"We've had no damage so far," reports Kris Hager of DeGrandchamp Blueberries. "There were a couple of cold days, but they (the blueberries) were not really quite far enough along."
Dealing with huge spring temperature swings is commonplace for Michigan farmers. In March 2012 temperatures rose to above 80 degrees tricking trees into blooming early. After that, temps took a major dip resulting in west Michigan losing close to 90 percent of its apple crop.
This year, it looks like the chilly weather is here to stay - at least for the next week.
Wood TV 8 weatherman Bill Steffen predicts, "It’s quite likely that cool air (and an upper level trough) will persist over the Great Lakes and East to the middle of the month."
Replacement of Black River bridge on Blue Star Highway planned this year
By TRIBUNE STAFF
As warm weather months approach, motorists are apt to say Michigan only has two seasons — winter and construction, but motorists driving in the South Haven area will encounter very few disruptions this summer due to road projects undertaken by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Replacement of the Black River bridge on Blue Star Highway is the only project listed on MDOT's 2016 docket for the South Haven area. The $3.2 million project is expected to begin Sept. 12 and be completed by the end of the year, according to Nick Schirripa, communications representative
Information about whether the bridge will be detoured or if certain lanes will be closed will be announced at a later date.
Although will only be overseeing the Blue Star Highway bridge project in South Haven this year, there will be other projects underway this year in other areas of southwest Michigan. A list of the construction projects follows:
• Holland — Four miles of U.S. 31, from 8th Street to Quincy Street will be reconstructed to include an additional drive-through lane in each direction from Lakewood Boulevard to Quincy Street. Traffic will be allowed to travel via temporary crossovers in medians. The project will last through November.
• Allegan County — Interstate 196 bridge over Old Allegan Road will be repaired. One lane will be open in each direction on I-196/U.S. 31. There will be one alternating lane open on Old Allegan Road. The project will last from July-October.
• Covert-Watervliet — A 7-mile section of M-140 Highway, from Watervliet to County Road 378 in Covert will be resurfaced. Motorists will be limited to one lane of alternating traffic. The project is expected to be completed in June.
• St. Joseph — A 1.1-mile section of M-63 will undergo join resealing from St. Joseph River to Higman Park Road. There will be one lane open in each direction along with a short-duration closure of the ramp to Whitwam Drive. The project is scheduled in June.
• Berrien County — A 7.4 mile section of Interstate 94, from Red Arrow Highway to Puetz Road, will be resurfaced. Bridges over Lost Dunes Drive and Puetz Road will be repaired. Two lanes will be open in each direction during peak hours, a minimum of one lane will be open at all other times. There will be ramp closures with posted detours. Puetz Road will be closed, while Lost Dunes Drive will have one lane of alternating traffic. The project is expected to be completed in October.
• Berrien County — Twelve miles of US-12, from the Galien River to Dayton Road will be chip sealed. There will be one lane of alternating traffic. The project is scheduled to last from June-July.
• Van Buren County — A 5.7-mile section of M-51 Highway from Decatur to Interstate 94 will be resurfaced. There will be one lane of alternating traffic. The project will last from July-August.
• Van Buren County — Pavement along a 3-mile stretch of Interstate 94 from mile-marker 58 to 61 near Paw Paw will be repaired. There will be nighttime single-lane closures. The project will take place in August and September.
• Van Buren County — The Interstate 94 bridge over the east branch of the Paw Paw River by Paw Paw will be replaced. Two lanes will be open in each direction during peak hours. A minimum of one lane will be open all other times. The project is scheduled May-July.
• Van Buren County — A 4.6-mile section of M-40 Highway, from Paw Paw to M-43 Highway and a 5.2-mile section of M-43 from M-40 to the Kalamazoo County line will be resurfaced. There will be one lane of alternating traffic. The carpool lot at M-43/M-43 will also be resurfaced and will be closed until the project is completed. The road resurfacing project is scheduled June-August.
Police: 'Bored' teens damaged cemetery
By HP and TRIBUNE STAFF
Three teens told police they damaged grave markers in Geneva Township out of boredom, the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office has reported. Sgt. Dennis Harvey said citizen tips led to the arrest of the three three juveniles, March 31. The two boys, 15, and a girl, 13, were turned over to their parents. “They said they did it for fun because they were bored,” Harvey said. The incident occurred after dark March 19 at Lacota Cemetery on Baseline Road near 61st Street. About 30 headstones were toppled.
Harvey said reports are being completed and will be submitted to the county prosecutor’s office. The three would likely be petitioned to juvenile court. One boy lives in Lacota, near the cemetery, Harvey said. The other boy and the girl live in the South Haven area.
Township officials estimated it would cost $500-$600 to repair the stones, however, a group of individuals decided to fix the damage themselves, according to a Facebook comment, posted by Lacota area resident Clyde Gentry, who helped lead the efforts.
“Taxpayers have been spared the expense by some caring individuals concerned about their surroundings and was finished in record time without unneeded red tape,” Gentry posted.
Despite the help from the individuals, their efforts caused concern for township officials and deputies who asked the volunteers to let the township oversee the repair work.
“Someone took it upon themselves to fix the stones, never contacting the township or adhering to the sheriff department intervention,” said Township Supervisor Nancy Whaley. “It could have been disastrous if they got hurt, for we have tremendous liability on township properties.”
No if, and, or 'butt'...
...Fewer students reading books for enjoyment
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
It's not hard for students to find a book to read in Lynne Maxwell's class.
Hundreds of paperbacks line bookshelves in a corner of her seventh-grade Language arts classroom at Baseline Middle School.
“I'll buy the most bizarre book titles to get them to read,” Maxwell said, holding up one title, “The Day My Butt Went Psycho,” which tells the story of alien butts attacking Earth and a teenage boy who has to save the world from their onslaught. Then there's “Sweet Farts” that follows the adventures of Keith, who comes up with the greatest scientific invention of all — a cure for the common fart.
But instilling a love for reading among her seventh-grade students has become more difficult for Maxwell in the past 10 years.
“When I first started at Baseline the 'reluctant readers' were about 10 percent of my students. Now I'd put it at 50 percent,” Maxwell said.
And even though she tries to pique young readers' interests by purchasing such books as the “Sweet Fart” series by Raymond Bean, a growing number of pupils are finding it difficult to choose books they want to read.
“Many children don't know how to find a book they're interested in,” Maxwell observed. “I know they don't read as much as they used to. I'd say 70 percent of my students read outside the classroom only for assignments.”
Maxwell is not alone in her observations of the changes in students' reading habits.
A study released by the England-based National Literacy Trust in 2013 showed that nearly a third of children between 8-16 said they read no text-based media at all in their daily leisure time.
In an article published in The Guardian, Jonathan Douglas, director of the Literacy Trust organization, described the decline as “a significant social and cultural trend which needs to be addressed.”
The study went on to relate that reading and writing were being shunned in favor of video-based communications.
"Originally we thought that children's reading was migrating from print to digital, that they were using messenger and reading eBooks,” Douglas was quoted as saying in The Guardian. “But increasingly they are consuming information in ways that do not involve reading or writing text."
It's a trend not lost on Maxwell and other teachers at Baseline.
“My colleagues had a conversation about what kids do when they get home and get online.”
It turns out that students do read when using online devices — mainly text messages — but an increasing number are watching YouTube as a source of media entertainment.
It's a dilemma that bothers Maxwell and literacy researchers who promote the impact reading — or lack thereof — has on people's lives.
“Reading helps you think,” Maxwell said. “The more students read, the higher their scores will be on (state-mandated) tests.”
The increasing reliance on computer technology in the classroom
More and more schools are making sure each student comes to class equipped with a Chromebook that allows them to access online education resources that enhances the curriculum taught by teachers.
Maxwell allows her students to use their Chromebooks to research information for essays and book reports.
“My seventh graders are doing a unit on the Holocaust,” Maxwell said. “The research available online ha captured their attention. There's so much out there for them to find.”
And yet, as students increase their use of online devices in the classroom, Maxwell has noticed a shift in their attitude about the importance of reading text.
“They feel as if the Internet will do the reading for them,” she said.
And relying on visual forms of media as a learning source, could hurt students when they become adults.
“There's going to be a huge gap between the have's and have-nots,” Maxwell predicted. “The have-nots will be stuck in low-end, low-paying jobs.”
Will paper books become a thing of the past?
The future of paper books and a love for reading isn't all gloom and doom, however.
Geek Wire news technology website released a report in 2015 showing paper book sales had increased 2.4 percent in 2014. and quoted “Publishers Weekly,” as saying “the 2014 figures are further evidence that print books are selling better than they have since sales of eBooks exploded in 2010.”
The difficulty some people have in using eBooks and other online reading devices may have something to do with the slight resurgence in paper book sales, according to Geek Wire founders and journalists John Cook and Todd Bishop.
People who read books online can find themselves distracted by notifications of incoming email or text messages. often find themselves distracted by eBooks or Kindle devices. Even when not distracted, people don't comprehend online text as well as text in paper book, according to several studies cited by Geek Wire.
A study conducted by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop found young children recalled less of an eBook narrative than kids who read print versions of the same story, according to Cook and Bishop.
It's studies such as the one conducted by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center that propels Maxwell's ongoing interest in encouraging students to read books.
“Reading is my No. 1 priority,” Maxwell said. “Our curriculum (for seventh-grade language arts) focuses mainly on writing, but I also stress reading. I start every class period with independent reading time from 10 to 20 minutes. Often times, students beg for more time.”
PHOTO: Baseline Middle School language arts teacher Lynne Maxwell stands next to a portion of her classroom library. Over the years, Maxwell has gathered hundreds of books for her students to read in their spare time.
Street projects top city's list of goals
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
Once again, street repairs and other infrastructure upgrades are among the top priorities for the South Haven City Council in the coming fiscal year.
Other top priorities include economic development, maintaining and improving the infrastructure and upgrades to public parking and parks.
The City Council held a special March 7 work session to hammer out the priorities, and at its March 21 meeting it voted to approve the priorities. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
The council wants the city to do as many street paving projects as possible in the coming fiscal year.
Some work is related to sewer system upgrades that is needed, so roads will be upgraded while they're torn up. These roads include portions of Black River, Lovejoy and Kalamazoo Streets, and North Shore Drive and Monroe Boulevard.
There will also be a great deal of planning for road work on Lakeshore Drive and North Beach, in preparation for grant-funded improvements coming there. Another project being planned is the reconstruction of Center Street, between Michigan Avenue and Williams Street.
"Whenever we tear up the roads, we have to replace the water and sewer lines," Mayor Bob Burr said. "Rebuilding the infrastructure has always been Number One since I've been mayor."
The second priority for the city will be economic development.
One goal is to try to sell the former industrial site at 220 Aylworth Ave., now owned by the city. Another goal is to seek private development along the I-196 Business Loop.
A related goal will be to bring more market rate housing to vacant land, and to undeveloped areas of the central business district.
A focus of the city's economic development plans will be trying to to attract and develop agricultural-based businesses.
Other priorities for the upcoming fiscal year include: Maintaining and improving public infrastructure; seeking to improve and maintain city parks and public amenities, including seeking grants for such projects; land acquisition and redevelopment projects; and maintaining and improving the central business district.
Also, the city will be reviewing city ordinances, and possibly changing some of them, including a review of the city's master land use plan; working to develop budget control policies; explore South Beach concessions proposals; upgrading the public works facility; building more bicycle and pedestrian paths; improving customer service. Finally, the city will also explore the possible expansion of services for youth.
An unexpected surprise
Historical association eligible to receive $60,000 lighthouse restoration grant
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
After raising more than $300,000 to restore South Haven's historic lighthouse, the Historical Association of South Haven has received a surprise boost in funding.
This past week, the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program notified the historical group that it is in line for a $60,000 grant to renovate the metal exterior of the 113-year-old beacon.
“Your organization's dedication to preserving Michigan's historic resources is to be commended,” said Brian Conway, state historic preservation officer for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, which oversees the Lighthouse Assistance Program.
News of the award pleased Ed Appleyard, treasurer of the historical association, which applied for the grant last year, in the midst of its lighthouse fundraising campaign.
“I really didn't expect we would get it,” Appleyard said. “There are so many other worthy organizations out there vying for grant funding.”
Restoration of the beacon's interior began in November of 2015 and is nearing completion.
Workers from Mihm Enterprises spent last week replacing steel bulkheads at the top of the beacon.
“Interior painting will happen this week, weather permitting,” said Tom Renner, a member of the Lighthouse Fundraising Committee. “Then new windows will be installed.”
Just when the exterior work will commence has not been finalized yet.
The historical association had hoped to award bids for the project later this month, however, it will now have to follow requirements of the grant agreement.
“The requirements for the grant will likely delay the start of the exterior work and we may have to put it off until after Labor Day,” Appleyard said. “We don't want it (the pier and lighthouse) closed during the summer months.”
Once work begins, the beacon and the end of the south pier will be off limits to the general public. People will still be able to walk the pier, but only to within 50-60 feet of the lighthouse, which will be encapsulated.
Restoration of the exterior will take 9-12 weeks to complete, weather permitting, according to Appleyard.
In the meantime, the historical association will work with city staff to create a walkway and memorial wall in honor of the major donors who contributed to the fundraising campaign. The walkway will be lined with memorial brick pavers that were purchased by contributors to the lighthouse restoration fund.
“We hope that this part of the project will be done by the end of June,” Appleyard said.
PHOTO: Ed Appleyard, treasurer of the Historical Association of South Haven, shows the inside of the South Haven lighthouse door, which was corroded by rust before being refurbished this past winter as part of the lighthouse restoration project. (Photo by Tom Renner)
The hunt is on!
Quinn Dewey, 2, of South Haven (pink jacket) and other children look for prizes and candy during the Easter Egg Hunt, this past Saturday, at Riverfront Park in South Haven. The first-time event, downtown, attracted several hundred youngsters, families and adults, who searched for 6,000 plastic eggs that contained candy, coupons nad gift certificates from downtown businesses. The Easter Egg Hunt was part of the one-day "Egg-stravaganza" festival that included children's activities and discounts at downtown shops. The Easter Egg Hunt was sponsored and organized by Shores of South Haven.
Proposed rental ordinance heads to city council
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
A proposed South Haven rental registration ordinance probably won't satisfy all its critics, based on a public hearing held last week.
But the city's Planning Commission members who recommend its approval believe it's a step in the right direction.
The planners voted unanimously to send the proposal to the City Council for consideration after Thursday night's hearing.
During the hearing, two dozen people spoke. Most said they want the ordinance to be more restrictive, particularly on the number of people allowed in a rental property.
"Reducing that number would probably make 80 percent of us happy," resident Pat Gaston said.
The proposed ordinance requires all short-term rentals properties to be registered with the city. It also sets an occupancy cap of 16 adults, but any number of kids under age six would be allowed.
Last fall, several residents voiced their concerns about the proliferation of large short-term vacation rental properties in residential neighborhoods.
In response, the City Council ordered the Planning Commission to come up with new regulations on the thriving seasonal rentals industry. It also placed a six-month moratorium on new, large rental properties until the regulations could be put into place.
The planners have worked for the past several months to draft the proposal, and the public hearing last night was the end of that process.
The council will introduce the ordinance at its next meeting on April 11, and then hold its own public hearing and consider approval at its April 18 meeting, said Zoning Administrator Linda Anderson.
The city defines short-term rentals as between two nights and a month. Any bookings less than two nights is already banned by the city.
At the hearing Thursday, many of those speaking said they feel the maximum occupancy cap needs to be lowered to 10, or less. Some also voiced opposition to the unlimited number of young kids that would be allowed, and suggested that be tightened up to include only infants.
"This does not go far enough," said former mayor Dorothy Appleyard. "The proposed occupancy level is way too high. Eight is a generous number."
The formula for determining maximum occupancy would be two adults per bedroom, plus two more for every floor of the residence - and the cap would be whatever is less, that number or 16.
Many of those speaking at the hearing also said the minimum rental length should be a week, not two nights.
No inspections would be required as part of the registration process.
The property owner would have to fill out a form certifying that information about the property, such as the square footage and number of bedrooms, is correct.
If the council adopts the ordinance, it would then determine the registration fee, Anderson said. Property owners would be given two or three months to register, Anderson said.
Anyone who rents without registering would be subject to a $750 fine for a first violation and a $1,000 fine for a subsequent violation. Violating the maximum occupancy cap would result in fines of up to $750. The city could revoke the rental registration for a calendar year if there are too many violations or incidents.
Some speaking at the hearing said they don't believe the revocation language has enough "teeth" to hold up in court.
There would also be a renter's guide setting forth guidelines in areas such as noise, parking, garbage removal and pets being required to be on a leash. There would also be a ban on fireworks, unless the owner of the home is present.
Commission Chairman Larry Heinig stressed that the ordinance could be subject to changes, once data on the rental properties can be collected and analyzed. This may be done in the fall, in conjunction with the development of a new city master land use plan when a consultant is brought on board.
"We will be required to evaluate this in the future," Heinig said.
South Haven briefly had a rental registration ordinance in late 2009, put in place under then-Mayor Dorothy Appleyard. But new Mayor Bob Burr and some other council members took office in January 2010, and the ordinance was rescinded after six months on the books.
Commissioner Dave Paull said he feels the proposal is "a reasonable compromise for what we're trying to accomplish."
But he chided the former city council for rescinding that ordinance.
"We would not be here struggling with these issues if that council had not revoked an existing ordinance," Paull said.
Markers proposed f or sites along Kal-Haven Trail
By ROD SMITH
For the Tribune
PAW PAW — It's more than just a trail. The Kal-Haven is a trip through history.
This past week, Van Buren County commissioners OKd a letter of support for a grant for the proposed "Kal-Haven Trail Heritage Project."
Commission Chair Richard Godfrey said Daniel Spiegel, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources employee, propose to place signs in South Haven, Bloomingdale and Kalamazoo indicating
historic locations along the trail.
The signs will include the trail itself, which had been a railroad that
supported communities from South Haven to Kalamazoo; plus other historic sites. Such places include an African-American cemetery for Union soldiers north of Bloomingdale on County Road
665 and Baseline Road in Allegan County's Cheshire Township; the world heavyweight champion boxer Joe Louis' home and training camp on Great Bear Lake near Berlamont; the oil wells and
refineries in the Bloomingdale area; as well as the ghost town of Mentha, situated on the Kalamazoo-Van Buren county line, where 90 percent of the world's spearmint oil was once produced.
Godfrey said Spiegel is seeking funds from the DNR Trust Fund, but at this point the amount hasn't been calculated.
In other county board news last week, commissioners formalized language for the Aug. 7 ballot for two millage proposals.
One is a renewal request by the Van Buren County Road Commission. It asks for 0.9769-mill for four years, beginning in the year 2016, for the purpose of maintenance, repair and construction of public streets.
County officials estimate the first year's levy will bring in $3,093,984.
Of that amount, the townships will collectively get $882,000 and the cities and villages $700,000. Another $200,000 will go to repair county bridges.
Most of the remaining $1,318,000 will be used to leverage about $7 million in projects.
For the owner of a property with a taxable value of $40,000, the tax would be $39.08.
The other request is 0.1-mill for the Van Buren County Conservation District.
The conservation district, based in Paw Paw, provides services and programs such as watershed protection projects, farm equipment rentals, educational workshops, seedling and plant sales, permits in the critical dune areas, conservation practices and farm bill program assistance.
If approved, the owner of a property with a $40,000 taxable valuation property, will pay an additional $4 per year in taxes.
The tax levy for the conservation district would last 10 years, beginning later this year,, and generate about $300,000 the first year.
Though there are no conservation districts nearby that levy a tax millage, the counties of Manistee, Benzie and Schoolcraft already receive a tenth of a mill for their conservation districts. Missaukee County voters approved a tax levy of 0.15-mill.
VB County board favors $35 million court and jail expansion
By ROD SMITH
For the Tribune
PAW PAW — The Van Buren County Board of Commissioners has rejected a $22 million jail and court expansion project in favor of an estimated $35 million project.
“We know where we’re going,” Commissioner Richard Freestone said following the split vote Tuesday.
Finding the money is the next challenge. Commissioners discussed several ideas, but no firm plan emerged.
Project Manager Jason Vetne of Kalamazoo-based architectural firm DLZ of Michigan outlined two projects to expand the jail and add court space. Both proposals involve razing the former sheriff’s residence on the south side of the jail complex.
Option 1 would have involved a 12,000-square-foot jail addition on the jail/sheriff’s office complex’s north side. That would have been used for booking, housing, a day room, medical, offices and storage. An east addition would have been a receiving building and kitchen.
On the south, where the former sheriff’s residence stands, would have been 39,000 square feet of new space for courtrooms and related offices.
The cost was put at about $12 million.
In addition, there would be renovations to the current jail, annex building and historic courthouse. Add to that $2 million of site changes and contingencies, and the estimate came to $22 million.
Option 2 is largely the same, but with the new court building extended farther south for a total of 80,000 square feet, plus another $1 million for site improvements and contingencies.
Under that plan the officials in the Administration and Land Management Building across the street north of the courthouse will be moved to the new space. The current building could be sold.
“They’re dramatically different paths of development,” Vetne told commissioners.
In either case, the new court space will take up St. Joseph Street to the south of the courthouse square.
“Neither plan can go forward without the abandonment of that street,” Freestone said.
Before the plan can advance the county will have to convince Paw Paw to abandon the right-of-way and give the street to the county.
Commissioner John “Mike” Henry favored going with the smaller plan, which he said had “an incredible amount of space.” He said the larger and more expensive Option 2 was excessive.
“Option 1 is a reasonable approach, I believe, toward the future needs of the county,” Henry said. He also called it “fiscally prudent.”
But Commissioner Susan Hammond said that in 10 years commissioners might wish they had the additional space, which could cost two to three times as much to build.
A motion to go with the cheaper option went down 5-2, with Henry and Vice Chairwoman Beth Griffin in the minority.
Henry voted against the motion to have the architect begin working on Option 2.
“I think the cost is excessive,” Henry said. “I think the square footage is excessive.”
Commissioners are hoping to break ground for the new jail addition in April 2017.
The sheriff’s office and jail complex is west of the main courthouse and faces South Kalamazoo Street. The former sheriff’s residence is at the south end. The buildings take up the entire 200 block of the east side of the street.
Two weeks ago District Judge Robert Hentchel said that he was concerned the noise and vibration from the construction project might make it impossible for him to operate his courtroom, forcing him to close it. Commission Chair Richard Godfrey said the new plan may not make that closure necessary because construction will be further away.
Negative politics of 2016 helps shape Speakers Series
A variety of themes, ranging from Great Lakes water quality issues to prison reform to the dysfunction of political institutions, will be among the topics to be presented during the second season of the South Haven Speakers Series.
The Series, with the theme “Issues, Innovations and Ideas Shaping Our Lives,” was launched in 2015 for the purpose of informing citizens by stimulating thought on significant issues of the day through presentations by non-partisan experts not otherwise available to South Haven. All presentations will be at the South Haven campus of Lake Michigan College, 125 Veterans Blvd. Each program will begin at 7:30 p.m.
Started as part of SHOUT for South Haven, the Series is now its own non-profit organization with an all-volunteer board of directors headed by President Mark Odland.
“We are grateful for the response we received in our inaugural year and have strived to bring more thought-provoking speakers to this year’s Series,” said Odland.
The Speakers Series will feature five presentations beginning in April and continuing through October.
The first presentation is titled “Saving the Great Lakes: Water Quality Issues,” will be Thursday, April 14. Cameron Davis, Sr., senior advisor to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, along with South Haven resident Robert Tolpa, who retired from the EPA, will lead the lecture.
A panel of speakers will lead the second lecture, “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?” Thursday, May 5. Featured will be Rick Albin, a veteran WOOD-TV political reporter who hosts the weekly program “To The Point,” retired U.S. Rep. Dr. Joe Schwarz and retired State Representative Joan Bauer. They will share their views on why our political institutions have become so dysfunctional.
Erik Mollenhauer, a nationally recognized science educator with a passion for the environment, will speak Tuesday, June 28. His presentation, “Reconnecting with Nature in a Digital World,” will challenge the audience to explore what happens to our humanity when we separate ourselves from nature. Mollenhauer is a past recipient of the New Jersey Presidential Award for Science Teaching.
“The Case for Sentencing and Prison Reform” will be the Thursday, Sept. 15 topic to be presented by Joe Haveman, a former State Representative from Holland. Michigan spends more on prisons than on higher education with the average Michigan prisoner serving nearly 50% more time than the national average. Haveman will examine the causes as well as the related financial, social and moral costs of the state's current prison system and how it can be improved. He is currently director of government relations for the Hope Network, a behavioral healthcare and neuro-rehabilitation non-profit organization.
The final presentation of the season will be Thursday, Oct. 20 when Michigan author Brad Schwartz presents “Fake News: 2016.” Schwartz is the author of “Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News.” During his talk in South Haven, Schwartz will discuss the fake news of 2016 and challenge the audience to be aware of the need to fact check what is being said.
The Series is made possible through grants from the South Haven Community Foundation, Meijer and Carole and Don Hodgman. There is a $10 admission charge with student admitted free. Refreshments are served after the presentations.
Members of the Speakers Series board of directors include Joan Bauer, Dick Brunvand, Bob Copping, Frank Cunningham, Sandy Fenske, Don Hixson, Carole Hodgman, Mark Odland, Tom Renner, Susan Ryan, Elaine Stephens, Rosemary Thurber, Robert Tolpa, Janice Varney and Donald Wheat.
A South Haven tradition
Sherman's celebrates its 100th anniversary
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Robins and crocuses signal the start of spring.
But South Haven has another indicator of spring's arrival — the annual opening of Sherman's Dairy Bar.
This year's opening, March 4, took place on a cold 35-degree day, however, that didn't stop people from driving to the popular ice cream shop, 1601 Phoenix St., to enjoy their favorite cold, creamy concoction.
Hillary Fisher of True Blue Farms in Grand Junction, was one of the early bird customers.
“Myself and our staff decided to take a break and enjoy some ice cream,” she said. “I told them they could get whatever they want – we might even get a Pig's Dinner (Sherman's deluxe version of a banana split).”
The True Blue employees sat down to enjoy their treat in the dairy bar's dining room, which has been remodeled as part of Sherman's 100th anniversary this year.
Bob Eiesenman, owner of Sherman's, unveiled the remodeled room on March 3 to remaining members of the Sherman family and contractors who helped with the project.
“We stripped the old wallpaper, put in new booth seats, painted the walls, added more lighting, took down the old pictures and had new photo panels made that show Sherman's history,” Eisenman said.
The company also treated guests to free ice cream, including a flavor that proved very popular 40 years ago – Fudge Ripple.
“When the Shermans found out we were offering Fudge Ripple again, they got really excited,” Eisenman said, chuckling.
“When we first started making ice cream, the second most popular one was Fudge Ripple. But then everyone discovered Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream,” Eisenman said. “It killed Fudge Ripple so 25 years ago we stopped making it. But in the last three years people started asking for it again, so we decided to include it as part of our 100th anniversary. It's a vanilla bean flavor with thick chocolate butter fudge. It's really quite good.”
Sherman's now makes more than 40 flavors of ice cream, so it may surprise people that vanilla still remains as the most popular flavor, but that doesn't stop Eisenman from coming up with such unique blends as Chocolate Malt Supreme, Chocomania, Cherry Amaretto and Grasshopper.
“Many flavor houses have ingredients for certain recipes, but we also have been successful with combining various flavors,” said Eisenman, who first began working for the Sherman family 31 years ago as a sales manager.
“I tell people I spent three years trying to get the Shermans to adopt me, they were such wonderful people,” Eisenman said.
The Sherman family evidently liked and trusted Eisenman enough that in
1988 they sold the Dairy Bar to him. They then sold him the warehouse business, and finally the property on Phoenix Road.
“The wonderful thing about the Shermans is that never once did they look over my shoulder when I bought the business,” Eisenman said. “But whenever I ran into a problem, they were right there with advice.
“The Sherman family was one hard-working family and they kept the business in the family all those years. They created quality products,” Eisenman went on to say. “Many of their formulas and ingredients haven't changed in 40-50 years.”
Sherman's traces its roots to 1916 when South Haven Township dairy farmer Ralph Sherman began delivering milk with a horse-drawn wagon from house to house. As the business flourished, Ralph passed on the business to his son Rupert who set up a milk-bottling business next to the present-day dairy bar on Phoenix Road.
Rupert, in turn passed the dairy cow and milk-bottling business to his sons, Rupert Jr., Bert, Gerald and Porter.
It was Port, as people called him, who toyed with the idea of making ice cream.”
He first began selling it house to house, along with Sherman's milk.
He then began approaching ice cream stores and finally grocery stores to stock his products.
“Sherman's is creamier than most ice creams,” Eisenman said. “Port insisted on quality ingredients. Our motto is 'Quality comes first, then price.'”
By the late 1960s it became more and more difficult for the Shermans to continue operating the dairy company due to competition from large dairies. The brothers continued to oversee the dairy herd and sold their share of the dairy and ice cream business to Porter, who eventually stopped bottling milk in the early 1970s. The other three brothers, who were getting older, eventually sold the dairy herd in the 1980s.
But the ice cream business continued to grow and gain a reputation throughout southwest Michigan.
Sherman's ice cream can now be purchased in ice cream parlors as far away as Indianapolis, Ind. and Chicago, Ill.
“We sell about 150,000 gallons of ice cream a year,” Eisenman said.
“Most of our growth is now in northern Indiana.”
Sherman's plans to continue its 100th anniversary celebration this summer.
“We're planning an event sometime in June,” Eisenman said.
PHOTO: From left: True Blue Farms employees Mary Tayllor, Hillary Fisher, Max Poindexter, Nick Fisher, Caitlin Koch, Karen Copeland and Maria Machado enjoy ice cream during Sherman Dairy Bar's opening day of the season, March 4.
PHOTO: The remodeled interior of Sherman's Dairy Bar is shown. The interior was remodeled as part of Sherman's 100th anniversary celebration this year.
Whiteford succeeds in winning House seat
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Mary Whiteford may have lost to Cindy Gamrat in 2014 for the 80th District House of Representatives seat, but she made a comeback in Tuesday's special election to take over the seat vacated by Gamrat when she was expelled from the House in 2015.
Whiteford, R-Casco Township, defeated Democrat challenger David Gernant of Plainwell by a two-to-one margin, earning 64 percent of the vote. Gernant compiled 30 percent of the votes, while Libertarian candidate Arnie Davidsons earned 6 percent.
“I am deeply humbled and thankful for the support everyone has given me over the last 7 months,” said Whiteford, who owns Whiteford Tax and Financial Services in South Haven, along with her husband, Kevin. “The responsibility of representing Allegan County in Lansing is something I take very seriously and look forward to working hard on their behalf.”
Whiteford's long road to Lansing began two-and-a-half years ago when she first began campaigning for the 80th District seat, which encompasses most of Allegan County. She then faced Gamrat and three other Republican challengers in the August primary and came in second place, while Gamrat went on to win the general election in November.
The loss, however, failed to subdue Whiteford, who set her sights on the 2016 election by attending local government meetings, visiting community groups and attending events throughout the county.
So, when Gamrat and State Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, became involved in an extra-marital affair that eventually led to Gamrat's expulsion from the House and Courser's resignation in September 2015, Whiteford's continual campaigning paid off.
She easily won the Republican nomination in November 2015's special primary election by defeating seven other candidates, including Gamrat, who tried in vain to win back her seat. She then went on to face Gernant in Tuesday's special general election and won.
“All along I've said that working hard to attend meetings all across the district, listening to the leaders of all our local government and civic organizations and making sure they know their voices will be heard in Lansing was a key part to our success,” Whiteford said. “I was attending meetings and working with leaders even when I wasn't running for office, so doing this is second nature to me.”
She'll now set up her office in the state capitol and says she's looking forward to it.
“I am eager to get to work in Lansing. I can't wait to get started so Allegan County residents know they'll have a credible conservative voice in Lansing working for them.”
She won't be able to focus solely on her new job long. Whiteford will soon be hitting the campaign trail again, because Gamrat's unfinished term will end Dec. 31. That means Whiteford will have to compete in the upcoming August primary and in the November election to continue representing Allegan County through 2018.
“It's actually just 7 weeks until the filing deadline,” she said.
Jordan Plastics seeks tax break for expansion
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
South Haven city officials will soon consider whether to grant a tax break to a local industry.
East Jordan Plastics Inc. is seeking a tax abatement from the city for a $1.1 million expansion of its plant at 1600 Stieve Drive.
The City Council last week voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing on the request for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 21.
After the hearing, the council will decide whether to grant the proposed 12-year, 50 percent tax break, which is valued at $150,400 over the 12-year period.
The company uses recycled plastics to make containers for the horticulture industry. The project will allow the company to add three jobs and retain eight at the Stieve Drive plant, City Manager Brian Dissette said.
"They've been a real asset to the community," Dissette said.
In other matters, the council last week voted unanimously to approve a two-year contract with VHF Inc., Allegan, for the exclusive vending rights for the North Beach concessions stand.
Company owner Ken Van Horn previously operated the concessions at the city's South Beach the past several seasons as a subcontractor for contract holder Dan Olson.
Van Horn submitted the only proposal.
The city is currently seeking requests for proposals for the South Beach concessions too. The application deadline is Thursday, said Assistant City Manager Kate Hosier.
Under the terms of the agreement, Van Horn will pay the city $5,000 this year. In the second year, he'll pay $5,000 plus an amount equal to 2 percent of his revenues, Hosier said.
The city only approved a two-year agreement due to uncertainty of how the planned North Beach improvements project may affect the concessions operation in 2018.
In other matters, the council last week voted to approve a resolution of support for a proposed state law that would give Masonic meeting halls tax-exempt status.
The proposal would give the buildings the same tax status as other nonprofit, philanthropic organizations. The resolution was requested by officers of the Star of the Lake Masonic Temple and Lodge in South Haven.
In a letter to city officials, Past President Tim Stegeman noted that the tax burden for the South Haven building equals more than half of its annual revenues; and that major building upgrades are needed soon on the structure on Center Street. It's more than 100 years old, he said.
The South Haven property includes commercial rental space downstairs. As a result, Stegeman said it is not expected there would be a full tax exemption, but there would be significant tax relief.
Two trials loom for suspects involved in Bangor man's death
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
Two criminal cases related to the 1988 homicide of Charles Paul Miller of Bangor will soon be addressed in Van Buren Circuit Court.
Police reopened the cold case homicide investigation in 2000 when one of the three suspects, Charles Dean Lamp, led police to Miller's grave north of Grand Junction and implicated himself and two others in Miller's fatal shooting and burial.
Lamp and Guy Charles Simpson both testified in the first trial of the third suspect, Junior Fred Blackston, saying it was Blackston who fired the rifle and killed Miller.
Blackston was convicted, but appealed and won. He was then convicted in a second trial, and appealed that conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that he should get a third trial.
Blackston's third trial is set for May 10 in circuit court.
On Friday, March 4, Van Buren District Court Judge Art Clarke ruled that there is probable cause to bind over Simpson, now 49, to circuit court on a charge of open murder.
Originally, prosecutors reached a deal with Simpson, saying he would have immunity if he testified against Blackston. However, that deal was revoked after Simpson refused to testify in the second Blackston trial.
That opened the door to him being charged in the case. He was arrested in January.
During Simpson's preliminary hearing on March 4, Lamp testified that only he and Blackston had planned the killing.
"(Simpson) was never present when we were planning it," Lamp said.
Lamp said when he went to Blackston's Bangor home the day of the slaying, Simpson was also there.
That concerned Lamp, but Blackston said it was OK that Simpson would accompany them and Miller to the killing site, off Baseline Road. Lamp said he and Blackston lured Miller to the site with a bogus story that they would raid a marijuana field.
Blackston shot Miller as he approached the already-dug grave, and Lamp and Simpson both helped bury the body, Lamp testified. Lamp was sentenced earlier to 10-15 years to a reduced charge of manslaughter, and he's already served his prison time.
Simpson's defense lawyer, John Frost, asked Lamp whether Simpson was aware of the murder plot when he went with the others. Lamp said he "assumed he knew," but on cross-examination admitted he did not know if that was true.
The killing was actually in Allegan County, but the case has been handled in Van Buren County because it's within a mile of Van Buren County.
Two other charges, felony firearm and conspiracy to commit murder, have been dismissed.
Frost also tried to poke holes in the testimony of Blackston's girlfriend at the time of the killing, Darlene Rhoades.
Rhoades said she overheard Guy and Blackston discussing what had happened to Miller.
Simpson said, "It seemed like something in a dream, there was so much blood," she testified.
But Frost said, "You've given several different versions about what happened."
At several points during her testimony, Rhoades said she could not recall several details.
But regarding the overheard conversation, she insisted her memory was good.
"I do remember the statement about the blood. I thought it was kind of strange. It stuck with me," she said.
Police said earlier they believe Miller was killed because he owed Blackston money for drugs.
Maritime museum plans to construct larger building
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
If you'd like to visit the Michigan Maritime Museum this time of year, you can't, because it's closed during the winter months. However, that may change in the next couple of years.
The museum plans to replace its small 3,000-square-foot facility with a new two-story, 15,000-square-foot building that will house multiple galleries, classrooms for educational programs and space for conferences and other public gatherings.
“We’ve grown significantly over the past decade and our needs have far surpassed our space in so many of our day-to-day operations,” said Patti Montgomery-Reinert, executive director of the museum, 260 Dyckman Ave. “The current building was never meant to be a museum, but we have adapted it as much as possible.”
In addition to the expanded gallery space and classrooms, the new museum will include elements necessary for proper care of artifacts, including a controlled temperature climate room, proper lighting and advanced security standards that many institutions demand when lending artifacts for exhibits.
“These changes alone would give us the capability of becoming a year-round attraction to our community and West Michigan,” Reinert said. “We can do more with the schools. We can host conferences. We've been asked to host events, but we don't have the space.”
The museum is currently housed in a welcome center building that Palisades Nuclear Power Plant donated 40 years ago.
“There's no office space, no classroom space, we have one main exhibit room, but we have to close the museum when we tear down one exhibit and put up a new one,” Montgomery said.
The museum's Board of Directors has spent the past two years studying the museum's needs and is now in the process of launching a $1.5 million capital campaign to raise funds for the approximately $3 million project.
The remaining funds may come from the City of South Haven, which owns the waterfront property on which the museum's buildings are located.
Museum officials are conducting preliminary discussions with city officials to create conference space that would be shared by both the city and the museum.
As part of the planning process, the Council plans to analyze if the museum's site along the city''s harbor can house a shared conference space, which could positively impact the year-round local economy.
“The Michigan Maritime Museum capital improvement project has the potential to create a world-class atmosphere that would promote our city,” said Mayor Bob Burr. “This project, if properly planned and implemented, has the potential to create a wonderful shared space that in addition to maritime education, could host a variety of public and private gatherings. I believe this space would be very popular for business conferences, weddings, and gatherings for local groups.”
If the project comes to fruition, a target date for completion would be spring of 2018.
Murder case advances against Grand Junction man
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
Brent Bogseth of Grand Junction will be bound over to Van Buren County Circuit Court to possibly face trial on a charge he killed his wife Kim in the fall of 2015.
District Court Judge Art Clarke III last week said there is probable cause to support the prosecution's theory that Bogseth killed his wife, whose body was found Sept. 9 in a wooded area near their Columbia Township home.
Just days before the body was found under a tree, in plastic trash bags covered with brush and ferns, police found Kim Bogseth's dismantled cell phone in the back of her husband's Ford Explorer.
Her purse was found in the yard of a neighbor, with whom Brent Bogseth had claimed was having an affair with his wife. He contacted police about finding the purse, which was soaking wet.
Van Buren County Assistant Prosecutor Jay Blair said he believes Bogseth planted the purse to try to frame the neighbor for the slaying.
Also, Bogseth told police the neighbor had given him a CD case containing his wife's phone the day before police searched the vehicle, but he was not aware the phone was inside.
"It is a clear case of a cover-up," Blair told the judge.
He noted that while Brent Bogseth's tool bag was found in his vehicle, his favorite work hammer was missing. Blair believes that was the murder weapon, which was never recovered. The head injuries on Kim Bogseth were consistent with hammer blows, he said.
Brent Bogseth's defense lawyer, Rudolph Marcelletti, argued the case against his client is purely circumstantial and that there is not enough evidence for the case to proceed.
"There is nothing that really ties him to the specific act," he said. "He found the purse. So what? There were tools in his truck. So what? There is nothing that puts him where the homicide took place. At best, things look suspicious. There was that CD case in my client's truck. But that's not evidence of murder. It's not even probable cause," he said.
During the hearing, South Haven coffee shop employee Wednesday Verity testified that days before the body was found, Brent Bogseth came in ask her for a favor.
Bogseth was a regular customer in the coffee shop, she said. That day, Bogseth asked Verity to call the police and pose as Kim Bogseth, and to say "she's OK." She refused, and called police and told them about the request after the body was found.
In other testimony, the couple who shared the home with the Bogseths said a few days before the body was found, Brent Bogseth used so much bleach while doing laundry that remaining bleach in the washing machine ruined some of their own clothes.
A speck of Kim Bogseth's blood was found on a tire inflator can inside her husband's truck.
A warrant for his arrest was issued after his wife's body was found, and he was arrested in Chicago.
Kim Bogseth was 32. Her husband had filed for divorce and custody of their 19-month-old son in Van Buren County the day before her body was found.
In the child custody documents, Bogseth said his wife left him after her extramarital affair was discovered. The documents discussed the alleged affair with the next-door neighbor. The documents say she left after her husband confronted the neighbor, who apologized about the affair.
Brent Bogseth is believed to be the last person to see his wife alive, police say. He told police he drove his wife to work at the Admiral Discount Tobacco store in South Haven the morning she went missing, but dropped her off a couple of blocks from the store. She never showed up to work that day.
Gamrat, Courser arraigned on felony charges
By TRIBUNE STAFF
Preliminary exams have been set for two former state representatives who face felony charges.
Cindy Gamrat, who represented the 80th District, which includes Allegan County, and Todd Courser of Lapeer, were arraigned this past week in 54A District Court in Lansing. Gamrat was released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond while Courser was released on a $7,500 personal recognizance bond.
Their next day in court will be March 15 when they face a preliminary exam, according to a news release issued by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Gamrat has been charged with two charges of misconduct in office and could face up to five years in prison and/or a maximum $10,000 fine. Courser faces three charges of misconduct in office and a perjury charge, which could lead to a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
The legal problems Gamrat and Courser now contend with stem from an extra-marital affair they had and attempts made to cover it up.
Schuette and the Michigan State Police filed felony charges against Gamrat and Courser following an investigation into the actions of the former state legislators that ended with the expulsion of Gamrat and resignation of Courser last year.
Schuette alleges Gamrat and Courser engaged in a pattern of corrupt conduct while holding state office. They allegedly lied to the House Business Office during its investigation, while Courser lied, while under oath, when testifying to the House Select Committee about whether he directed his staff to forge his signature on proposed legislation.
South Haven native named new assistant city manager
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
South Haven Deputy Clerk Kate Hosier has been promoted to assistant city manager.
Hosier succeeds Paul VandenBosch in the city's second-tier administrative post, and will continue to serve as deputy clerk until a replacement can be found, City Manager Brian Dissette said.
"She has a proven track record, an incredibly strong understanding of the marina operations, a high degree of energy and the ability to learn," he said.
Since VandenBosch's departure last fall, Hosier had been handling some of his duties such as oversight of the marinas and the harbor, and as staff liaison to the Local Development Finance Authority/Brownfields Redevelopment Board.
Hosier, 37, is a 1996 South Haven High School graduate who earned a law degree from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. She was previously employed with the South Haven Police Department as a dispatcher, and worked for the city marinas.
She'll also help out with city grant writing and general governmental administration, Dissette said. Her annual salary will be $64,000.
Meanwhile, water filtration plant worker Ricardo "Richie" Garcia has been promoted to water plant superintendent, succeeding Bob Miller.
Garcia has worked at the plant for about seven years, first as a plant operator and more recently as the operator in charge. His annual salary was set at $63,000.
"We are confident that Kate and Richie will play key roles in providing and implementing high-quality services for the city's residents and visitors," Dissette said.
South Haven Planning Chairman gives up post
David Paull cites online attacks; will retain a seat on planning commission
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
The controversy surrounding short-term vacation rentals in South Haven apparently took its toll on the city planning commission chairman who has resigned from his position.
David Paull, who has served as the commission's leader for a number of years, said the personal attacks levied against him and the planning commission led to his decision.
“With all the crap going around town and on the internet, it wasn't fun...I don't want to continue to take abuse directed at me personally. I'm done. It was affecting my health,” said Paull, who has served on the planning commission for the past 20 years. However, after talking with city officials, he said he would remain as a member of the board. Larry Heinig, who was vice-chair of the commission, will take over as the new chairperson.
News of Paull's resignation as commission chair saddened commenters on South Haven Initiative for Neighborhood Equity (SHINE) Facebook site. SHINE is a group opposed to the recent increase in construction of second homes used primarily for short-term vacation rentals.
After Paull resigned Feb. 24, SHINE's administrator wrote, “Planning Commission Chairman Dave Paull resigns due to hate mail and threats. Sound familiar?...Mr. Paull was the only planning commissioner insisting that 'use' be considered when a structure is built in a neighborhood. Now he has been intimidated and silenced too. South Haven - a town dominated and ruled by bullies.”
But Paull said comments made on Facebook sites, primarily on the SHINE site, are the exact reason he resigned. Posts on SHINE's site refer to the planners as “morons,” “greedy b...stards,” “spineless,” and “incompetent.” One post by an out-of-town resident, stated, “time to throw out the trash.”
“I've been in public service for 35 years,” said Paull, who has served on various boards and commissions for the City of South Haven, including three terms as mayor in the 1990s. “I don't think I need to subject myself to these personal attacks.”
The SHINE group has been critical of the planning commission and city council since October 2015 when a group of citizens, opposed to the construction of a short-term rental home on Cass Street, appealed to city officials to stop the home from being built. The group told council members the home, which will be used primarily for vacation rentals, should not be allowed in a neighborhood zoned for residential use.
In response,, the city council put a six-month moratorium on new home construction, passed several zoning amendments to address height requirements on new homes and off-street parking for large new homes, and also instructed the planning commission to develop a short-term rental ordinance, which it is in the process of doing.
However, SHINE has continued to criticize city officials. The Facebook site claims city officials aren't doing enough to stop construction of new short-term rentals by limiting them to certain sections of the city reserved for commercial uses. The site also claims members of the planning commission involved in real estate have a conflict of interest.
“What on earth is happening to my beloved home town? One person wrote. “How do you fix such deep corruption? Nice to see Planning Commissioners (and their tenants) logging on to SHINE to defend themselves against charges of conflict of interest.”
The SHINE administrator posted, “The new ordinance is designed to legalize those loopholes, not protect against them. Liars, thieves, horrible.”
The administration of SHINE's site is unclear. The initial administrator stepped away from those duties, and it is now run anonymously.
Otherwise, the South Haven Tribune would have sought comment from someone with the site.
Citizens meet to discuss rentals, future of city
By ANDREW LERSTEN
For the Tribune
South Haven needs more year-round jobs and residents.
That was a key message hammered home at a meeting sponsored by a group of local citizens concerned about the recent increase of vacation rental homes in South Haven, particularly large homes that are being built specifically for short-term rentals.
Dozens of people attended the event at the Historical Association of South Haven. Several city officials, including City Manager Brian Dissette also attended. However, they did not make comments. Dissette said he attended to listen to people and to take notes.
The Rev. Jeffrey Dick of First Congregational Church in South Haven moderated the meeting, which was billed as the first in a series. He kept the tone of the meeting civil and productive.
While the meeting was ostensibly designed to discuss ways to regulate or minimize the short-term rentals industry flourishing in the city, it was clear that luring new businesses and residents was a major priority for those who attended.
South Haven's full-time population has declined to 4,300 from 5,500 in 1990. Since the late-1990s, more than 50 percent of the homes and condos in the city are now owned by second homeowners or retirees.
Starting in the 1970s, South Haven lost several large employers, such as Noble Industries, Bohn Aluminum, and Everett Piano Co. Although the city's three industrial parks are full, the newer industries do not provide large-scale employment. Major employers in the City of South Haven now include South Haven Health System, Albemarle pharmaceutical plant, Do-It Inc., American Twisting, Meijer and Walmart. New fruit processing and cold storage facilities proposed by MBG Marketing and Hanson Logistics at a site on 2nd Avenue are expected to bring 200 additional jobs to the South Haven area.
But local residents remain concerned about South Haven's growing status as a tourism community.
"Families are moving away," said Aaron Cobb. "There are no jobs. We can't continue the way South Haven is going."
Added Vikke Andersen: "Where are the companies? They're in China. They're in Mexico. They're not here."
Many of those attending said the city needs to find a healthy balance between the thriving summer tourism industry and year-round commerce. They also think the city needs to strike a balance between second-homes used for short-term rentals and homes used as primary residences.
Several attendees noted that in some ways, South Haven is a victim of its own good fortune: Being located along Lake Michigan has made it a desirable place that has priced out many young families that may consider moving here.
"We are a victim of our own success and the lake," Forrest Austell said.
Patricia Gaston said the desired balance could be addressed in part through good zoning decisions.
"It's a balance: Zoning is a contract you have with the community," she said.
Event Coordinator Susan Ryan presented the results of a survey taken of 100 city residents who have land-line phones.
She said 75 percent of the respondents said they feel their lives are negatively impacted by "enormous vacation rental homes," and that 80 percent said the city should enact stricter zoning codes regarding the location of such homes.
Also, 84 percent said city officials should disclose any personal financial ties they have related to zoning decisions.
City officials are working on a proposed short-term rental ordinance that in part will require homes to be registered and will set occupancy limits for the number of guests that can stay in the homes. The city Planning Commission will hold a March 24 public hearing on its recommendations, which will then go to the City Council. The council will in turn hold its own public hearing before moving forward.
Work begins on Covert Township public safety complex
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
COVERT — Expect to see construction equipment for the next 10 months along M-140 Highway near Covert Post Office as contractors begin the process of building the township's new public safety building.
Township officials took part in a ceremonial groundbreaking this past Tuesday to mark the start of the construction project.
“It is a great day in Covert Township,” said Dennis Palgen, township clerk at the start of the groundbreaking for the 20,000-square-foot facility that will house the fire, ambulance and police services.
Work will begin in earnest this week for the $2.8 million complex.
“We'll have the excavators here first,” said Brian Boersema of Tridonn Construction Co., which has been hired to complete the project, along with Dimensions architectural firm. Both compan