MICHIGAN — A proposed order would prevent people from going into the water at state-run beaches during hazardous conditions.
The policy, introduced by Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger, is part of an effort to increase public safety.
In a June memo to the Natural Resources Commission, Eichinger wrote despite education, flag warning systems, and other measures, safety rescues at Great Lake beaches continue to happen, even during “red flag” conditions when the lake is considered high risk and dangerous.
As a result, Eichinger introduced an amendment which would ban people in state parks and recreation areas from exiting, “the state managed beach area for the purpose of entry into the water where entry is prohibited by signage and/or communication by a department employee or their designee.”
Parks and recreation officers’ authority is land-based, therefore banning swimming outright is not possible.
Right now, DNR only recommends beachgoers stay out of the water when a red flag is flying with no other enforcement capabilities.
“This gives us a tool that we could use before to prevent emergencies from happening if we chose to do that,” said Ron Olson, DNR’s parks and recreations chief. “It gives that one more step to put some teeth into the already existing advisories.”
Olson says in addition to red flag days, the rule could be used during other situations, like emergency situations. According to Olson, the intention is to give ample warning before enforcement.
“The idea would be to have them get out of the water and if they defy that, we’ll just have to use judgement,” said Olson.
Eichinger is using the 1994 Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act to introduce the proposal. It authorizes the director to issue orders to implement land use rules, meaning no vote is needed to go into effect. However, it will be up for public comment Thursday at the Natural Resources Commission meeting.
The order is set to go into effect August 12. Violators would face a state civil infraction and a fine up to $500.
In a blog post last week, Michigan United Conservation Clubs criticized the proposal, saying it could lead to a slippery slope for other public land use rules.
Grand Haven City Manager Pat McGinnis disagreed and said he supports the change.
“We’re not talking about posting officers down there with ticket books, waiting for you to go get your feet wet on a red flag day,” said McGinnis. “
Grand Haven State Park attracts thousands of visitors each year but has had its fair share of drownings. In 2018, rough waters caused two people to die and put several others in the hospital.
“As our first responders were out there going from rescue effort to rescue effort, more people were just walking into the water like nothing was going on,” said McGinnis. “In that situation, we want to give law enforcement officers the very clear and definite authority to say ‘Stay out of the water or we’re going to need to fine you,’ because every time somebody went in, we had exhausted first responders who were going back in to help them and they were at risk.”
City officials in Holland and Muskegon were not available or did not reply when asked about the proposal by FOX17.
According to Olson, userships at state parks are up 25 percent.
“All we’re trying to do is make the experience that people have at beach areas as safe as they can be,” said Olson.
To make a comment or participate in Thursday’s meeting, click here.