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City Gears Up to Fight Waterway Issue

June 21, 2008

By Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press

Jun. 21–Keego Harbor officials hoped the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would help them crack down on hundreds of rowdy boaters gathering on a sandbar in Cass Lake for weekend parties and indecent behavior.

But now, the city says it may have to take on the state to fight the boaters.

The City Council is preparing to challenge the DNR decision to reject a city-drafted proposal that would restrict use of the waterway, limit the number of boats that can be tied together and boost lake patrols. It stopped short of voting Thursday to appeal to the Natural Resources Commission.

If the city does appeal, city and DNR officials say it would be the first filed in Michigan since new rules were enacted to allow appeals.

“Council members had mixed feelings,” City Manager Dale Stuart said Friday, adding the appeal must be filed by early August and could cost the city $10,000 to $30,000 in legal fees. “Some didn’t feel an appeal would get very far. Others thought it was necessary.”

City officials are concerned that when more than 100 boats anchor on a shallow stretch of the 1,280-acre lake’s eastern shore on weekends for parties, it poses a safety hazard. Boaters sometimes get out of control, and their vessels clog the waterway for emergency craft, officials said.

The DNR made its decision in May, after holding a public hearing and examining police reports from last summer that included incidents in which one person severed a finger, another broke a leg and one boat bumped into another.

“The incidents alone didn’t justify additional patrols,” said DNR acting Lt. Andrew Turner, adding that the lake already “receives more marine enforcement and public safety attention than any other inland lake in the entire state.”

Keego Harbor patrols the lake, which is dotted with homes, with one police boat, and issues hundreds of tickets a year to those driving boats drunk, vomiting on lawns and sunbathing without bikini tops.

Contact FRANK WITSIL at 248-351-3690 or witsil@freepress.com.

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