Surfers and kitesurfers oppose plan to ban Michigan high-wave swimming
Okemos – Surfers, kitesurfers, body surfers and other water enthusiasts on Thursday urged the Natural Resources Department to reconsider an ordinance that could prevent their access to water on days of strong wind and waves.
Instead, authorities should focus on education, signage and lifeguards to better protect Great Lakes swimmers, especially visitors unfamiliar with lake waves and currents, they argued.
Or make exceptions for sports such as surfing, kitesurfing or kayaking.
Almost a dozen people spoke out against the effect it would have on wind and wave sports. There has been no public comment in support of the proposed policy.
“Good intentions don’t always lead to good decisions,” said Ken Gothman, a Great Lakes kite surfer. Gothman called the proposal a “drastic fix” and said the state should be prepared to face litigation.
“We would like to know what the data and the science are to justify such a solution,” he said.
Eric Little, a Great Lakes kite surfer, said most water enthusiasts support measures to keep people safe. But, he said, “that’s not the way to run it, to steal everyone’s freedom to enjoy these Great Lakes.”
Nicholas Occhipinti of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters expressed concern about maintaining public access to public waters as well as the effectiveness of the proposal.
The intention to protect swimmers is good, Occhipinti said, but “it is a blunt instrument to deal with that intention.”
The commissioners, who do not have the final say on the new decree, also expressed concern about the impact the decree would have on wind and wave activities among those who have faced wave dynamics and of the currents of the Great Lakes.
“There should be some clarity to make sure we don’t negatively impact those who are well prepared,” said Keith Creagh, commissioner and former director of MNR.
Commissioner David Nyberg praised the ministry for looking for ways to better protect the public, but noted that other, more advanced warning systems could be used to better inform swimmers of conditions.
“I am proposing this as a potential solution for the department to perhaps provide alerts or notifications to those accessing the Great Lakes beaches,” Nyberg said. A more advanced warning system, he said, “may be a way to alleviate some of the limits on public access.”
Thursday’s meeting marked the first opportunity for public comment on the ordinance which could go into effect as early as August 12.
The proposed order would prevent people in state parks and recreation areas from leaving “the state-managed beach area for the purpose of entering water when entry is prohibited by the state. signaling and / or communication by an employee of the department or his representative “.
Nicole Hunt, of the MNR’s Parks and Recreation division, told commissioners the order could be used to shut off portions of the beach, leaving an area for those looking to surf or swim in other areas.
“This land use ordinance would really be a tool to help staff when there are safety issues that we have been made aware of,” Hunt said.
Current department rules recommend swimmers only stay on the beach on “red flag” days, when wave heights are 3 to 5 feet or more and water conditions are deemed unsafe.
Violations of order would earn a swimmer a state civil offense and a fine of up to $ 500.
DNR director Dan Eichinger, who was not present at Thursday’s meeting, issues the order – rather than going through the legislature or a longer rule-making process – under the authority granted to it by state law.
The power of parks and recreation officers does not extend to the water itself, which is why the ministry prohibits people from going outside the beach to bathe.
Authorities said drownings on beaches in western Michigan, particularly in the Netherlands and Grand Haven on Lake Michigan, and dangerous entry into the water by visitors prompted the development of rules. .
As of Thursday this year, there have been 40 drownings in the Great Lakes; 19 occurred on Lake Michigan, eight on Lake Huron, seven on Lake Erie and six on Lake Ontario, according to data from the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. The total number of drownings includes an increase of six over the past week.
The group recorded 108 drownings in 2020, including 56 on Lake Michigan, two on Lake Superior, 11 on Lake Huron, 19 on Lake Erie and 21 on Lake Ontario.