Life-saving buoys to be installed on Silver Beach pier

Summertime on Lake Michigan may feel far away, but that’s not stopping officials in Berrien County from thinking about ways to keep tourists and residents safe.

Thursday, Berrien County Commissions voted 9-3 on a resolution that calls for the installation of approximately 11 life ring buoys come May 1, 2014.

For the past four years officials discussed how many, where, and if they should place life rings on the South Pier at Silver Beach in St. Joseph, MI.

“St. Joe is a pier city and the piers and the lighthouses are history, and people love history, love walking out on them,” said Berrien County Commissioner Cathy Thieneman.

Thieneman has been trying to get safety devices placed along the south pier for years. She said many of the piers throughout the state and county have them and it’s time for the City of St. Joseph to catch up.

Since 1986 four people have died by either being washed off, or falling of one of the two piers in the City of St. Joseph. Six others have drowned while jumping from the piers.

“I know that it happens,” said frequent beach-goer, Maria McKenna.

McKenna spoke out in favor of the life ring buoys at the commissioners meeting, “the reality is that we need to think about everyone from the youngest citizens in our county through the elderly who are walking on the pier enjoying all the beautiful things we have in this county.”

During Thursday’s commissioners’ meeting questions were raised about whether or not the county should move forward with the installation of life rings without a simultaneous move by the city of St. Joseph on its North Pier.

Fellow commissioner Jeanette Leahey said buoys are “no brainers,” adding “life rings are so effective, so many lives have been saved.”

In September 2013, a ten year old boy was saved in New Buffalo from the use of a life ring.

“If you’ve ever experienced drowning, which I hope you never do, the first thing you do is throw something to them that’s float-able,” said Ann Dahmer, former life guard and 30-year resident of St. Joseph.

In the end, the board of commissioners voted down a resolution that would have required the City of St. Joseph and Berrien County to reach an agreement on pier safety measures before anything could be implemented. Instead, the board approved resolution C1403111.

Resolution C1403111 calls for “approximately” nine life ring buoys to be installed on South Pier by May 1, 2014. The pier is technically the property of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, however the county will take over the cost of installation and surveillance of the safety devices.

Two additional life ring buoys are to be installed on the two emergency call boxes located at the beach end of South Pier.

Berrien County is authorized to spend up to $40,000 for the acquisition and installation of the life ring buoys, mounts and brackets, surveillance equipment, signage and replacement materials. However, Leahey assured commissioners the bulk of the costs have been covered through donations.

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