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New Buffalo City Council debates removal of lifeguards from budget

(WNDU)
Published: Apr. 12, 2018 at 6:27 PM EDT
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The City of New Buffalo may no longer have lifeguards at its beach along Lake Michigan.

City leaders say they are simply not equipped to have well-trained lifeguards on duty at the New Buffalo beach.

Those in favor of keeping lifeguards say it's really all just a matter of money.

They say the bottom line is that in the case of a drowning, the cost is just too high.

NewsCenter 16’s Karina Flores asked City Manager David Richards, “If there's a situation where there needs to be a rescue, is the city prepared to pay for all of that?”

“That's a risk management issue, and we were advised by our risk management advisor to consider eliminating the lifeguards,” Richards responded.

Eliminating lifeguards could save the city up to $60,000.

However, Dave Benjamin, the executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project says that's not much compared to the cost of recovering a body, should someone drown.

“You're looking at 300 or $400,000 tax payer money being spent there, when, why don't we prevent the drowning from happening to begin with and save the life on the front end instead of recovering a body on the back end?” said Benjamin.

He adds that a 24 hour search and rescue alone can cost over $300,000.

But city leaders say their reason for eliminating life guards is about more than money.

“I can't get enough qualified lifeguards to apply,” said Richards. “I can't employ enough qualified lifeguards, and we are creating the illusion of providing a lifeguard service; which I don't think is fair to the community or to the beach users.”

The city states it would increase signage and warnings across the beach to inform visitors.

Richards also says not many Lake Michigan beaches even have lifeguards.

No state park beaches have lifeguards, including Warren Dunes Beach.

New Buffalo is one of the few who does along with Silver Beach in St. Joe, Lakeside Beach in Grand Haven, and Michigan City beaches.

Yet a number of Lake Michigan beach goers believe lifeguards are as essential to public safety as any other department.

“You would never consider removing a fire department because of liability or getting rid of your police department because of funding issues, so you shouldn't consider getting rid of your lifeguards,” said Bob Pratt, director of education for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

A decision is yet to be made by the New Buffalo City Council.

They will make their decision by the end of May during a public hearing, though it is still unknown whether the decision made will take effect this summer.