SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — The City of South Haven did away with its beach life guard program about 15 years ago, but public concerns are reigniting the conversation of water safety in the beach community.
South Haven City Councilors listened to comments from the public Monday related to the city’s lack of life guards on the seven public beaches.
The recent drowning of a 13-year-old boy off of South Beach sparked public outcry over the lack of lifeguards in South Haven. As of Monday, more than 16,000 people had signed a petition asking the city to reinstate its long-abandoned life guard program.
“Is it not our duty to take all possible measures to ensure our swimmers are safe and informed?” the petition reads.
According to South Haven City Manager Brian Dissette, city councilors decided to remove the lifeguard program about 15 years ago. Instead, they opted to invest heavily in first responders, including the South Haven Police Department and South Haven Area Emergency Services.
Dissette said councilors spent a year reviewing the safety, liability and logistics involved with the lifeguard program prior to making the decision.
Instead of having life guards on its beaches, the city of South Haven utilizes a flag system. A display of green flags means the water is calm. Yellow flags signify there is a moderate surf or currents, while red flags mean water is closed to the public due to the high surf or strong currents. Rip currents are also especially prevalent and dangerous along the piers during red flag days.
According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, there had been 794 drownings on the Great Lakes as of Saturday since 2010. The project states there have been 54 drownings on the Great Lakes so far in 2019, with 28 of them happening in Lake Michigan, which is the most of any other lake.
The project states that Lake Michigan drownings are up 87% over 2018.
City councilors did not say whether they would support the return of lifeguards to South Haven's beaches, but Mayor Scott Smith said they were paying attention to public concerns.
"I think it’s fair to say we are willing to listen," he said.
South Haven City Councilors are also scheduled to address the South Haven Recreational Marijuana Initiative at Monday’s meeting. The petition, which includes 128 verified signatures, seeks to completely prohibit marijuana establishments for recreational use within the city of South Haven
City councilors will have the option to adopt the petition or send it to a public vote in November.