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GLIN==> Last Chance to Save Beloved Lake Michigan Park



Title: Last Chance to Save Beloved Lake Michigan Park

For Immediate Release         
Oct. 16, 2006  

Contact:
Carol Drake: 269-925-4880; 269-921-0900 (cell)
Jamie Morton: 616-850-0745 x12; 616-550-0745 (cell)
                 
              Last Chance to Save Beloved Lake Michigan Park

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Wednesday morning marks the final chance to voice concerns about Benton Harbor swapping part of Jean Klock Park for largely inaccessible wetlands to make way for a golf course.

Harbor Shores Commu¬nity Redevelopment’s proposal to lease 22 acres of the 73-acre waterfront park to house three holes of a Jack Nicklaus-signature golf course goes to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund Board in Lansing at 9 a.m. Those unable to attend the meeting can submit comments to the board.

In exchange for the parkland, Harbor Shores would deed another 47 acres to the city outside the current park for permanent parkland – acreage fragmented into nine areas within the golf course, 90 percent of them located in wetlands or floodplains and unable to support recreation.

“This type of land swap is unfair to the community of Benton Harbor, which has long enjoyed public parkland featuring Lake Michigan shoreline and sand dunes,” said Jamie Morton, outreach program manager for the Alliance.

To approve the change the Trust Fund Board must first determine that the properties outside the park have at least as much recreational or natural resource value as the public parkland that would be lost. Currently, some of the properties located in wetlands require Department of Environmental Quality approval before public access can even be granted.

Since 1917 the 73-acre park has been held in trust by Benton Harbor for its residents, and more than $1.7 million in state and federal funds have been invested for improvements.

Carol Drake, founder of Friends of Jean Klock Park, said the city is obligated to honor the property’s covenants and deed restrictions. Harbor Shores’ offer that residents could play on the golf course for a reduced fee does not meet the requirement that the park be used as a city park forever, she said.

“Three holes of the golf course in the park and the ability to play on the course hardly makes it public golf,” Drake said, noting the park is currently used for a number of community events -- including the annual Blues Festival.

Benton Harbor resident Lea’Anna Locey visited the park often as a child with her family. “The people who have lived in Benton Harbor through thick and thin, good times and bad, deserve to have the best part of our history preserved,” she said. “There are many miles of lakefront property others can have; Jean Klock Park and the beachfront on the property belong to the residents of Benton Harbor and there is no good reason to ever change that.”

The Benton Harbor City Commission voted Oct. 9 to approve the developers’ request for a long-term lease of the parkland. Commissioners cited as part of their rationale a lack of community opposition to the swap, though the proposal has drawn heavy criticism at public meetings and faced organized opposition from Friends of Jean Klock Park.  

Drake said building part of the golf course in the park would infringe on the rights of residents who enjoy the lakefront park, and threaten coastal habitat and water quality. The Southwest Michigan Regional Planning Commission recently submitted comments on the proposal expressing similar concerns. Among the Commission’s findings:

•       The proposed golf course will impact the park’s dune system, as the 16th green, 17th tee, and 17th green appear to be located near or atop the large dunes.

•       About 50 parking spaces will be lost, limiting community access to the park on busy days. Furthermore, parking will be farther away from the basketball court and picnic area than current parking.

•       The dunes, coastal wetlands, beach and Lake Michigan may be harmed by the runoff of pesticides, nutrients and other chemicals used to maintain the golf course.

Morton said allowing a development that threatens the health of Lake Michigan’s waters and habitat at a time when Congress is debating a pair of bills totaling $20 billion for Great Lakes restoration “sends the wrong message -- not only to Benton Harbor, but to all coastal communities struggling with the same issue.”

Submit comments to Linda Harlow, Michigan DNR Trust Fund Board secretary, at: 517-373-9125, or harlowl@michigan.gov.

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Formed in 1970, the Alliance for the Great Lakes is the oldest citizens’ Great Lakes organization in North America. Our mission is to conserve and restore the world’s largest freshwater resource using policy, education and local efforts, ensuring a healthy Great Lakes and clean water for generations of people and wildlife.


Susan Campbell
Communications Manager
Alliance for the Great Lakes

Visit http://www.greatlakes.org