No-wake zone hits bump at Benton Harbor public hearing

The “no wake” sign along the St. Joseph River at the end of Pier 1000 Marina, pictured in 2016, informs boaters of the need to slow down. But nearby residents say boaters ignore the sign or wait too long to slow down, creating wakes that damage docked boats and contribute to erosion. 

Louise Wrege / HP staff

BENTON HARBOR — Extending the no-wake zone farther upstream on the St. Joseph River may take even longer than what advocates hoped or expected.

The problem is there is one state administrative rule covering the no-wake zone as the river runs through St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Conservation Officer Zach Bauer of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said during a public hearing Tuesday in Benton Harbor.

“In order for this process to go forward, and for (the no-wake zone) to be extended, it needs to be split because one jurisdiction can’t extend it for another jurisdiction,” said Bauer, who covers Berrien County.

Bauer said Tuesday’s public hearing was on if St. Joseph and Benton Harbor should each have their own administrative rules governing their portions of the river. He said the hearing was not about if the no-wake zone should be extended.

“The (rule) is written under two jurisdictions (St. Joseph and Benton Harbor), and it’s not supposed do that,” he said. “... In order for it to go forward, this is the process. We’re bound by statute to do it a certain way.”

He said he would take public comments on whether the rule needs to have split jurisdiction to state officials in Lansing.

The more than 10 boat owners at the meeting weren’t happy to hear that there would probably be more meetings.

“We thought this was a public hearing to go forward,” said Robert Kincaid of the Riverview Marina Condominium Association. “This is the sixth public meeting we’ve had on this, which I think is totally ludicrous.”

The no-wake zone starts at the end of the Riverview Marina Condominium Association property in St. Joseph Township and extends downstream to Lake Michigan. Several boat owners want to extend the no-wake zone 176 yards up river to the tip of the island that’s crossed by Blackhawk Trail in St. Joseph Township.

Kincaid said that when he started the process in June 2016, a DNR officer told him he only needed to get approval from St. Joseph and St. Joseph Township. Then, in the fall of 2017, he said he was told that approval was also needed from Benton Harbor, though the extension doesn’t include any Benton Harbor property.

Bauer said he doesn’t know if more public hearings will have to be held after he takes their comments to Lansing.