ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph city commissioners have taken the plunge with a lease agreement with Berrien County for two of four properties slated for harbor improvements.

Dan Fette, the county’s community development director, explained to commissioners Monday that the agreement is required to be able to accept a $132,500 state DNR Waterways grant to fund work at the former site of the city’s water tower, along the north side of the St. Joseph River, and at the Harbor Shores dock.

Along with Berrien County, Cornerstone Alliance has been planning for waterfront development at these locations and sites east of the Blossomland bridge, owned by the county, and the Riverview Drive dock in Benton Harbor owned by Cornerstone, which will be contributing up to $150,000 toward the project. Total cost is projected at $280,000.

Plans call for providing more public access to the waterfront locations, and stations for water taxis and river tours. Work at the water tower site is to include a timber pier and piles, a gravel path and bicycle racks, along with an unimproved parking lot. The Harbor Shores site, in the city limits, will see timbers for tying up boats, electrical hook-ups, landscaping and a new sidewalk.

The location owned by the county, on the south side of the river, will see similar improvements, with boat tie-ups, sidewalks and bike racks. The Riverview Drive site will have a fixed pier to provide short-term docks, and an ADA-accessible kayak launch.

The St. Joseph River section is expected to cost around $40,000, and the work at the Harbor Shores turning basin is estimated at $37,000. The Riverview dock section has the largest projected cost, at $172,000. The county would own the improvements at the Riverview launch, but Cornerstone would be responsible for maintenance.

St. Joseph’s agreement with Berrien County is for a 20-year lease, and the city retains the right to use the property. The city has prior approval of all plans and fees. The facilities are to remain open to the public, and all public recreational uses will remain free. The county is to be responsible for maintaining and insuring the properties.

Fette will be presenting the lease agreement to county commissioners Thursday, and they are expected to vote on it the following week. The agreement must be signed by Sept. 30.

The timeline is to complete the design and engineering, and obtain permits, through the end of the year, with the construction to be bid out this winter, and work to start in the spring. The planners want the projects to be completed by the beginning of the 2020 summer season.

The county board approved applying for the grant in February, and the proposal had the support of St. Joseph, Benton Harbor and other municipalities. The grant was awarded in July.

St. Joseph commissioners approved the plans in July, and the city’s Parks Advisory Board gave it a thumbs up, as well.

Clerk work

In other business, prior to their regular meeting, commissioners conducted interviews of two candidates for the city clerk position, and selected Denise Westfall, the deputy clerk, for the job.

Wetsfall worked as the city’s police department clerk for 14 years, and then was hired as deputy clerk. In her letter to commissioners, Westfall pointed out that she had experience supervising elections, a key responsibility for the clerk. She also has worked with the cemetery superintendent and board, the Elections Commission, and other boards and committees.

The clerk also will be responsible for communications duties, such as the website and newsletter, previously handled by the marketing director, a position that was not filled following the retirement of Susan Solon.

The other finalist for the clerk’s position was Amanda Wright, the city’s deputy treasurer.

The city had a combined position of finance director and clerk for several years, and commissioners decided to separate those positions with the departure of Sara McCallum this spring. Deb Koroch, a retired finance director/clerk, was rehired to the finance director’s position.

Contact:, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak