South Pier new fine sign

People walk along a South Haven pier Monday by a sign warning pedestrians of a fine if they were to walk the piers after they have been barricaded during inclement weather conditions.

People entering South Haven’s north and south piers this month are confronted by red-and-white signs that issue a stern warning: “No Entry When Pier Closed. $1,000 fine.”

It’s part of the city’s new ordinance passed earlier this year, which imposes a stiff fine for people who take to the piers during inclement weather – when water can wash over the piers making conditions unsafe for pedestrians.

Laura Pelle, a Marshall resident, said she thinks the fine is a bit hefty, but sees the need for it.

She and her husband, Joe, strolled the pier Monday afternoon along with a number of city residents and visitors to enjoy the cool, but brisk weather, along the lakeshore.

Laura said she noticed the sign at the entrance to the South Pier when she and her husband decided to take a walk to the lighthouse.

“I’d have to say the fine is probably steep so people know its purpose is to keep people safe,” she said. “I know these piers can get slippery when water washes over them. (City officials) probably had to go that high with a fine to let people know they’re serious.”

South Haven officials posted the signs on May 15, the official start of the beach season at the north and south beaches.

The city council’s decision to impose the $1,000 fine is a result of a beach and water safety ordinance approved in January that gives the city broad authority to close beaches and piers when conditions are unsafe. The ordinance also prohibits diving or jumping from a pier during unsafe conditions.

“By passing this ordinance, we are taking an aggressive stance on water safety,” South Haven City Manager Kate Hosier said in a news release. “Not only are swimmers and beachgoers at risk when they disregard warning signs, their actions put first responders and rescue teams in harm’s way, too.”

The ordinance prohibits individuals from entering or attempting to enter the water when officials take action to close a beach.

The ordinance allows the city manager, police chief, harbormaster and director of South Haven Area Emergency Services Authority to close or partially close the city’s public beach waters due to contamination, rescue and recovery efforts, a severe weather event or waves exceeding 8 feet in height.

Signs will be posted around closed areas indicating entry into the water is prohibited. The only exception during severe weather or wave height will be for surfers, longboarders, kiteboarders, boogie boarders or skim boarders. However, they must adhere to safety rules and procedures – including using a safety leash and wearing weather-appropriate clothing.

As of now, the city is using temporary barricades to close the piers during inclement weather until the permanent blue-colored gates are installed this summer. The temporary structures consist of three concrete composite barriers that can be linked together with chains if it is necessary to close the piers.

The city contracts with South Haven Area Emergency Services to monitor the beaches by using green, yellow and red flags to indicate when it is safe to go into the water. Green means swimmers can go into the water with relatively low risk. Yellow means they are doing so at greater risk, while red flags indicate swimmers must stay out of the water.