QUARNTINO 2020…Cinco de Mayo parade, Tuesday night, May 5 in Watervliet brought some much need smiles to the neighborhoods it passed through. (TCR Photo by Karlianne Loshbough)
Governor relaxes some rules, extends other COVID-19 restrictions
By Jon Bisnett Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer initially declared a state of emergency on March 10 in response to the coronavirus infiltrating Michigan. Since then, as of Monday, May 4, she’s signed a total of 69 executive orders, including the stay-at-home order, orders to close bars and theaters, orders to close schools and many, many more. While over a dozen states will have begun to loosen restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus, Whitmer reinstated the state of emergency last Thursday. Even as protesters gathered at the State Capitol in Lansing and the Michigan Legislature moved to limit her powers. With Executive Order 2020-69 the Governor has now extended her previous order that closed places such as theaters, bars, casinos, and more. In order to maintain social distancing, the order continues to limit restaurants to carry-out and delivery orders only through May 28. “Extending this order is vital to the health and safety of every Michigander. If we work together and do our part, we can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Whitmer said in a statement. “By refusing to extend the emergency and disaster declaration, Republican lawmakers are putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk. I’m not going to let that happen.” Recent changes allow construction workers to go back to work as of May 7. Golfers may walk only. Garden Centers are now open just in time for Mother’s Day. Retail stores can now open areas previously sanctioned but must perform curbside delivery. Retailers previously deemed non-essential may open, but again must operate curbside only. The current Stay Home order runs through May 15. At the moment salons, theaters, dine-in restaurants, libraries, gyms and casinos and the like are still shut down until May 28, with DNR campgrounds shut down until June 21. Area school administrators wrestle with options to graduate the Class of 2020 Our Tri-City schools are now several weeks into their remote learning programs. Options are in the works for Graduation 2020, be it on time and virtual as is the case with Hartford Public Schools or an actual live ceremony as Coloma High School has vowed to do, with a half-dozen backup dates. A chat with Watervliet Superintendent Ric Seager indicates they are still sorting it out with hopes of a traditional ceremony and a decision expected following their upcoming school board meeting, all of course pending further actions by the Governor’s office. Area food service staffers continue to champion the cause of getting thousands of free meals out to Tri-City students each and every week, continuing through June 9 along with additional Bridge Card benefits. Summer School is still a mystery pending. More SW Michigan cancellations; include the Watervliet Independence Weekend Celebration … see the WBA letter on Page 3 The Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph announced the cancellation of the 59th Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff scheduled for July 11-12 in a press release last Thursday morning. The Smooth Jazz at Sunset and SummerJam Concerts slated for Silver Beach County Park in July & August are looking at rescheduling dates pending the lifting of restrictions for large events.
St. Joseph Today has cancelled the following events: Lake Bluff Artisan Faire (May 30), Antiques on the Bluff – June, July & August shows (June 7, July 5, & August 2), Wednesday Brown Bag Concerts (June 24 – August 26), Friday Night Concert Series (June 19 – September 4), and Chalk the Block (July 31 – August 2).
Founded in 2006, Lest We Forget has hosted an annual summer military reenactment event, most recently held along the river near Upton Drive in St. Joseph. However, organizers have announced that to ensure the safety and health of the community and of the many volunteers, Korea: The Forgotten War, the theme originally scheduled for this June, will now be held next year on June 19 and 20, 2021.
All concerts, festivals, and other events that had been scheduled for this summer at Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said the decision to cancel events at Jean Klock Park came “with serious contemplation and the public health being given due consideration.” He says they look forward to resuming park events in the future. The Michigan Flywheelers Museum in South Haven has canceled their Swap Meet/Flea Market scheduled for June 12 & 13.
CELEBRATING BLOSSOMS… Due to Covid-19, many events have been cancelled; including the very popular Blossomtime Festival week. Blossomtime week kicks off with the Blessing of the Blossoms and ends with the Grand Floral Parade (traditionally held the first Saturday in May). It is a tradition that has been celebrated for many years in Michigan’s Great Southwest. JW Morlock & Girls still wanted their hometown queen, Miss Watervliet Sophia Tavolacci (pictured), to take a moment to celebrate the blossoms and Southwest Michigan’s agriculture industry with a social distancing visit to their orchard. Southwest Michigan farmers are hard at work planting and getting their fields ready to feed America. They hope that everyone takes the opportunity to enjoy the sweetness of Southwest Michigan and support their local farmers.
B.C. Health Officials: COVID environment will be prolonged
By Annette Christie In the Friday, May 1, 2020 update on COVID-19 in Berrien County, Health Officer Nicki Britten described the affect COVID has had on the County and what the future looks like with it. Joining Britten was Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit to provide an update from the law enforcement perspective. Since this virus was first being talked about, health care officials expected Berrien County, like many other places, to hit a peak; a peak that would slam our health care system by having the number of people affected go really high, really fast. While that did not happen here, Britten confided that there are still many unknowns. While we still have the same number of ill, it has been prolonged over a longer period of time. “We are below the surge capacity but whether we stay there or not really depends on us,” Britten said, adding that it really depends on how we are moving about our community and what protections we are using. While some have expressed push back to the Governor’s orders that closed businesses and limited citizens’ movement, Britten noted that those actions played a part in allowing Berrien County to flatten the curve. Moving forward, however, by re-opening things, the goal is still to maintain numbers below the surge capacity. Britten said that while the month of May does not bring the end of COVID, it does bring us to a new season in how we are living with COVID-19 in our community. “This virus is going to be with us for a period of time,” Britten said. Berrien County statistics The numbers of those affected in Berrien County on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 were 315 confirmed cases, 174 presumed positive cases, 20 deaths, and 204 individuals recovered. The Berrien County Health Department has launched a brand new data dashboard, containing total confirmed and presumed cases, the total recovered, numbers of cases by zip code, a graph showing confirmed cases by date of onset, and the number of individuals currently hospitalized in the intensive care unit. To see the dashboard, visit the Berrien County Health Department website at: www.bchd.mi.org/Covid19. State of Emergency extended Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit announced during the press conference that on Thursday, April 30, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners authorized the extension of the State of Emergency through the end of May. Heit explained that this will continue to allow the emergency operations center to support the health department and the hospital. It will protect volunteers, and help Berrien County to acquire necessary resources. Governor’s orders Heit stressed the importance of the updated stay home order from April 25. “Thanks to those that are adhering to the social distancing guidelines,” Heit said, adding, “This is our best defense against this deadly virus.” He said the Sheriff’s Office is working with the Prosecutor’s Office to understand the orders, and to educate those that are not complying. He noted in one of the most recent orders passed by the Governor, she required that those that are medically able are to wear face coverings if they are going into any store that sells food and pharmacies. Heit noted that if someone is cited for not wearing a mask where it is required, that the Governor made it so that it is not exempt from penalty, it is a misdemeanor. Heit encouraged the public to read the executive orders that can be found on the state website, Michigan.Gov in order to better understand what is being ordered of citizens. If people have questions they should contact the COVID hotline at 1-800-815-5485. There is a tip form available on the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office website and concerns about non-compliance should be reported there, not by calling 911. “We were pleased to see some of the restrictions were lifted on like landscapers, recreational activities and construction next week,” Heit said, adding, “We need to do this gradually and we must be diligent in social distancing (6’ from a person not from your household). Many people are making sacrifices.” Britten added that with the re-opening of areas of our state, as we do that, we can’t go back to the same way we were doing things the first week of March. “It is very easy to increase the numbers if we don’t wear masks.” She stated that the public needs to continue to keep six feet away from others, not gather in large groups, and exercise good hand hygiene.
Watervliet City moves drain project forward at first virtual commision meeting
By Annette Christie The Watervliet City Commission held their first virtual meeting during their regular time slot of 6:30 p.m., the first Tuesday of the month, May 5, 2020. With the exception of Commissioner Cobb, all were present. Up first was an update on the South Watervliet Drain Project from Sam Leatch with Wightman and Associates. The South Watervliet Drain project came about in 2016 when a petition was made by the City to the Berrien County Drain Commissioner. The drain was built in 1920 with extensions and changes being made in 1944 and 1994 respectively. The current drain has drain ownership on some and city ownership on some. The project design is completed and the project has gone out for bid. By working with county government, the city will be able to take advantage of some savings by doing some of their improvements at the same time as the drain project. City Manager Tyler Dotson said, “This process, taking advantage of economies of scale, sharing engineering costs, the city realizing the savings while doing it simultaneously with the drainage improvements.” Leatch added that the drain project was going forward regardless, and with the city partnering with them, in addition with the water main improvements, they will be able to address the state’s lead copper rule requirement that the city must also address and have a plan for. Dotson suggested that the city will see tens of thousands of dollars in tax payer savings. The agreement that the City Commission approved pretty much stated that the city is onboard with their portion of the project. The agreement is with the Drain Commissioner. With the bid opening set for May 26, 2020, Leatch said that the Drain Commissioner will be asked for additional approvals as the project moves forward. Water main repair The City Commission also approved an emergency repair to the water main on M-140. Dotson and Public Works Director Jeff Allen told the commission that an 8” water main on M-140 had a leak and needed the connection point fixed as soon as possible. With the city not having everything available to make the repair, they hired Compton Inc. They arrived on a Tuesday and had the road back open by Friday morning. The City Commission approved the invoice in the amount of $8,366.40. The funding will come from depreciation and maintenance.
Residential water discharge Frank Renaldi, also with Wightman & Associates came back to continue a discussion from the March 3, 2020 meeting regarding a plumbing contract with Ace Plumbing. The work they are doing with Ace is having them go into city residents’ homes and identify the likes of sump pumps and hookups that are taking water from the home and routing it to the sewer when it should be into the storm water system. Given the coronavirus situation, right now is a hard time to try and get into homes to see where things are attached. Dotson estimates that the savings realized could be in the tens of thousands of tax payer dollars. Other business Dotson told the City Commission that in the past, their body has offered an opportunity for local residents to obtain dump passes for junk hauling, and would hold a community garage sale that coincides. Due to the Governor’s Executive Order, Dotson recommended waiting to hold that event. In addition, he gave the City Commission a glimpse into the effect that COVID-19 could have on the revenue received by the local municipalities. “With a large decline in sales tax revenue and gas taxes, our revenue will also be impacted by that,” Dotson said. Dotson hopes to have more concrete numbers as he continues the work on the budget presentation for the City Commission and estimates that will be in June.
BCYF registration deadline extended
Due to the Executive Order issued by Governor Whitmer, the Berrien County Youth Fair has extended a few registration dates. First, the opening of registration has been delayed to June 1. Previously slated for May 1, the board felt with the extension of the Executive Order, it would be in the best interest of the Fair to extend the opening of registration to June 1. Second, with the delay of the opening of registration, the board felt it was only right to extend the large animal registration deadline. The large animal registration deadline is now moved to July 1, the same as the small animal registration deadline. Again this year, equine entries must be made using the equine entry form that will be available on the BCYF website on June 1 or can be picked up at the fair office. Equine entries will be due on July 1 with all other large and small animal entries. For more information, go to www.bcyf.org.
Keeler Township officials approve road repair plans
By Annette Christie At the May 5, 2020 Keeler Township Board meeting, officials approved the upcoming year’s road projects. Supervisor Bill Kays provided an estimated road budget for the board to approve and noted that the winter was good to Keeler Township as they are not in that bad of shape. The budget included approximately two miles of sealcoat work, 3,000 tons of gravel, $5,000 for hot seal coat, $5,000 for mowing, $5,000 in ditching, dust control, and replacing a tube on 60th street. The township is estimated to expend approximately $112,000. Kays said currently there is $272,300 in the road fund. Trustee Carmen Fleischauer made a motion recommending that the Van Buren County Road Commission should repair CR 690 from M-152 to the Cass County line. With overall support, the Clerk will communicate to the Road Commission what the board would like done. Kays also reviewed communication from the Road Commission asking the township to de-certify 69-1/2 Street between CR 690 and County Line Road. There is also a dirt road that looks like a driveway off of 80th Avenue about a mile from County Line Road, that actually looks more like a driveway, than it does a road. With the township board voting to abandon the roads, it takes them off the list of those that are to be maintained. The Road Commission will still keep the right of way.
Fire Report Sister Lakes Fire reported that they had five calls in the month of March with none being in Keeler Township. They also had five calls in April with one being in Keeler Township. Keeler Township Fire Chief Don Bogart said there were 14 calls in the month of April with 11 being medical calls and three for a fire. He noted that none of the calls were COVID-19 responses. He reported that everyone in the department is healthy. They are operating in small groups for truck maintenance, etc. Round Lake assessment district At their July meeting, the township board anticipates a presentation by the Round Lake Improvement Association. Their special assessment district for weed control ended in December and it is necessary to start the process again in order to maintain it for another five years. The board passed a resolution of intent to renew the district. They will work on getting the plans, estimates, and properties to be included in the district so that it is available for public examination. This will be followed by a resolution, as written in statute, declaring an intent to assess with those on Round Lake in Keeler Township for the purposes of providing an aquatic invasive species treatment.
Other business In response to the Governor’s Executive Order maintaining social distance through May 28, 2020, the Keeler Township board Memorial Day Parade will not be held this year. To assist in after-hours drop offs and to help reduce the number of one-on-one contacts, Treasurer Barb Fisher asked the board to consider installing a drop box of some kind outside township hall. Don Blackmond located a used drop box for $400 that would run a couple hundred to install. Following inspection and approval by the Clerk and the Supervisor, the board approved the installation of a drop-box for Keeler Township citizens. Despite many area cancellations of annual events into July and even August, the board approved an application for a fireworks display permit hosted by the Sister Lakes Lions Club, scheduled for June 27 (Saturday). In addition, they approved the annual donation of $300 to the fireworks display. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the township transfer site will not be available through May 28. The new opening day of June 6 was approved, contingent upon the Governor’s action.