10-18-2018 Watervliet Township revisits Forest Beach speed limit; residents feel 40 mph is too fast

YOUNG COMET ROBOTICS… The 4th and 5th grade robotics team from Coloma Intermediate received a surprise recently. The CIS Robo-Kids were the recipients of a donation from North Berrien Fire Rescue. The department donated $450, which should cover the cost for a second robot for the team. Having a second robot will not only give the students a backup in case something happens to the other robot, but it also doubles the number of kids who can work on programming at the same time. The students are eagerly awaiting the new robot’s arrival in preparation for their competition November 17. Pictured (from the left): Madison Marfia, Mason Yerrington, Maverick Kraemer, Cole Brown and Jack Watson.


Watervliet Township revisits Forest Beach speed limit; residents feel 40 mph is too fast, traffic study disagrees

By Annette Christie A topic that Watervliet Township Supervisor Dan Hutchins described as “a continuous pain in the ass” was discussed at their Monday, October 15, 2018 meeting during the public comments portion of the meeting. The ongoing subject he referred to is the speed limit on Forest Beach Road. Following a speed study earlier this year, the speed limit was set at 40 miles per hour. While there were approximately six people on hand that appeared to be there on the subject, only one, Les Fairbanks, addressed the board. Fairbanks said he and his wife live on Park Drive off Forest Beach Road and they have been there for 54 years. He said they were a little surprised at the raising of the speed limit to 40 miles per hour, so he began asking some questions and looking into it. Fairbanks said that if the information he had studied was correct, then the state changed the law and the Berrien County Road Department responded accordingly. He said he expressed his opinion to the Road Department and also to State Representative Kim LaSata. He said LaSata responded and told him that after contacting the Michigan Department Of Transportation, they (the Road Department) was supposed to take the driving environment, pedestrian traffic, curbs, etc. into consideration when changing the speed limit on a road. Based on what LaSata told him, Fairbanks felt that the Road Department had not followed the law because they didn’t take those things into consideration. Hutchins said he would like to set up a meeting with all the interested parties, the citizens, the county, and whoever else may want to be a part of it. Trustee Joe Stepich commented that the townships have no authority on setting the speed limits in their townships and yet the cities can. He also questioned the data used to determine the speed limit at 40 mph given that the study was done after the speed limit signs of 25 mph were taken down. Berrien County Commissioner Dave Vollrath said he would work to get a meeting set up with the employees of the Berrien County Road Department, the township, and the residents during the week of November 12. History of the speed limit changes State legislation that went into effect in January 2006 changed the requirements for a road to have a 25 mph speed limit. In response to the legislation, and to have the roads legally marked with the proper speed limit, the signs marking some roads as 25 mph were removed. Some 60 roads in Berrien County had the limits that were illegal based on the new legislation and the 25 mph signs were removed and the roads went unmarked. Without a traffic control order on file that states differently, unmarked roads are all 55 mph. On March 1 of this year, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners held an informational meeting with Sgt. James Campbell of the Michigan State Police to learn about the changes in the state law and the effects it may have on its citizens. An invitation was provided to all township boards in the county. Campbell explained the changes to the laws regarding speed limits. MCL257.628 reads, “A speed limit established under this section shall be determined by an engineering and safety study and by the eighty-fifth percentile speed of free-flowing traffic under ideal conditions of a section of highway rounded to the nearest multiple of five miles per hour.” In April of this year the Watervliet Township Board passed two resolutions, one for Huntoon Avenue and one for Forest Beach Road from Paw Paw Avenue to M-140 asking the same thing of the Berrien County Road Department and the Michigan State Police, to have a speed study completed which would hopefully end with results that would lower the speed limit. The resolutions passed by the Township Board at their Monday, April 16 meeting, state that the roads named has had steadily increased traffic over the past years due to development and growth, thus increasing the number of access points on the county roads. That additional traffic, according to the resolutions, makes it increasingly difficult for residents to negotiate left hand turns and makes it less safe to move in and out of the flow of traffic. In approving the resolutions, Watervliet Township agreed that it was asking for the speed study with the understanding that the results of the study could raise the speed limit, lower the speed limit, or keep it the same. The township agreed to abide by the decision made by the Road Department and the Michigan State Police. In July, the results of the traffic engineering study that was conducted by the Berrien County Road Department and the Michigan State Police on Forest Beach Road from Paw Paw Avenue to M-140 were made available. It was determined that the reasonable and safe speed limit on Forest Beach Road was 40 miles per hour. The reasonable and safe speed limit for Huntoon was determined to be 35 miles per hour. When the changes were made aware to Watervliet Township, Supervisor Dan Hutchins said that the only way this is going to get changed is to talk to the representatives in Lansing. “They are the ones that did this, not the County, not the Sheriff, not the Township,” Hutchins said. County Commissioner Dave Vollrath at that time was quoted as saying, “It is a state law and we can’t change that.” The Berrien County Board of Commissioners did approve a resolution in opposition of this legislation and it was forwarded to all the counties in the state, the road commissions, and the Michigan Townships Association to get more people working together to get the law changed. Public Hearing: Lane Automotive Grant Cindy LaGrow of LaGrow Consulting spoke to the township officials and those present during a public hearing on the Lane Automotive Community Development Block Grant. LaGrow announced that the township executed a successful grant program. The township served as the flow-thru for the grant funds as required by law. LaGrow said when Lane Automotive started looking in 2014 at locations to expand, they could have gone anywhere but thankfully they stayed right here. “We worked really hard with them on this,” LaGrow said. They were awarded up to $1.9 million of training money if the result of their expansion resulted in the hiring of a certain number of people. Lane Automotive had a 200,000 sq. ft. facility and was looking at expanding another 240,000 sq. ft. They invested $34 million to do that. At the beginning of the process, they had 218 jobs which have now grown to 356. They are one of the largest employers in Berrien County and provide an average wage over $18 an hour, full benefits, and on-site training, With the process of the grant, the township had to do an audit in which they received a clean audit rating. Clerk Patt Bambrick noted “Cindy (LaGrow) was very nice to work with, answered all our questions and we look forward to the next one.” LaGrow is also working on the Parks and Recreation Plan amendment for the township. She said she expects to have a draft parks & rec plan at the December meeting which will include the two new pieces of property that the township has acquired. She said that a parks grant application will be submitted in early spring. County Commissioner report During his report County Commissioner Dave Vollrath said that they had a nice opening at Paw Paw River County Park, even seeing a “great catch” by some fishermen that were present. He said that the county is in the process of working through next year’s budget. They have authorized two additional positions in the Drain Commissioner’s office that will help spread out some of the work load. There was some discussion about the Road Department budget, as this is the first full year they will be under the County and not a separate Road Commission. Vollrath said that it is all going smooth. Hutchins commented, “The decision to move the road under your jurisdiction was a good thing.” Berrien County assumed the duties of the Road Commission and took it over on September 28, 2017. It is now a department of the county. Other business In other business, the township approved a contract with Pride Care for use of the public services building located next to township hall. They will rent it for $600 a month. Watervliet City Manager Tyler Dotson introduced himself to the Township Board. He thanked Hutchins and Bambrick for all of their help to him with his new position. “How we work together is really important, I fully believe in community collaboration,” Dotson said. With that, they approved the shared services agreement with the city. Hutchins said it was pretty much the agreement with the same inclusions and costs; it had just been cleaned up a bit in the details. The township also agreed to sell their old police cruiser to the city to be used by the School Resource Officer that is being equally funded by the township, the city, and the school. They agreed to sell it to the city for the sum of what it cost the township to have some recent body work done on it. The next regularly scheduled Township Board meeting will be November, 19 at 7:00 p.m.

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