12-15-2016 County lands $296,000 DNR grant for phase 1 of planned Watervliet County Park; WMU studen

DDA MEETS WITH WMU STUDENTS… Bob Becker, Watervliet City DDA Chairman (standing far left) introduces WMU Team Leader Samuel Kline (at the podium) prior to a presentation on “Watervliet – The Biggest Little City”. A group of masters level students at Western Michigan University worked on a class project where the students prepared plans and ideas that the city could use to expand the number of residents and visitors alike that will come to Watervliet. (TCR photo by Annette Christie)

County lands $296,000 DNR grant for phase 1 of planned Watervliet County Park

By Annette Christie

Berrien County has been awarded a grant for the development of Watervliet County Park located along the Paw Paw River in Watervliet. The Berrien County Parks Commission announced that the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund has recommended $296,000.  Berrien County had submitted a grant application in the amount of $300,000.

This Phase 1 park development includes approximately 20 acres on the east side of M-140 with one mile of Paw Paw River frontage.  Natural features include river frontage, a pedestrian bridge connecting to an island, mature trees, birding, fishing, and other recreational opportunities.  The park will connect Watervliet directly to the St. Joseph River and Lake Michigan on the designated Paw Paw River Water Trail.  The location will be a trailhead for the water trail with an ADA kayak launch, hard surface walkways, a parking area, security lighting, trash and recycle bins and bench seating which will enhance recreational opportunities for the region.

“The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund plays a vital role in supporting natural resource protection, recreation opportunities, tourism and the economy for the people of Michigan and Berrien County.  This development funding will allow us to transform property currently owned by the Berrien County Brownfield Authority into a wonderful regional county park.  We will be able to provide hiking trails, birding and wildlife viewing and wonderful fishing access in a truly beautiful and unique area of Berrien County,” said Dick Schinkel, Berrien County Parks Commission Chairman.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund receives its funding from royalties from the lease and sale of state owned mineral rights. No tax dollars are used for the grants that are funded.  All grant recipients are required to provide 25% in local matching funds.

The recommendations of the trust fund will now move to the legislature for funding approval and to Governor Snyder for his signature.  Typically, this part of the process is completed by summer.  Construction will likely begin in the spring of 2018 with an anticipated completion in the fall of that year.

The total project of Phase 1 is estimated at $600,000. The Berrien County Board of Commissioners in March of this year pledged up to the remaining $300,000 needed after an estimated contribution of $50,000 coming from friends and supporters of the park.

Parks Director Brian Bailey said that the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund received 144 grant applications for this grant cycle.  Berrien County received 380 points out of a possible 520, topping last year’s score of 270.

Berrien County has developed a park master plan for 52 acres in all of water-front property in the City of Watervliet that was acquired through its Brownfield Authority.

Berrien County has been very successful in receiving these types of grants, most recently for a renovation and improvements at Rocky Gap County Park, which sits on Lake Michigan.  At Rocky Gap the County added barrier free access to the beach, restroom buildings, an overlook seating area, and a shade shelter with picnic tables on the lower level.  On the upper level they were able to add a lake view overlook deck, picnic pods with tables, and a parking area.

WMU students present a vision for the “Biggest Little City” to Watervliet DDA

By Annette Christie

Students in the Western Michigan University Haworth College of Business presented ideas for ways to make the City of Watervliet, a destination location.  As a class project the students developed proposals with the main five goals being to divert drive-by-traffic from Paw Paw Lake, increase visitor traffic, provide value to its residents, bring in investments, and increase the quality of life for its residents.  The presentations were given at a public meeting held Wednesday, December 7.

WMU MBA Professor Derrick McIver introduced the students present.  He explained that the presentations that would be given were about 10 weeks in the making.

The first presentation was that of the Cork and Brew Museum, presented by Tina McNeil and Angelica Pace.  The plan was to not only appeal to all those coming in for Paw Paw Lake, but also for those that live here year around.  McNeil noted that Watervliet needs something that says, “Hey, you are in Watervliet,” instead of the Pure Michigan sign in the city limits that actually advertises the casino, which is some miles down Red Arrow Highway, steering people away from the downtown area.

Their museum concept was non-profit with operating revenue to be raised by charging for memberships in the museum, entry fees, and classes.   McNeil noted that there are only three other museums of this type that they could find, so very little competition.  The original idea would be in a 10,000-sq. ft. area to start, ultimately growing to 20,000 sq. ft. and would include a tasting area, bar and staging area, exhibit area which will include specific areas for breweries in Michigan to come in and set up things about their breweries and to sell items that they can buy to make beer at home. A summer time Beer garden would be set up outside.

They envision that the tasting area is where visitors will spend most of their time after going through the exhibit area. The front of the museum would have big windows to show off the facility and be inviting to those going by.

Financially to get started, the city would have to get up-front funds.  Crowdfunding, Kickstarter, and grant funding for museums was recommended by the presenters as ways to raise money.

Dan Nelson, Garrett Smeltzer, and Jeffrey Bolser presented an idea for a park on the old paper mill site that would help to rebrand the city while including the history of the paper mill or “the paper mill district”.   “Paper Mill Park” would include basketball courts, tennis courts, a splash pad, and playground with walking areas throughout.  It would also include a band shell for concerts and events as well as kayak and tubing rentals for utilizing the Paw Paw River.

Nelson, who did the presentation, mentioned several ideas that could help to draw the people to the park such as special Friday night events, movies in the park, community garden, concerts featuring local bands, etc.  Perhaps various events could be held in the park such as a festival of lights, a winter ice sculpture contest, art fairs, or even a Paper Mill Festival.

The group sees this as being a high-end park with field rentals, concessions, and splash pad entrance fees as possible revenue sources.

The group did estimate an annual cost of $100,000 to maintain the park.  They found several grant sources and did pass that information on in their presentation.

Ross Hughes did the final presentation, recommending the “River’s Edge Reception Hall and Community Center” that will help to make Watervliet a destination area for weddings and corporate retreats. Part of the proposal also includes a high ropes course, part of the attraction for corporate retreats and team building exercises.

The event center would include    community rooms.  A reception hall would be housed on the river’s side with a patio facing the river.  The Teambuilding / rope course would fill a niche that is being missed with the closest one being in Benton Harbor. Hughes sees the community rooms as being a place that could house conferences, meetings, or even the local business woman who wants to hold her yoga class on Saturday morning.  “There is not currently a place to do that,” Hughes said adding, “You can plan the day around Watervliet, hit the rope course, rent a boat on Paw Paw Lake, and grab a beer afterward.”

The fourth presentation was not given, as that group of individuals was unable to attend.  That plan was of a park and recreation type investment.

Out of the discussion that followed, it was identified that more creative signage was needed in the city limits and on I-94, making people want to stop in Watervliet.

While the presentations were very informative, it was clear that more work would be needed to identify funding sources, and buy-in from private businesses and the community to make any of the ideas successful.

While the wine and beer museum was recommended for an existing structure in the city, the other presentations were made using property that used to house the paper mill.  DDA Chairman Bob Becker has said that these presentations are just a “plan B” in case the Watervliet County Park that was recommended by Berrien County a couple of years ago does not pan out.  The plan for the county park includes an event center on the west side of M-140 that could contain a hockey rink and or indoor soccer fields and the property on the east side to include access to the island, kayak launches, walking trails, etc.  The County is currently in the process of seeking a grant for the estimated $600,000 it will take for phase 1 of the Watervliet County Park plan on the east side of M-140.

Professor McIver said that the Western Michigan University Small Business Development Center that deals with government run agencies was contacted by the Watervliet DDA seeking the study.  The students involved in the presentations are students in the master’s program. Samuel Kline, the Execution Team Leader, was also on hand to lead the introduction into the presentations.

BIG IMPACT ON LOCAL AND STATE ECONOMY….The Palisades plant has 600 employees and generates about $57 million in payroll and benefits, plus $12 million annual in state and local taxes.

Palisades Power Plant to shut down  permanently on October 1, 2018

By Angela Stair

Entergy Corporation (NYSE; ETR) and Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest utility and the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE; CMS), have agreed to an early termination of their power purchase agreement (PPA) for the Palisades Power Plant in Covert Township.

The agreement is subject to regulatory approvals.  Separately, and assuming approvals are obtained for the PPA termination, Entergy intends to shut down the Palisades nuclear power plant permanently on October 1, 2018.

The original agreement committed Consumers Energy to purchase nearly all of the power that Palisades generates through April 2022.  Under the current plan, and assuming regulatory approval, Palisades will be refueled as scheduled in the spring of 2017 and operate through the end of the fuel cycle, then permanently shut down on October 1, 2018.

Why did they close early?

“It is a financial decision,” Bill Mohl, President of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, a business unit within Entergy that owns and operates Entergy’s merchant nuclear power plants said.  They determined that a shutdown in 2018 is prudent when comparing the transaction to the business risks of continued operation.  An early shutdown is also consistent with their strategy to focus on the growth of their utility business while managing risk and reducing the footprint of their merchant power generation.

Work force of 600

Last Thursday, December 8 the employees were called to a meeting at the auditorium at South Haven High School.  The 600 employees were not expecting to hear they would be losing their jobs.  Mohl said the 600 workers have a job until 2018 when half the 600 workers will be let go.  The other 300 will remain at the plant for another 15 months, at which time half of them will be dismissed.  That will leave the remaining 150 workers exiting the business nationally.

Senior Communications Specialist, Val Gent, for Entergy Corporation-Palisades Power Plant said, “We expect to continue operations with approximately the same staffing levels until the plant is shut down, when we will transition into decommissioning.”

She continued in the email, Entergy is committed to treating employees fairly throughout this process and will provide assistance to employees who want to relocate within Entergy or leave the company.  Consumers has committed to work closely with Entergy as part of its ongoing talent recruitment efforts and will consider potential placement of up to 180 appropriately skilled employees from Palisades into the utility’s workforce over time.

“Palisades has an immensely talented, dedicated, and loyal workforce, and the plant is recognized as a top performer in the industry.  We recognize that closing the plant on this schedule was certainly not the outcome employees had hoped for, but we have concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances.”

What happens to the site after closure

Gent stated that after closure, the plant will be decommissioned.  The decommissioning process is defined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 50.2(10 CFR 50.2). The initial activities involve extensive planning to safely and efficiently decommission the station and terminate the station license.

Activities include removing the plant from service, transferring used fuel to safe storage (spent fuel pool or dry cask storage), removing any residual radioactivity, and restoring the site, such as the removal of structures, and possible re-grading and reseeding of the land.

She said the safety of their operations will continue to be a top priority.  In addition, the NRC will continue to provide oversight both before and during the decommissioning process.  The used fuel will remain secured on site, under guard, monitored during shutdown and decommissioning activities, and subject to the NRC’s oversight until it is removed by the federal Department of Energy in accordance with its legal obligations.

Palisades has used dry fuel storage since 1993 and is a safe and secure method for storing used nuclear fuel.  The casks are very robust and are designed to prevent fuel damage during accident conditions such as tornados, floods, snow and ice, earthquakes, or explosions.

Financial effects on the surrounding community

The impact on the loss of local funding will impact the community in a ripple effect.  Palisades pays about $12 million annually in state and local taxes.  This includes property taxes, income tax paid to the state and sales tax paid to the state.  They also pay approximately $67 million in annual wages and benefits for its 600 employees who mainly live in Van Buren County, Berrien County, Allegan County and Kalamazoo County.

Along with the loss of the 600 jobs and the income that would be derived from daily living needs, housing, property taxes paid by homeowners, the effect continues to ripple and eventually affects all parts of the community.

Gent said that to support the community during the transition, Entergy and the Consumers Energy Foundation will provide a total of $10 million in economic development funding over the next several years for the Southwest Michigan region.

The two companies will consult with the Council of Michigan Foundations and local stakeholders as it relates to the distribution of these funds.  Of the $10 million, the Consumers Energy Foundation will contribute $2 million and Entergy $8 million.

The process for reviewing requests for funds and distributing them will be announced later, with a focus on sustainable economic development that will broaden the community’s tax base.

Covert Township

Covert Township Supervisor Dennis Palgen said the Township is very disappointed and very concerned about what will happen now.  He said it is too early to tell what benefits will come from the $10 million economic development package that Entergy and Consumers are putting together.

“Entergy has always been a good neighbor to us; I don’t expect any difference now,” Supervisor Palgen said.  “I think we need to let the dust settle a little before we can see clearly ahead.”


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