Paw Paw River clearing project gains momentum

62 mile water trail has 22 access points where paddlers can get on the river

By: Annette Christie

  Fueled by the recent news of a $100,000 grant from the State of Michigan to help with the clearing of the Paw Paw River to a navigable condition, some 30 kayakers and canoers took to the river on Monday, July 11 to paddle the Paw Paw River Water Trail.  They began at the Hays Park public access site in Watervliet and traveled to a public access site in Coloma near North Street.   Rick Rasmussen with the Friends of the Paw Paw River was one of the paddlers that day and said that everyone was able to get

DONATION… Chris Phillips (right) representing Orchard Hill Landfill presents a $2,000 check to Rick Rasmussen (left) local organizer for the Paw Paw River clean up project. Looking on are project supporters, County Commissioner Bill Smith, Coloma Mayor Jim Polashak, and Coloma Watervliet Chamber Director Chana Kniebes.


through that section of the river with a few snags here and there. While the blockages in the river can change day to day, on that particular day Rasmussen said there were 8-10 log jams with 4-5 of them being pretty heavy duty.  On Monday, July 18, Best Way Disposal/Orchard Hill Landfill donated $2,000 to the effort to help get the clearing of the river started.  Rasmussen has been actively recruiting volunteers and funding so that they can get started now, prior to the grant funding coming.  The grant funds are in the state’s budget for next year which means they would not be available until October.  “We would like to start a pilot project to get our 3.3 miles of river between Watervliet and Coloma cleared sooner,” Rasmussen said adding, “We don’t know how many days it will take or how far the funds will get us at this point.”   Moving forward, Rasmussen said they are continuing the fundraising which is now very close to $5,000 with the help of Orchard Hill and they are compiling the list of volunteers.  “We hope to schedule a volunteer day in August for those that want to help to work on the clearing,” Rasmussen said.  Preliminary estimates are that it could cost anywhere from $700 – $1500 a day to bring in a company with the equipment and manpower needed to work on clearing the river.  Having volunteers that could do some of that work for free would of course be very beneficial.  When the funds do come from the state in the fall, it will flow through the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission.  They will of course receive administrative costs and will request that some of the funding be used for signage.

30 KAYAKERS… and canoeists navigate the first of many snags in the Paw Paw River between Watervliet and Coloma. (TCR photos by Karl Bayer)


By the time all that is accounted for, it is estimated that each municipality from Paw Paw to Benton Harbor/St. Joseph will have approximately $6,000 to use for clearing.    Pscholka said the project will benefit more than just one area.  “This project is a big win for Southwest Michigan, opening up the Paw Paw River between Benton Harbor and Paw Paw will attract outdoor enthusiasts from near and far,” Rep. Pscholka said.  “It is a great example of leveraging our assets and natural beauty for recreation and economic development.”  The 62-mile water trail begins in Waverly Township in Van Buren County and flows through Berrien County converging with the St. Joseph River just above its mouth at Benton Harbor.  Currently there are 22 access points where paddlers can get on the river.   Donations can be accepted through the Coloma-Watervliet Area Economic Development Corporation, which is a 501c3 organization.  Volunteers can contact Chana Kniebes at that organization as well to sign up if they would like to help.  The Friends of the Paw Paw River will be reaching out to property owners along the Paw Paw River for permission to put trees or portions of trees on their property so as to remove them from the blocking the river and to help cut down on the cost of removing them completely from the river and its surrounding areas. Rasmussen commented, “The clearing of the Paw Paw River is an attempt to make it navigable and to serve as an attractant to our area.  The environmental aspect of what we are doing is very important and we have no intent to damage the river in anyway.”   The long term goals of the group include trying to establish an annual maintenance stipend from the local municipalities and to continue to make the access and use of the river easier.

FAIR ROYALTY…This year’s Van Buren Youth Fair royalty include – King Johnathan Newland of the Porter Busy Fingers; Queen Chelsea Harrison of the Silver Spurs; Princess Lauren Parman; Prince Brett Clauser of the West Valley Livestock; Duchess Anya Butler of the Shamrock Shakers; and Duke Dane Ostlund of the Porter Busy Fingers. The contest was held July 10 at the Lawton Community Center. The Fair is open through Saturday. The fairgrounds are just east of Hartford on Red Arrow Highway.


Coloma Township Board puts Supervisor on Fire Board

By Annette Christie

After consideration since their last meeting, the Coloma Township Board opted to put their Supervisor, Ken Parrigin, on the North Berrien Fire Board on a temporary basis.   At their regular meeting on Wednesday, July 13, Parrigin announced that Hagar Township had recently taken the same action with their Supervisor, Izzy DiMaggio.  This follows the recommendation of consultants brought in to study the Fire Board and the Department following the departure of the previous Fire Chief at the end of last year.    Parrigin told the board that he has thought about this and his first inclination was that the municipalities have  put those people in office over there (on the Fire Board) to do a job and we should expect them to do that job.  He then added, “If the board wants me to sit on that board I will.  I think it will move better with some authority there,” Parrigin also said though that right now they are doing a really good job.  Trustee Bryan Duffield stated that he didn’t think that appointing Parrigin for a 4-6 month period could hurt anything.  Trustee Matt Moser agreed.  Parrigin added, “I think we could get a lot sorted out in 4-6 months until we get a new chief.” Two captains are in charge of the department currently.   A discussion was held regarding putting an interim chief in place.  The consensus was that putting one more person in the mix was not a good idea.  One audience member noted that the two captains are doing a great job, making the right decisions for the department and making the best decisions for the community.   A conversation was held regarding how they could put Parrigin on the Fire Board given that the agreement between the municipalities only allows for so many seats on the board for each one.  The North Berrien Fire Department is made up of Coloma City, Coloma Charter Township, and Hagar Township.  Parrigin stated that recently Stuart Thurlow had asked to be removed from the Board.   The board accepted Thurlow’s request to remove him from the board.  Moser then made the motion to appoint Parrigin to the Fire Board for an undetermined length of time until the two supervisors and the mayor decide they are no longer needed.   Trustee Jim Fulton stated that the Planning Commission working on zoning changes to the zoning ordinance including some definition clarifications and individual uses.   They are working with Williams & Work to get some ideas on that.  They also reviewed and renewed the Special Use Permit for Fireworks Stands.  Police Chief Jason Roe told the board that the number of calls they are working is pretty average for this time of year.  In the month of June, they made 24 arrests, three of which were drug arrests.   Roe thanked the Coloma Community for the recent outpouring of support during the recent events at the Berrien County Courthouse in which two Court Officers were killed.  Roe said that one of their officers was in the Courthouse at the time and responded.  Roe responded as well.    In a follow-up to last month’s meeting, the township board discussed Township Board salaries.    Moser said they have reviewed over seven different townships and he provided a recommendation of the averages of the seven.  The recommendation based on the salary study would raise the Supervisor pay to $19,800 and would raise the Clerk and Treasurer to $16,800.  He did not recommend any change in the township trustee positions.  He stated that the comparison figures came from the Michigan Township Association.    With the absence of Trustee Rob Harper, the board held off on any action until the full board could be present for the discussion and any possible action.  Following last month’s discussion of providing a township funded at-large assessment toward the Special Assessment District for Paw Paw Lake, Parrigin asked the board where they stood.  He had previously expressed his support of the notion.  The Coloma Township Board voted to provide ½ of a 5% at-large assessment for the total project costs.  That would be approximately $5,003.    The board also authorized the purchase of a generator for the Township Hall.   With the installation some wiring would have to be re-routed.  Rory Bell provided estimates at $15 – $16,000 to do it the way that would best work for the building.  He suggested that to help offset that cost; the township could sell the big portable generator that they are no longer using. The generator installation would supply emergency power for all of the Township Hall.  Bell noted that last year they had to close for four to five days due to power outages.   With the help of Police Chief Jason Roe, the agreement renewal with the City of Coloma for police services has been accepted by the City.  Roe said that the agreement is pretty much the same but with a 1% increase in price.  The contract approved is for a term of three years.  For the first year of the contract the city will pay the township $291,709; for the second the city will pay $295,000; and for the third the city will pay $298,000 to the township.  The township has been providing police services to the city since 2003.

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