ALPENA - The amount of activity on Thunder Bay has increased over the last several years. Today there are a greater number of divers, snorkelers, kayakers and recreational boaters than there were just a handful of years ago. Having people enjoying these activities is a plus, but with the increased activities comes a increased chance of emergencies taking place in the water.
In Alpena there is a noticeable Coat Guard presence, but there is little patrol or response capability by the Alpena County Sheriff Department due to the lack of a boat.
It appeared that problem was solved when the sheriff department was awarded a 25 foot Defender Class boat for free. The boat was made available by the Sault Ste. Marie Coast Guard branch via the Federal Surplus Program and the Michigan Department of Treasury Management and Budget.
Alpena County was awarded the boat, but before it could be delivered, it needed to be assessed by the state. It was assessed at $173,708 and the state informed Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski it intended to charge the county 8 percent of the value as a service fee. the total of the fee is $13,896 and now the acquisition of the boat is in doubt.
Kieliszewski said he was taken back by the charge and said he considers it a tax on a governing body. He said steps are being taken to try to get the charge dropped or raise the money for the boat, but if neither happen the boat, which is being held for the county, could be granted to another community. Kieliszewski said having the boat is important and could save lives.
"It has been important for us to get a big boat on the big lake for a number of years now," Kieliszewski said. "We haven't been able to do decent patrols or enforcement whatsoever and we have been lucky there hasn't been any major accidents but it is just a matter of time before our luck runs out and something happens."
Kieliszewski said the department is already in the process of getting its dive team back in operation, but without a boat it would be difficult to get the deputies to a site where a diving accident or other emergency has taken place.
"Not having a boat makes it impossible to do anything," Kieliszewski said. "The boat wouldn't just have benefits for the people of alpena County, but for everyone visiting Alpena. It would provide adequate protection and should something go wrong we could respond."
Kieliszewski said the Coast Guard in Alpena does a good job of paroling and responding to distress calls and he wants his department to partner with them to make the waters even safer.
Measures have been taken to try to pull some money together. Some items not in use at the department are being sold and it is possible the community rallies to raise the money. Kieliszewski said he was unsure where the money would come from if the state refuses to waive the service fee. He said right now the boat is being held for Alpena, but he doesn't know for how long. He said it would be a shame for Alpena to miss out on a boat, which was supposed to be free because of the actions in Lansing.
"It officially became available to us Wednesday, but I don't know how long it will be available to us. How long they'll hold it for us is questionable," Kieliszewski said. "Even with us selling the few items we had it still won't come close to being enough money. Right now I really don't know what to do ... In my opinion it is a tax and against the law."
Kieliszewski has reached out to Rep. Pete Pettalia and Sen. John Moolenaar for any help they can offer. He said neither has been contacted him back as of Thursday.
Kieliszewski said in a press release he is prepared to let the boat go back into the possession of the federal government if the fee is not dropped or the money is not raised. He said it would be disappointing because of the need, but finding nearly $14,000 that is not budgeted for would be almost impossible.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com.