June 18 • 09:52 PM

Decision on water parks still in limbo

Clock ticking on any chances of opening by Memorial Day weekend

April 07, 2010
LAPEER COUNTY — Time is running out on any chance of reopening either of the county's water park features by Memorial Day.

That was the opinion of Parks Director Ken Elwert at the April 1st Lapeer County Commission meeting.

"We are quickly approaching the last moment in time if we are to be able to open up," said Elwert. He noted that substantial maintenance would be necessary in preparation for the opening.

Commission Chairman Dave Taylor agreed with Elwert's assessment. "Memorial Day looks really shaky right now," he said.

As a budget-saving measure, county commissioners decided in January to close down the water features at Torzewski and General Squier parks. They also laid off staff at both locations, reducing the parks to what has been described as "passive" status.

On Thursday, commissioners again postponed any decision on funding or further layoffs until the full seven-member board is present. Commissioner Lenny Schneider was on a scheduled vacation out of state and not in attendance.

In an effort to help, Community Mental Health Director Dr. Robert Sprague suggested that Michigan Rehab Services might be able to provide part-time or seasonal concession workers, ticket-takers and maintenance staff at the water parks.

"One of our objectives is to provide employment," said Sprague. "There may be a way to transfer the parks to CMH and allow us to manage the parks and reduce the costs to the county."

After thanking Sprague for "thinking out of the box," commissioner Ian Kempf warned of possible ramifications.

"You will still be burdened by the same problem," said Kempf. "The parks will not pay for themselves, regardless of who runs them."

Meanwhile, laid-off parks manager Mike Queen voiced a concern that the county will continue to pay a price for the lapse in park maintenance.

Lapeer County Parks Director Ken Elwert says time is waning for chance to open water parks. photo by Tom Wearing.

After hearing commissioners discuss the replacement of a park water softener for an estimated $600-$700, Queen said the cost could have been avoided.

"That cost is a direct result of that water softener not being maintained," said Queen. "That's another expenditure.

"We'd been putting things back together with band-aids and bubble gum to make these parks work," he continued. "Without maintenance, the costs for repairs will double. It takes a tremendous amount of work to get the parks running again after setting over the winter."

In yet another revelation, Elwert said he had been notified by the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment that temporary closure of the parks had to be approved by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment and the National Parks Service.

Permanent closure, said Elwert, would constitute a conversion of use and require mitigation of property of equal value and recreation use.

Elwert further noted that under the terms of an original Land and Water Conservation Grant for Torzewski Park in 1983, the park is encumbered in perpetuity.

"Grants are wonderful at their face," added County Controller John Biscoe. "But what are we left with?"

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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