Request to Amend Pier Jumping Bill 4699 for Surfer Access
Bill could prohibit public pier jumping on Great Lakes
Tue, Oct 30, 2007
BY KYLE MORONEY AND CHRIS EPPLETT
For years, kids and young adults have jumped from Grand Haven's south pier head into Lake Michigan. Without any warning, jumping off piers — such as the one in Grand Haven — can result in grave consequences.
But a recently passed state Senate bill could prohibit making such jumps from public piers and structures along the Great Lakes and connecting waters.
"I know that those structures aren't for that — they're built for navigation purposes.
They're not built or are safe for jumping," said Vicki Cech, who has been an advocate for pier and beach safety since her 17-year-old son, Andy Fox, drowned in September 2003 after being caught in a rip current at Grand Haven State Park. "I hate seeing so many restrictions on everything we do, but I feel we have to do that to protect people from themselves, especially kids who think they're invisible."
If passed and signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Senate Bill 629 would "prohibit a person from jumping, diving or swimming from a pier, jetty, breakwater or other similar structure, or a buoy or other navigational device, that was located in the Great Lakes or their connecting waters."
The bill, as passed by the Senate 35-2 on Oct. 17, would make those jumps and dives punishable by a fine of as much as $500 it becomes law. It now goes to the House Tourism Committee.
Discussion for the proposed bill came about in a mid-winter meeting with lawmakers and the Great Lakes Beach and Pier Safety Task Force.
"The negative part about it is for surfers," said Tom O'Bryan, chief of operations of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Grand Haven office. "Surfers are some of the safest in the lake. They know the currents, they know the area and they're wearing buoyant wet suits.
They've saved a countless number of lives."
However, many surfers who are drawn to Grand Haven's tides often jump off the pier to catch a wave.
"Surfers everywhere else go from the beach," Ottawa County Sheriff's Sgt. Keith Koeman said. "I think education will work with surfers. This is an injury risk. It (could be) law. We're not going to stop surfing, just surf on and off the beach.
"It's just not a safe practice for anyone, even surfers," he added about jumping off the pier.
O'Bryan said there is a federal statute in place that does not allow recreational activities, such as swimming and jumping, off a federal structure. The Grand Haven piers are navigational structures owned by the Corps of Engineers.
"But we don't have any enforcement authority," O'Bryan said.
This will give the authority to local law enforcement, such as the Sheriff's Department or Grand Haven Department of Public Safety.
"I think it's a good deal," O'Bryan said. "It'll be interesting to see what happens, particularly in Grand Haven and how they enforce it."
Enforcement and education are the keys to making the proposed bill successful, advocates say.
"I think it's going to be just like traffic — when you happen to see it, you can give a warning or issue a citation," GHDPS Director Dennis Edwards said. "No one will monitor to see what's going on. It's one of those things where, when you come upon it, you're going to enforce it."
Edwards said many people do not realize the dangers. Rocks and boulders beneath the water's surface are often hard to spot. Many of them are near areas people jump.
"Even if (the proposed law) doesn't put an end to (pier jumping), it will at least make it less frequent," Edwards said. "More than anything, it should continue to bring about the awareness of the dangers of pier jumping. I think we are making headway. We need to keep bringing (pier safety) to the forefront so people realize the dangers out there."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.