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Mount Clemens, Harrison Township, Clinton Township

December 26, 2013

Looking Back: 2013

By Julie Snyder
C & G Staff Writer

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Thousands flocked to Gratiot Avenue in Clinton Township Aug. 4 to celebrate the 11th annual Gratiot Cruise.

This past year had a few surprises, brought plenty to celebrate, saw tragedy and even a shocking mystery — one that has yet to be uncovered.

Here’s a look back at some of this year’s biggest stories in the Journal’s coverage area:

In 2013, Mount Clemens, a city known for its unique shopping experiences and its vast nightlife and restaurants, celebrated several changes, including the ground breaking of the new Children’s Hands-on Museum.

A celebration to mark the start of construction was held on April 19. The 40,000-square-foot facility will be located at Pine and New streets, will cater to infants and children of all ages, and will feature interactive exhibits that present concepts such as construction, energy conservation, science and technology, math, and health and fitness — each of which are designed to encourage children to take an active role in learning.

“I’m looking forward to the next two years and getting the city financially stable; stop the drainage, anyway,” Mount Clemens Mayor Barb Dempsey said after her re-election this past November. “And get the Children’s museum going. We have a lot of things in the hopper.”

Mount Clemens City Commissioner Joe Rheker was Dempsey’s contender in that race. At the urging of his supporters, Rheker decided to seek a re-count of the results. He was ahead of the race that Nov. 5 until the absentee ballots were tallied. He eventually lost the race with 1,114 votes to Dempsey’s 1,179 votes. The Nov. 20 recount showed Rheker received 1,115 votes, and Dempsey remained the mayor of Mount Clemens.

In March, St. Peter Church purchased a former Mount Clemens charter school owned by the Mount Clemens Community School district for $600,000. The move allowed the church to relocate their 440 St. Mary Catholic School students to the building on Grand Avenue and South Gratiot. The students had previously been attending two different schools: the primary campus on Francis Street in Clinton Township and the main campus for second- through eighth-graders on Market Street in Mount Clemens.

“The new facility provides us with up-to-date fiber optic technology, a media center, state-of-the-art cafetorium and many additional upgrades,” said St. Mary School Principal Maureen Miscavish. “The building is the perfect fit to bring our two campuses together. It helps us ensure there will be a St. Mary School in Mt. Clemens for years to come.”

Plans for the two former campuses are still being mulled, but the likelihood is one will be sold and the other used for future church purposes.

In March, Clinton Township was faced with tragedy when a well-liked 21-year-old man died in a house fire on Remick Drive.

Joshua Luczak loved photography, skate boarding and was described by family, friends and neighbors as an outgoing and happy-go-lucky person who many enjoyed being around.

“He would do anything for anybody — the biggest heart of any kid ever,” said neighbor Lauren Zapinski.

The fire that erupted around 11 a.m. the morning of March 3 was accidental and originated in the bedroom where Luczak was sleeping.

Another tragedy took place in the township on July 30, when a mother and her 11-year-old daughter were found murdered in their apartment on Metropolitan Parkway at Harper.

Clinton Township police say Tina Geiger, 47, and her daughter Kristina were killed with a “cutting instrument”; however, no weapon was found at the scene of the crime. The bodies of the mother and daughter, both reportedly mentally disabled, were discovered in their apartment by a security guard, who checked on their wellbeing following a report that they had been missing for several days.

A 29-year-old man was arrested shortly after the discovery and was charged with lying to police in a violent crime investigation and obstructing a police officer. He was released on Oct. 29.

To this day, results of the autopsies have not been released, and detectives have no suspects.

On a lighter note this year, voters in Clinton Township passed the police and fire millages on Election Day.

Each millage secured more than half of the township’s votes — the police millage accumulated 65.57 percent (8,897 votes), while the fire millage accumulated 64.6 percent (8,779). The 1.25-mill, nine-year fire millage will provide funds for acquiring a new fire vehicle and other operational costs for the department, as well as additional firefighters. The 1-mill, seven-year police millage will provide funds for acquiring a new police vehicle and other operational costs for the department, as well as additional police officers.

In Harrison Township, the $3.3 million parking lot improvement project at Lake St. Clair Metropark broke ground on May 9.

The project, which is being funded by two Environmental Protection Agency grants, involves replacing part of the 42-acre parking lot built in 1950 with eco-friendly parking areas and vegetative swales that collect and filter rainfall as part of a natural storm water management system.

The project will improve water quality by reducing the amount of untreated storm water flowing directly into Lake St. Clair. A key element of the design is redirecting the flow of storm water from the existing outlet at Black Creek to a new open-water outlet at the Point Rosa Marsh. The 4,200-space parking lot will also be redesigned to improve vehicle and pedestrian safety; new parking areas close to the Nature Center will be designed, rerouting the perimeter park road, and separating the hike/bike trail from the park road. Two skating ponds and a sledding hill will be shaped into the new contours, and nearly 200 trees and 10 acres of native plants will be placed in green areas.

Construction of the project began on May 20 and is slated to be completed by the spring.

During the Aug. 6 primary election, voters in Harrison Township passed two ballot proposals to maintain and improve emergency services.
A three-year millage renewal for operations passed with 76 percent of the vote and the fire millage, a three-year, 1/2-mill tax increase, narrowly passed with 53 percent.

The renewal sustains the 6.67 millage rate for police and fire operations, while the fire millage will generate, at the township’s current assessed taxable value of $828 million, approximately $413,000 annually to keep the fire department as it is today and allow fire officials to go forward with improvements.

“We’re very appreciative of the taxpayers for supporting us and trusting us,” Matt Sahr, vice president of Harrison Township Firefighters Union Local 1737, said after the election. “We thank those voters who came out and voted ‘Yes.’ We had gotten a lot of positive feedback (in the days leading up to the election).”

But much to the disappointment of library supporters, the 10-year, 1/2-mill library millage increase failed by just 53 votes. The proposal was aimed at gaining funding for expansions and improvements. Organizers of the proposal say they plan to reintroduce the issue in the coming years.

Another hot-button issue, countywide, this year was Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham’s Sept. 3 overcrowding emergency declaration at the county jail.

At that time, Wickersham said certification of overcrowding at the jail indicates an urgent need to increase capacity to house inmates.

By law, Wickersham declared an overcrowding emergency at the jail after the population exceeded the facility’s capacity of 1,238 inmates for seven straight days. The population was at 1,241 on Sept. 3, and officials then had 15 days to reduce the population to 1,213 or face a mandatory early release of inmates.

Wickersham said the population rose because of a sudden and rapid increase in violent crimes and the need to jail such offenders. The jail holds inmates charged with felonies or probation violators, and those serving a one year or less prison term

The overcrowding emergency declaration was lifted on Sept. 9 after members of the Macomb County District Court Judges Association reviewed their inmate lists for potential reductions.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Julie Snyder at jsnyder@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1039.