Macomb County leaders reflect on 2023, speculate on year ahead

By: Dean Vaglia | C&G Newspapers | Published January 5, 2024

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MACOMB COUNTY — As confetti is cleared from Times Square and late-made resolutions begin to be broken, it can be easy to leave 2023 behind in favor of what 2024 will bring. But while the new year is still fresh, leaders of local governments took time to examine the past year and give some idea of what can be expected in 2024.

When asked about how their 2023 went, Mount Clemens Mayor Laura Kropp and City Manager Gregg Shipman were beyond pleased with the year’s developments. The prior year ended with a forced change of course on building a water plant while Shipman essentially relayed between City Hall and the Fire Department as he led both on a day-to-day basis. But as the calendar flipped into 2023, Shipman says the city embarked on “a year of change.”

“When I say ‘change,’ I mean we changed a lot of personnel, including commissioners, but what we’ve done — and it really started before 2023 but I think you’re seeing it (now) — is we’ve changed our culture,” Shipman said. “We changed the way we think and the way we operate, and we’ve changed the culture from within and now it’s spreading to the outside. It’s building momentum and people are getting on board and it’s exciting.”

The most notable change of personnel is Shipman as the full-time city manager and Danny Reynolds as the Mount Clemens Fire Department’s full-time chief. Significant funding was brought in for projects through grants, loans and other sources, including $20 million in state-provided principal forgiveness for downtown water infrastructure upgrades and $5 million in a state-provided enhancement grant to turn the husk of the Victory Inn into the 100-unit Manchester Mount Clemens apartments. Code enforcement is now being handled through an administrative hearings bureau. The Cairns Community Center is receiving new recreation programs through Advancing Macomb and TCB Youth Mentoring. Hunch Free was contracted to handle the city’s digital communications and the city reached an agreement with the Mount Clemens Public Library to publish a quarterly newsletter.

“This is the first year where it’s the year’s end and I’m looking back and there’s so many things to hang my hat on,” Kropp said. “So many big projects that have happened that we are almost losing track of which one is the biggest and the best.”

City residents can expect to see the grants and loans and forgiveness picked up in 2023 come into play in 2024. Much of the downtown will be under construction starting this spring as underground water infrastructure is replaced and a major overhaul to the Macomb Place/Cherry Street Mall will occur in tandem. The demolition of the old motel can be expected later in the year as well. Kropp says residents can expect more recreation programs and “synergy” with the Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority’s events.

On the more speculative side, Kropp expects a more occupied downtown based on interest from the Manchester Mount Clemens project.

“We believe that properties that are still vacant will have real serious interest,” Kropp said.

Moving east to Harrison Township, Township Supervisor Ken Verkest found 2023 to be a “generally positive” year. Though hard pressed to come up with a full list of the year’s accomplishments, the supervisor was able to take pride in the ongoing water meter reader replacement project and several planned subdivision road replacement projects.

While Lake St. Clair plays a major role in the Harrison Township economy and lifestyle, Verkest’s outlook for the lakefront and lake-bound activities is mixed for 2024. The prior year saw the completion of a new boathouse for the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office Marine Division, the reconfiguration of the Department of Natural Resources boat launch on Jefferson Avenue and the start of a study into the algae blooms that caused the launch to close. The new year will see the start of a new bridge along the Clinton River spillway, an amenities overhaul at Waterfront Park and the planned reopening of township-staple Gino’s Surf. But for marinas and boaters, the question remains: Will the lake be usable?

“It was 2019 and 2020 when we were dealing with record high water levels, and unfortunately the long-range forecasts are showing for even lower water levels next year (2024) than this year (2023),” Verkest said. “That can present challenges for some folks. We know there are some neighborhoods and condo associations looking at dredging operations or silt removal to make sure they have sufficient navigational depths.”

The question of Lake St. Clair’s ability to support its pastimes extends into winter as well. Warm weather has kept the water liquid throughout December, preventing winter activities like skating and ice fishing from taking place.

“Last year (2022), we did not get a lot of ice, and I just read a long-range forecast that beginning in January (2024), we’re going to start to see colder weather,” Verkest said. “For those folks who enjoy ice fishing, knowing that the DNR site is open, hopefully we’ll be able to get enough ice to enjoy some winter ice sports.”

The oddly warm winter and possibility of a low-lake summer calls attention to the township’s ongoing project of creating a 2040 master plan with the aim of making the township a “resilient community.” The state is picking up half of the plan’s bill in the form of a coastal management grant, so future plans for the township’s waterfront and waterways can be expected. A resident survey for the plan ended on Dec. 31, and more information about the plan can be found at

Over in Clinton Township, Deputy Supervisor Dan O’Leary is proud of 2023 as a year in which the township was able to achieve goals while maintaining financial stability.

“It sounds very boring, but the government is supposed to be boring if you’re doing it right,” O’Leary said. “We’re getting things done but we’re also trying to cut costs, live within our means and that sort of thing.”

Grants played a major role in this by funding several ongoing parks projects like a trail along the Clinton River Spillway, creating a kayak launch at George George Park for a river trail. Outside of grants, the township was able to secure more donations for its inclusive playground and secured a donation of fill soil to level out Prince Drewry Park’s field.

Progress was made in the development of Groesbeck Highway, particularly at a planned unit development site near its intersection with Elizabeth Road. East Town Village, a mixed-use development that will feature residential and commercial properties, was approved in late 2021.

“(The developers) are at the state getting approvals,” O’Leary said. “There’s all kinds of things you have to get. Proving there’s no wetlands, working with drains and around drains. They have to get all that approved and that takes time, and we’re anticipating they’ll start building some time in 2024.”

O’Leary says residents can expect infrastructure projects to be a big part of 2024. The township will continue its campaign to improve roads and expand recreational options, particularly the parks potential of the Clinton River.

“Getting people to realize it’s an asset and not just an object to get around, that’s a big deal,” O’Leary said. “It’s helping them understand the Clinton River is for your recreation.”

The township is exploring uses for about five acres of land on the north side of the Clinton River Spillway as well as working with the county and neighboring communities to determine what the best uses of this land will be. The work is in tandem with making the river navigable for recreational human-powered watercraft and maintaining the trail along the spillway. Ultimately, O’Leary sees this work as having the potential to bring some of the recreational attention from Lake St. Clair toward the inland waterways.

“It’s not just about the lake,” O’Leary said. “The lake is wonderful, but they can actually get out there and play on our river. That’s what we’re shooting for. A little bit of time, a little bit each year, and eventually you’ll build a culture where people actually start to use these assets.”