Waterfront Park, located off Jefferson Avenue in Harrison Township, was closed all of last year and remains closed.

Waterfront Park, located off Jefferson Avenue in Harrison Township, was closed all of last year and remains closed.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Officials: Waterfront Park to reopen in May

By: Nick Mordowanec | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published April 7, 2021


HARRISON TOWNSHIP — After being closed for more than a year, Waterfront Park in Harrison Township is expected to reopen soon, according to officials.

On March 29, Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest said “within weeks” that the park —which is located at 34890 Jefferson Avenue and was closed for all of 2020 — will be open, pending repairs and after dealing with unforeseen issues in the vicinity. He predicted a May date.

Normally, the park is closed throughout the winter due to restrooms not being in the right condition due to winterization and preventing the freezing of pipes. Some visitors also don’t act on their best behavior, he said.

“When we did try to keep it open without bathrooms, not everybody acts the way you’d want them to,” he said.

He said the shoreline has been “eroding” over time. As water levels rise, he said it leads to not only more shoreline erosion and damage, but also an acceleration of ice damage.

“Over the last several years, we’ve experienced almost annually more degradation of the seawall and shoreline, and gradually little by little, we’ve closed sections of the park,” he said.

Fixing the seawall is not cheap, he added, with the township applying for grants in 2018. In May 2019, a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant was awarded at an approximate 60-40 match, with the state shelling about $157,000 while Harrison Township would pay approximately $104,000.

Shoreline modifications were designed, with Verkest saying the township did not apply to replace the seawall, but to soften the shoreline. He said the proposal involved constructing a series of stone revetments and structures for fishing access, similar to what was done on the Clinton River Spillway.

Bids for the project were solicited in early 2020, although no bids were submitted, and then COVID-19 struck. Verkest said the scope of work was underestimated and another grant, by way of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was applied for in conjunction with the MNRTF grant.

The township found out March 16 of last year that the grant attempt was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, he said standing water on Jefferson posed another problem when about 600 feet of gravity-fed pipe extending from the roadway through the park and into Lake St. Clair was working in reverse, flooding the roadway and creating some sinkholes inside the park.

The pipe was installed in the late 1990s, he added.

“The pipe couldn’t handle that back pressure, so we had to come up with another method of basically draining Jefferson,” Verkest said.

Closure of Waterfront Park during the onset of the pandemic, when going outside was the only way for many to cope with social distancing measures, caused some in the community to wonder what was going on.

“Anytime you have an asset like that, a park that’s closed for whatever reason — you certainly get inquiries. … As summer progressed and other parks opened, we heard from some folks.”

One inquiring individual is Rhonda Warner, who has spoken publicly at Board of Trustees meetings since last year, asking when the park would be open.

Elected by Democrats as the delegate for Precinct One, she said she reportedly received different answers from officials and was dissatisfied by them.

“We pay taxes here in Harrison Township and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the only recreation the citizens of Michigan had was to go to parks,” Warner said.

She wondered why the pipe issue was not addressed initially, when the seawall was being inspected for repairs. She also asked why the park’s picnic area and playground have remained closed for over a year when the shoreline has been the major issue.

Warner said “I’ll believe it when I see it,” regarding the predicted opening date.

She took to social media to ask more questions, saying taxes don’t play a factor in the park’s reopening and that it is not a partisan issue.

“If the supervisor was transparent about what was going on, a lot of this could have been avoided,” she said.

The MNRTF grant is expected to expire soon, but an extension is expected to be submitted within the next month, Verkest said. It’s unclear whether federal coronavirus relief money will factor in to improvements in the future.