Local residents have expressed concerns over safety issues on Cass Lake this summer.

Local residents have expressed concerns over safety issues on Cass Lake this summer.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Residents near Cass Lake express concerns over potential safety issues

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 2, 2020

 Cass Lake spans several communities.

Cass Lake spans several communities.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


ORCHARD LAKE — Cass Lake has gotten “scary” this summer, according to some Orchard Lake Village residents.

Some residents have expressed concerns about boaters driving at high speeds after sunset, people kayaking across the water when there’s high traffic volume, boats going in the wrong direction, close calls at the docks, and late-night wake-boarding and surfing.

Cass Lake stretches across the jurisdictions of West Bloomfield Township, Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake and Waterford Township.

According to Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe, “huge cuts” were made at the Sheriff’s Office in 2008, with the general fund contributions to marine patrols among them.

As a result, McCabe said, “There are no dedicated patrols” by Oakland County on Cass Lake.

Prior to 2008, he said, there were two boats assigned to Cass Lake.

Municipalities now have the option to contract with Oakland County at a rate of $36.43 per hour to schedule patrols, the rate established by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.

Homeowners associations can raise money and have their respective municipalities contract with Oakland County for patrols for “as many hours as they want.”

“We currently have 18 lakes this year that contract for sheriff’s patrols,” with Cass Lake not among them, McCabe said.

He said the county does have two “jump” boats, “where deputies are towing a boat,” that go out on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and will respond to calls.

However, those boats may not be nearby when a call comes in, and McCabe said there could be a “delay in service.”

Of the jurisdictions that stretch across the lake, Keego Harbor is the only one that has a marine patrol unit.

John Fitzgerald is Keego Harbor’s police chief, and he has been informed of safety issues pertaining to Cass  Lake.

“We look to try and enforce those (when) we can,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s once in a while some careless driving going on that people have to pay attention to.”

Fitzgerald said Keego Harbor’s marine patrol is out there almost every Saturday and Sunday, and then “at random times through the week.”

He said the Cass Lake sandbar has been “extremely busy on the nice weather days.”

Some residents of the lake’s communities said the crowds on the sandbar make it hard for people to return to their own homes from being out on the lake.

The Cass Lake sandbar has also gotten the attention of Michigan House District 29 state Rep. Brenda Carter, who earlier this summer went on a couple of patrol rides with an officer from Keego Harbor’s Marine Division.

“As we progressed further towards the density of the sandbar, we noticed there was several safety things that we could possibly enhance, like putting some distance between the homeowners’ launches and where the public has the use on the sandbar, maybe having some safety lanes there,” Carter said.

In addition to the possibility that responders may not be able to locate someone in an emergency, Carter has another reason to be concerned about the boats being so close together.

“We’re in a pandemic right now, and I’m not quite sure how social distancing affects being on boats, but we should have some distance between the boats while they’re out there on the sandbar,” she said.

Keego Harbor Mayor Rob Kalman has also been mindful of safety issues on Cass Lake.

“The Keego Harbor City Council has had multiple discussions this year relating to the public health and safety of our residents that live on the shores of Cass Lake,” Kalman said in an email.  “We want everyone to enjoy the lake but enjoy it safely.  We appreciate the attention that our state rep, Brenda Carter, has given to this important issue. We are fortunate that we have a marine patrol and several Keego Harbor officers working the lake to provide assistance.”

Keego Harbor residents who take notice of safety issues on Cass Lake have the means to do something about it.

“We try to take care of Keego Harbor, and we’re there to answer any emergencies that come out on the lake,” Fitzgerald said. “If you have any kind of violation, especially if it’s putting somebody’s safety in jeopardy, please call us. If our marine patrol’s out, we’re (going to) try and respond to it and do what we can to put an end to it, make things safe for everybody out there so they can have a good time.”

Due to a mutual aid agreement with neighboring jurisdictions, according to Fitzgerald, Keego Harbor can respond to calls outside of its own jurisdiction.

In an email, West Bloomfield Deputy Police Chief Curt Lawson said that the West Bloomfield Police Department “service would be too low to justify taxpayer money to establish a marine division at this time. We always keep the door open in case some day the data shows us otherwise.”

Lawson encouraged boaters to check safety equipment — such as radios, life jackets, flares and fire extinguishers — prior to venturing onto the water.

In an emergency, such as a potential drowning situation or a boat crash, Fitzgerald said to call 911.

For non-emergencies, residents can call (248) 975-9200, which is the police and fire dispatch number for West Bloomfield. That number also dispatches to Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake and Sylvan Lake.

If residents see a violation, they can write the hull identification number of the boat any violators are riding on, take pictures and report the offense.

Some of the things that can get the attention of marine patrol officers include not having a fire extinguisher or enough personal flotation devices on a boat, as well as safety and speeding violations.

Intoxicated boat operators can also be a major issue on the water.

“A person who is intoxicated may not operate or be in control of any motorized watercraft (similar to a motor vehicle),” Lawson wrote. “Michigan law prohibits anyone from boating while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. It is also unlawful for the owner of a vessel to allow anyone else to operate their vessel if that person is under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.”

Despite safety restrictions, there is ample opportunity for residents to have fun on the water, officials said.

“Enjoy yourself,” Fitzgerald said. “Summers are short around here, and (we) want you to have a good time; we just want you to have a safe time.”