Mya Perron, a junior at South Lake High School, hugs Sir Ian and Pepe, galgo greyhound dogs she helped rescue from Spain in March.

Mya Perron, a junior at South Lake High School, hugs Sir Ian and Pepe, galgo greyhound dogs she helped rescue from Spain in March.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Water woes and other stories from St. Clair Shores in 2019

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published December 27, 2019

 Children watch the 2019 St. Clair Shores Fireworks Extravaganza June 28.

Children watch the 2019 St. Clair Shores Fireworks Extravaganza June 28.

File photo by Donna Agusti

 Mackenzie Dean, 22, of Macomb, and Mihail Dion, 13, of Fraser, dance the night away at the Frozen Formal, a dance for those with special needs, at Lakeland Manor Jan. 4.

Mackenzie Dean, 22, of Macomb, and Mihail Dion, 13, of Fraser, dance the night away at the Frozen Formal, a dance for those with special needs, at Lakeland Manor Jan. 4.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

 Paul Miriani, of St. Clair Shores, fills a sandbag behind City Hall May 2.

Paul Miriani, of St. Clair Shores, fills a sandbag behind City Hall May 2.

File photo by Kristyne E. Demske


ST. CLAIR SHORES — High water, the discovery of lead in some service lines to St. Clair Shores and a standoff with police tell just part of the tale of 2019 in St. Clair Shores. As we enter into 2020, we take a look back at the year that just ended.


Lake St. Clair flooding
Lake St. Clair got too close for comfort for residents in 2019.

A snowy winter in northern Michigan followed by heavy spring rains and easterly wind caused choppy waters that brought large waves far ashore, flooding lakefront properties beginning at the end of April.

St. Clair Shores notified homeowners along the lake and canals that they were required to sandbag to protect their and their neighbors’ property.

The notice stated that, pursuant to city ordinance 35.013, “you are being notified to immediately provide an adequate barrier, dike or other embankment (including sand bags) to protect against the rising water, the overflow of water and/or flooding.

No permit was necessary to erect such a barrier, and sandbags and sand were provided free of charge by the city to affected residents.

October 2014 through September 2019 were the wettest on record in the Great Lakes basin, according to Deanna Apps, physical scientist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who was invited to speak at a presentation on lake levels by the Nautical Mile Merchants Association in St. Clair Shores. She said that January through September 2019 were the wettest months Michigan had experienced in 125 years.

Looking ahead, the Army Corps expects Lake Superior to be close to the record highs it experienced in 2019 going into 2020, with a “very similar story across all the Great Lakes.”

“We’re starting to experience a little bit of a decline. September was, obviously, very wet in the region,” she said in October. “During the month of September, we did see some rises in Lake Michigan/Huron due to the … conditions we experienced.”

Lake St. Clair was expected to experience a seasonal decline into the winter with levels still above last year and near records heading into 2020.

The Army Corps provided ongoing assistance to St. Clair Shores and other lakefront communities throughout 2019 as residents worked to protect their properties from floodwaters.

St. Clair Shores also installed pumps to get water off of Jefferson Avenue, where it continued to form large puddles throughout the spring and into summer.


Same City Council, new city manager
Although initially facing four challengers, City Council members Peter Accica, Ron Frederick and Chris Vitale all won reelection to their seats in November, maintaining the makeup of City Council for the next few years.

St. Clair Shores voters also kept Mayor Kip Walby in office, although he faced no challengers in the election. Twenty-two percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the general election, which City Clerk Mary Kotowski attributed to the mayor being on the ballot and “the gear up to 2020.”

More St. Clair Shores residents cast absentee ballots than turned out to the polls, according to Kotowski. Seven people took advantage of election day registration at her counter, and a few others registered in the days leading up to the election due to new laws that allow late voter registration.

Local school districts also saw success at the ballot box. Voters in Lakeview Public Schools approved a $54 million bond issue with 63.6% approval, and voters in South Lake Schools approved a 10-year building and site sinking fund by 58.9% of the vote.

But there was a change in city administration in 2019. After 14 years with the city, including five as city manager, Mike Smith bid farewell to City Council and the community Oct. 7.

He was replaced with Matthew Coppler, the former city manager of Lincoln Park, with 27 years of experience as a town or city manager across several states.

Smith told City Council July 9 that he felt confident leaving the city in Coppler’s hands.

“For Council, this is probably the biggest decision you’ve got to make, and it’s not always gone as well as we’d like it to go,” he said at the time, going on to praise Coppler for always making his own career moves in a job where the person in the position doesn’t always last long.


Lead service lines need replacement
The city of St. Clair Shores issued an advisory Nov. 4 to alert its 25,303 water customers that samples from locations with known lead service lines had lead levels that exceeded the Action Level of 15 parts per billion.

St. Clair Shores joined several other metro Detroit communities that have discovered action levels of lead in their drinking water under new water-testing guidelines set forth by the state.

St. Clair Shores City Manager Matthew Coppler explained in November that, because of what happened with the city of Flint’s drinking water supply, the state “has been doing a lot more as it relates to looking at water systems and trying to identify those communities that have issues with lead lines.”

In 2018, the lead and copper rule of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act was changed to add new water sampling rules that could better detect possible lead in drinking water. The rules required communities with lead service lines to increase the number of sampling locations and to draw multiple samples from each location — a method that was expected to result in higher lead results because of the more stringent sampling procedures and analysis.

As of Dec. 16, Coppler stated that the city has given out 274 filters to residents in the 542 houses that have been confirmed to have lead service lines. He said the City Council would be reviewing proposals to begin inspections of the homes, in preparation for eventually replacing the lines, at the Jan. 11 meeting.


Fourth of July tragedy
Beginning after 10 p.m. July 4, 58-year-old Tom Ihlendfeldt kept police at bay for more than 24 hours after first shooting at his neighbor’s home and hitting a 62-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl. He ultimately fatally shot himself and the woman living with him, Carol Baur, in the 31000 block of St. Margaret Street. The injured neighbors were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Police departments from Roseville, Eastpointe, Fraser and Sterling Heights; the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office; Michigan State Police; and the St. Clair Shores Fire Department all provided assistance over the course of the standoff, which had an entire block of St. Margaret Street shut down to anyone trying to enter or leave the neighborhood.

“I would also like to thank the residents of the area of the incident for their patient cooperation and overwhelming support of our officers as we tried to bring this case to a peaceful conclusion,” St. Clair Shores Police Chief Todd Woodcox stated at the time. “Finally, I would like to thank the men and women of the St. Clair Shores Police Department who handled this situation professionally and calmly while taking gunfire from an individual intent on killing officers.”


And now, some good news
• With a triumphant exclamation, 6-year-old Wyatt Rewoldt helped christen his brand-new home on Joan Street with a ribbon cutting and house blessing in July.

Paid for with donations raised by the Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores, private donors and in-kind donations from a slew of local contractors, the House of Hope — as it has been called — was completed after nearly a year of work. Wyatt’s mother, Erica Hammel, has been working with state lawmakers to get a package of bills termed Wyatt’s Law passed in Michigan to create a child abuse offender registry, requiring those convicted of first- through third-degree child abuse to register for 10 years, and fourth-degree child abusers to register for 5 years.

• A former laboratory testing beagle got a new home in April, following an undercover investigation at the Charles River Laboratories in Michigan regarding dogs bred for laboratory testing by the Humane Society of the United States.

When the Humane Society released its undercover investigation, 36 different beagles were currently being housed at the laboratory, part of a pesticide test commissioned by Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont, during which the dogs were force-fed various doses of fungicide every day for a year. The test had been required by Brazil before a certain pesticide could be sold in that country. Corteva ended the test on the dogs in mid-March, and the Michigan Humane Society helped to find homes for 32 dogs rescued from the facility, including a beagle named Teddy, who came to live in St. Clair Shores.

Greta Guest, of St. Clair Shores, and her husband, Dave Rubello, were able to adopt Teddy. They — along with their female beagle, 3-year-old Cleo — have worked to rehabilitate the former laboratory animal and help him learn how to be a dog again.

• Three teens from St. Clair Shores helped rescue several galgos, a type of Spanish greyhound dog, which are bred in Spain primarily to hunt rabbits. Mya Perron and Miranda Orzechowski, both juniors at South Lake High School, and Brynn Perron, a 2018 graduate of South Lake High School in her first year at Wayne State University, were part of a group that traveled to Spain to rescue the dogs in March, led by Dr. Karen Michalski, the owner of Serenity Animal Hospital in Sterling Heights.

The dogs are bred and trained for two years of life, but then some are disposed of through hanging, abandonment or throwing in a well. Although the dogs slow down with age, Michalski said the dogs could live to be 14-16 years old.

• A love story that began through letters sent during World War II stood the test of time as Russell and Helen Shields celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary March 11.

He was shipped off to the west coast, and then around the world, shortly after they met, but she sent him letters for three years.

“We kept writing for years, and more or less fell in love with the letters,” said Russell Shields. As he was sent to Pearl Harbor, North Africa, Sicily and Australia, “our letters kept us together all the time.”