Michigan DNR proposes fines for swimming when red flags are up

NOW: Michigan DNR proposes fines for swimming when red flags are up

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich.— The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has introduced a proposal to restrict access to state beaches when water conditions are dangerous.

If the proposal passes, the DNR would be able to close a state beach when the water conditions become hazardous. Not complying with the order could result in a civil infraction and a fine.

Officials say water rescues are happening too often when red flags are up, as some people disregard the warnings, putting themselves and others in danger.

“If you did that when it’s officially closed, you could be subject to a ticket if you didn’t get out. The goal isn’t to give out a bunch of civil infractions, but there is a consequence if you refused,” Ron Olson, the Chief of the Parks and Recreation Division for the DNR, said.

There were 108 drownings in 2020 in the Great Lakes, an increase of 11 from 2019, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

So far in 2021, Lake Michigan has had 16 drownings.

“People choosing to go into the water on high swim risk days continues to be an issue. With eyes on the water and lifeguards on staff, that is a way for us to get the message out, but we still need visitors to have responsibility,” said Jill Adams, the Berrien County Parks director.

If the DNR ultimately passes the resolution, park officials would need to consult county leaders, who would get the final say on if the order would apply to Berrien County’s beaches.

“Silver Beach is a public bathing beach but there are also a lot of other recreational opportunities there, and it’s an open border, so we aren’t necessarily able to close the beach entrance,” Adams said.

“The feedback we’ve gotten from local law enforcement that we partner with very closely is that they would welcome having a tool like this. We’re trying to get people to comply and hoping we never have to write a ticket,” Olson said.

The proposal was sent to the DNR director and is eligible for approval on August 12.

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