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The Antrim Review of Bellaire, Michigan

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New joint task force considers Sandbar regulations to control illegal activities

RAPID CITY — A task force consisting of Clearwater Township officers, area lake preservation groups and Torch Lake residents has begun consideration of several proposals to control the behavior of holiday recreationists on Torch Lake's notorious Sandbar.

The task force group, which consists of: Clearwater Township officers Larry Niederstadt and Dwight Seaman, Three Lakes Association board member Becky Norris, Save Our Sandbar board member Michelle Fortuna-Schellie, Torch Lake Protection Alliance board member Norm Neuenschwander, Jeff West, Clearwater Township Fire Chief, and Torch Lake riparian property owners Linda Bicum, Giannine Casassa, and Sue Kelly, met on Oct. 15 at the Clearwater Township Hall, said Neuenschwander.

"The objective of the group, which was created by the Clearwater Township Board of Trustees, is to have more controls in place before next year's Fourth of July holiday period," said Neuenschwander. "We want the Sandbar to be safe for everybody, and do what we can to control the trespassing, littering, illegal parking, and illegal alcohol and drug abuse that goes on out there."

Riparian property owner complaints about activity on the always popular Sandbar rose precipitously last summer after approximately 8,000 to 10,000 young people, many of them apparently lured north after hearing promotion of the annual event on a downstate radio station and through social media, poured into the lake for a two-day beer bash that began on July 3 and lasted all weekend.

Many entered the lake through one small public lake access owned by Clearwater Township, part of Kalkaska County, on Crystal Beach Road at the south end of Torch Lake.

"We're afraid it's only going to get worse as word spreads through social media," Neuenschwander said of the event, which is annually patrolled by several different law enforcement agencies, resulting in dozens of arrests every year.

After a public forum held in early August failed to spur any significant action on the part of area legislators, Clearwater Township officials made the decision to do whatever can be done on a township level to control the annual event, the Torch Lake Protection Alliance board member said.

"We know we can't stop the gatherings, and we don't want to," Neuenschwander said. "Many of us also enjoy taking our families out to the Sandbar for a day of fun on the lake in the summertime. But it's completely out of control out there over the Fourth of July during this annual party."

Among the proposals considered by the group during its first meeting last month were ideas to ban parking on one side of a number of roads and streets at the south end of Torch Lake — including Crystal Beach Road, Aarwood Road, Shellway Drive, Torch Bridge Court, and Westbrook, Eastbrook and Twinbrook drives. This would be in addition to road closures already in effect on Crystal Beach Road, which would be extended.

The group also recommended that the township place dumpsters and returnable containers in strategic locations and move porta-potties to better locations.

Some discussion took place on concerns about busses dropping people off during the party and water quality degradation, as well as earlier proposals to mandate permitting for large gatherings and ban all alcohol in the public access.

Niederstadt, who is Supervisor of Clearwater Township, received authorization to review the proposed parking restrictions with the township's legal council during the township's monthly business meeting on Oct. 21. If given the go ahead by its attorney, the board will consider an annual resolution for the restrictions, Neuenschwander said.

"All of our parking proposals will still need approval by the Kalkaska County Road Commission as well as the Michigan State Police," he said. "But this is a start." The task force will meet again in early November, Neuenschwander said.

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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