TAWAS CITY – Tawas City Council members, meeting July 1, took action on two different items which they have addressed previously. One involved the relocation of common mergansers to Tawas Bay, as a form of swimmer’s itch control, while the second is in regards to the proposed construction of a performing arts center at Tawas City Shoreline Park.
As for the former, officials were advised that the Michigan Swimmers Itch Partnership – an informal group seeking to combat the problem of swimmer’s itch – is working pursuant to permits issued by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to relocate common merganser ducks as a form of swimmer’s itch control.
According to Tawas City Manager Annge Horning, she was contacted by a Water Resource Specialist from the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, who said that the DNR requires written permission from the city to relocate up to 75 ducks to the Tawas River Boat Ramp in 2019.
“I’m not sure if they are referring to the boat ramp off of Ninth Avenue or if it’s the one in Gateway Park, but either way the location is in Tawas City. I would like Council direction regarding this request,” she stated.
It was further noted that Tawas Bay is a site which has been evaluated for various factors that make it suitable for relocation of common mergansers, including that the Stagnicola snails needed to sustain the life cycle of swimmer’s itch have not been found at this site.
As reported in June 2017, in both the Oscoda Press and the Iosco County News-Herald, 135 ducks infected with the swimmer’s itch parasite were relocated from Higgins Lake to Lake Huron, via the mouth of the Tawas River, in 2015 and 2016.
Horning said she learned of the relocation through an e-mail that was sent to her by a Higgins Lake resident. “Which was complete news to me.”
At the time, DNR representative Rex Ainslie said it is believed that a combination of wave action, temperature, substrate makeup and the constitution of microflora make Lake Michigan and Lake Superior a difficult place for the simmer’s itch related snail species to establish itself. He added that this, presumably, also applies to Lake Huron.
He advised that the 2017 season marked the third year in which swimmer’s itch infected ducks were relocated to Tawas Bay from Higgins Lake.
While a red, itchy rash can develop on people who have an allergic reaction to swimmer’s itch, Dr. Curtis Blankespoor also reported that the relocated ducks are not cause for alarm for those wanting to spend recreational time on Lake Huron.
He stressed that the involved parasite is very specific and will only infect a particular type of snail, of which lakes Huron and Michigan are almost completely devoid.
Higgins Lake, however, provides the ideal habitat for the host snails.
He also said that the parasite cannot move from duck to duck or snail to snail. It has to alternate between the two, thus, humans cannot get swimmer’s itch directly from a bird.
While other ducks may carry the parasite, Blankespoor said the common merganser has caused 99 percent of the problems related to swimmer’s itch.
He assured area residents that the measures being taken are not that of moving ducks so they can infect another body of water. The relocation process has been a successful approach, carried out with approval from the DNR.
Blankespoor also noted that this is not an invasive species or a human health issue. It is a parasitic infection, but is not related to a similar organism which does cause disease.
Based on this research, Councilman Mike Russo said at the latest meeting that he doesn’t have an issue with allowing for the relocation in 2019, “Provided that this isn’t carte blanche approval – that it’s an annual approval in case, for some reason, things change.”
“The site permission says a maximum of 75 common mergansers have been approved for relocation to this site in 2019. So it does give the number and the year,” Horning pointed out. “And if they’ve been doing it all this time and we’ve never had a problem anyway, it’s probably still not an issue for us. But I would just like the council’s direction on how you feel about that and how you would like me to proceed with signing that permission.”
She also said that, following publication of the 2017 newspaper article, she was contacted by some individuals who were upset and wanted her to stop the relocation of the ducks. But none of them were city residents; they were all from neighboring townships.
“After that article went out, because the DNR now knows that we know they’re doing it, they’re asking for our blessing for that to happen,” she told officials, noting that this is the first time permission has been requested from the city.
She also shared that representatives from the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council have offered to do a presentation for the Tawas City Council to address any concerns and answer any questions which may arise.
Given the information already provided, though, Councilwoman Jackie Masich said she didn’t think it necessary to have a presentation.
Russo reiterated that, based on the details at hand, he doesn’t see an issue with the relocation.
“What’s interesting, too, with all these ducks that they bring here, they are not the ducks that end up at our beaches or in our parks – those are the mallards and the Canada geese that are here. So it’s interesting that they’re purposely brought here and dropped off right there, and they go elsewhere,” Horning said.
Masich’s motion to allow the DNR to use the boat launch for releasing the ducks passed in a 6-0 vote, with Councilman Jon Studley not in attendance.
In separate action, another 6-0 vote was cast regarding the potential inclusion of a performing arts center in Tawas City Shoreline Park.
The city received two proposals to develop concept designs for the center, which is intended to be situated near the existing Town Square building.
Architect Benjamin Glowiak, National City, offered a quote of $1,940, which includes developing a site plan and a number of other tasks beyond just the design. The other proposal, received from Tari Hackborn, is for $75 for a basic concept sketch only. Any changes to the sketch, or a proposal drawing, could be completed at a rate of $50 per hour.
According to Horning, both individuals are qualified architects with many years of experience.
She added that Glowiak designed the existing building in Town Square, while Hackborn, a member of the East Tawas Planning Commission, previously taught architecture classes at Delta College.
Mayor Ken Cook also noted that Glowiak designed the restroom facilities in Shoreline and Gateway parks, which have gotten a lot of positive feedback.
Cook pointed out that, at this time, officials aren’t looking for construction drawings. But concept drawings have been requested for purposes of budgeting and fundraising, should the city decide to move forward with the project.
Horning said she met with each architect individually, showed them the property, went over lot sizes and elevations, discussed the potentials and viewed photos of the performing arts center in Mackinaw City as an example.
“I know they have both been thinking about ideas and, based on the amount of the proposals, the council may want to consider contracting with both to see what designs they come up with,” Horning suggested.
“I can tell you, they have two very different ideas,” she noted.
Masich remarked that, for a cost of $75, it may be worth it to see what Hackborn’s ideas are, compared to Glowiak’s.
Horning said both architects asked about the current Town Square building and the possible operation of this as an arts center; however, the existing setup is only a stage. For instance, there is no room for a band or theatre performers to do costume changes and then return to the stage.
Council members ultimately voted to move forward with both proposals.
As recently reported, Cook initially proposed the arts center idea, which involves two parcels acquired by the city – the office of Dr. Devendra Sharma and the former Bait Shop bar – located next to Shoreline Park on US-23.
Following completion of the purchase of Sharma’s office, Cook said the proposal is to build the facility on the site of the current parking lot between the office and the bar.
He stated that a center of this type would offer a performing arts venue for local residents, as well as be a draw into the community for visitors.
The ability to hold music and theatre functions would bring a whole new user to the park and attract a different demographic than the beach users, children’s playscape users and arts/crafts show patrons, Cook stated.
He added that, as people are attracted to the city, its viability increases as a place to live and shop, thus increasing jobs and the demand for housing.