EAST TAWAS – East Tawas City Manager Brent Barringer announced a tentative reopening schedule for city offices and facilities at the city council meeting on June 15.

According to Barringer, June 15 represented the onset of the gradual restoration of access to city hall, which opened for the council meeting that evening. In an email earlier in the day, Barringer notified those who would normally attend in person that the session would be a “transitional meeting” limited to council members, City Clerk Julie Potts and the city manager himself in order to remain within the 10-person indoor gathering limit. 

The email went on to instruct other staff and the general public to participate via Zoom, the video conferencing website used by the city. Potts and Councilwoman Lisa Bolen attended via Zoom, and the remainder of the council attended in person along with Barringer.

Employees of the East Tawas Public Library will return to work on June 22, Barringer said, with a soft reopening of the library for curb service and will-call pickup on June 29. City hall and the library will fully open to the public July 6, and the gym and track will reopen July 13, he added, noting that this schedule could change dependent upon Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders.

Barringer informed the council at the same meeting that Summerfest organizer Jerry Malone said that everything was going on as planned, except for the Kiwanis 5K run, street dance, and Brew-B-Cue, which have been cancelled. The classic car cruise and car show is still scheduled for July 11 and 12.

With the expiration of Whitmer’s moratorium on utility shutoffs for non-payment on June 19, Barringer said that information will be conveyed to water and sewer customers with this month’s billing that penalties and shutoffs would likely resume after the city offices reopen in July.

Fire Chief Bill Deckett reported via Zoom that his Department’s medical advisors approved returning to their former protocol regarding medical emergency calls on June 11 around noon. He added that they received their first call one hour and fifteen minutes later to render aid to a stroke victim while all other ambulances were unavailable. 

Deckett said that during the COVID-19 crisis, they had been instructed to respond to heart attack calls only. Deckett also informed the Council that his officers received training on their new truck on June 13.

Assistant Parks Manager Eric Braun gave an update on his department. In response to a number of inquiries, Braun reported plans to reopen the public restrooms in the campground based on recommendations from District Health Department No. 2. Braun said that the handicapped-accessible restrooms would open by the end of the week (June 20), and hopefully open the green bathroom early next week to accommodate the influx of Independence Day campers.

Braun also reported that, despite restrooms being closed, the campground is on pace with the number of campers at this time last year, and based on the number of calls received, will likely surpass that number next weekend.

Housing Commission Interim Executive Director Douglas Fleming informed the council that his facilities were also slowly coming out of the coronavirus situation. Fleming said that of the eight vacancies in his purview, three had been filled last week. He also noted that the audit of his department was recently completed, and would be presented at the Housing Commission Board meeting on June 16.

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan contributed to the meeting, as Natural Resource Specialists Jennifer Seibt and Chase Stevens discussed plans for combating an invasive plant species in Tawas Lake. Seibt and Stevens said that the tribe has received a grant to purchase equipment that has proven effective in removing Eurasian Water Milfoil from Higgins Lake, and have obtained the necessary permits to eradicate these plants on property that the tribe owns on Tawas Lake.

The equipment, a Diver-Assisted Suction Harvester (DASH) system, has proven to be the most effective weapon to date in the fight against the milfoil on Higgins Lake, according to Stevens. He said that no chemicals are used in the process, but rather that divers take a hose to the lake bottom and remove the plant by its roots, which are then suctioned up through a filter and bagged on the boat.

Stevens said that the boat and equipment are currently under construction. In the meantime, the lake bottom will be surveyed to identify the location of the weeds in order to map out a plan of attack, which will begin next year. Barringer commented that chemical-based treatments were previously discouraged by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Stevens said that the permit limits the treatment area to two acres per year because of the effect of the suction on the lake bed. But the long-term effectiveness is far superior to either the chemical treatment or merely periodically cutting the weeds. In response to a question from Mayor Bruce Bolen, Seibt said that the permits are issued for a five-year term, and would require additional permits at the end of the term.

Seibt and Stevens said that permission would be required from other lake property owners before work could be done on non-tribal property.