To the editor:
To begin I’d like to apologize for not informing you of the lake law enforcement meeting I planned back on 8/25. I have seen your articles about the meeting and the recent uptick in police patrols as well as the editorial from the gentleman last week. I am reaching out to you to clarify what has been happening. This can be for your information only or printed in full or in part.
I wanted to give you the story behind the recent uptick in police patrols on Belleville Lake and the agreements we have from the officers to help with the dangerous situations we have been seeing lately.
We have seen a huge uptick in the amount of reckless boating this year, especially from Jet-skis. The Lake Community Facebook page was getting many complaints each week about very dangerous activities including people speeding under the bridges and across the sandbar where people are standing in the water. There are videos and pictures of jet skis way too close to boats pulling wakeboarders and I personally witnessed a man seriously injured when he crashed into a boat hoist on a jet ski at high speed. There have been collisions and near misses almost daily. We have jet skis on the water illegally well past dark and, when confronted, the offending boaters become hostile and have given the one finger salute while intentionally spraying boats with water. Of course we always get our share of this type of activity but 2019 and 2020 has seen it dramatically increase as large groups of out of town riders arrive and launch in groups of 6-10 and proceed to use the lake as their personal race course.
There was even an illegal jet ski and boat rental operation being run from a home on Lake Pointe Pass. They were advertising on social media and allowing anyone with the funds to just hop on a jet ski and go. This has since been shut down by the Township but we know that they have taken that operation mobile and were renting the high powered machines to inexperienced riders at each of the DNR launches. We know this because someone posted an advertisement for these rentals pinned to the wall at the local party store. We called the number posing as interested customers and we were told they are done renting for the year but plan on coming back next year with 7 more new jet skis to rent!
I reached out to the VBPD, Wayne County Sherriff, and NY marine division and invited them to hear out concerns at a Community and Law Enforcement Belleville Lake Safety Forum which was held on Tuesday 8/25 6:30 PM at Quirk Park Pavilion. We had a large group of concerned boaters in attendance and excellent representation from all law enforcement entities as well as VBT Supervisor Kevin McNamara and VBT Safety Director Greg Laurain.
We came prepared with a list of the most common dangerous activities that we have been seeing and asked them to help with more patrols and enforcement. Our fear is someone is going to get killed and they were very willing to help.
I made the point that we ARE NOT looking to turn the lake into a police state and make the lake a “no fun” zone. We just want some increased and staggered patrol times and attention to some of the most dangerous activities. I handed out agendas with our top 7 safety concerns and the officers were all engaged and taking notes.
The main concerns are:
1. Large groups of jet skis and boaters converging on the lake at once and driving recklessly
2. High speeds under the bridges, sometimes pulling people on tubes
3. Fishermen tying up under the bridges, blocking passage
4. Jet skis and boats too close to the shoreline and other boats
5. Jet skis out after legal sunset, sometimes well after dark
6. Vessels ignoring the counterclockwise direction rule
7. Illegal Jet Ski Rentals on the lake
After our discussion everyone verbally agreed to an action plan for the concerns:
1. The DNR and WC officers said this is not a situation unique to our lake. Many people took their newfound stimulus wealth and bought jet skis. They see the same issues on the Detroit River and Erie. They crack down on enforcement and the riders move from Erie to the river and then to Belleville Lake. They are very aware of our situation and are definitely willing to increase and stagger patrol times here.
2. The DNR was out last weekend and concentrated on the bridges for hours. They wrote citations and escorted people off the lake that did not have a Boater Safety Certificate. The other agencies will also focus on this more.
3. The ordinance for no fishing/mooring under the bridge is a Township one. It is not enforceable by the DNR or WC. They will inform the boaters but VBT is the sole enforcer of this. The DNR said they have no problem asking them to pull out of there for a safety check. VBT will continue to enforce
4. Jet skis and boats too close to shorelines and other boats is a common problem, especially since our lake is so narrow. They focus on those recklessly jumping wakes behind boats and those that are too close to shore when traffic isn’t heavy.
5. VBT will stagger patrol times to have some time on the lake after dark. DNR and VBT will park at the launches more often and look for jet ski trailers. They will be there to “welcome” the late-night riders as much as possible.
6. Lake direction is viewed as an education issue. The Sheriff’s idea is to provide pamphlets to the launch workers with a bullet list of rules for each launching boater. WC and VBT will invest in better signage for the launches and bridges.
7. We have become aware that the house that was renting jet skis have moved their operations to the launches. This will be monitored and shut down when it occurs next year. The officers have no problem impounding these rental jet skis
The following weekend we saw two Sheriff boats, a DNR boat and two DNR officers on jet skis on the water. The VBT patrol was in the shop for repairs at the time but has since resumed patrols and we see them out there much more often. The increased police presence continued past Labor Day and we still see the occasional patrols when the weather is warm. We all hope this increased enforcement will have an immediate impact on the dangerous activity and will send the message to out-of-towners that Belleville Lake has rules and they will be enforced. We also hope that this large police presence will not be required for the entire 2021 boating season and things will return to normal.
On behalf of the Belleville Lake boating community, I would like to personally thank the residents, officers and VBT officials who attended the meeting and agreed to take a team approach to help with the situation. The increased patrols by our fine men and women in law enforcement has had an immediate impact on the dangerous incidents and we cannot thank them enough!
Other topics discussed:
1. Supervisor McNamara said he would approve OT for VBT Marine patrols until we feel the situation has improved.
2. They cannot close the DNR launches at 10 p.m. The decision to leave them open statewide comes from the Parks Dept. and they feel that people should be able to use the park seating and natural areas even without a boat. If you have a recreation sticker, they are for all to use at any time.
3. We will meet again with everyone in the spring to discuss results of the enforcement efforts and talk about a plan for 2021. It is our thought that we should not need as much DNR and WC presence once everyone gets the idea that this is not the Wild West.
4. Boat U.S. will have a boat on land next year near the lake and will be providing towing services. Law Enforcement will not tow boats due to liability and possible damage to the sonar scanning systems on the rear of their boats.
What can we do?:
1. As we have already discovered, the increased patrols will not just impact out-of-towners. VBT has stated that the officers will be switching from an “educational” stance to a more “enforcement” posture. We all need to watch our own P’s & Q’s. Now is a great time to make sure our safety equipment is correct, lights are working and that we are aware of the laws and obeying them ourselves
2. Educate our children and guests about the laws on the lake. Make sure riders and boaters have the Boater’s Safety Certificate on their person if they need one. The Sherriff has agreed to do another class next spring for those needing it.
3. Become familiar with the drinking laws for boaters (.08 BAC just like a vehicle). It’s best to have a DD.
4. Slow down. The speed limit on Belleville Lake is 40 m.p.h.
5. TAKE PICTURES AND VIDEO! Do not engage anyone personally on the lake. If you see seriously dangerous activity or are confronted by another boater, take video and get the MC numbers. Send is to Sgt. Stanton at email@example.com. This has already resulted in some citations being written. They appreciate us being the eyes and ears. Here’s the info they would like:
• Date and time of incident
• Where on the lake did it happen? (address, landmark, or general area)
• Synopsis of the incident. What happened?
• Description of the offender & vessel (physical description of the operator, MC #)
• Supporting information (photos, videos, etc.)
• Reporting persons information (name, address, telephone number)
If you see a life-threatening situation or severely dangerous behavior, call VBT dispatch at (734) 699-8930. If the officer is on the lake, he will be sent to your location
If the Sheriff is on the lake and you have a marine radio, you can hail them on channel 16
To contact the DNR, use the RAP hotline 1-800-292-7800. It is like the DNR dispatch number.
Van Buren Township