Frankfort Officials Fear for Coast Guard Station's Future

Coast Guard Station Frankfort (USCG photo by PA1 Harry C. Craft III)
Coast Guard Station Frankfort (USCG photo by PA1 Harry C. Craft III)

TRAVERSE CITY -- Officials in the lakeside city of Frankfort fear they are swimming against the tide as they advocate for maintaining the local Coast Guard presence.

Coast Guard officials have indicated they will reduce the seasons the Frankfort station is fully staffed, said Frankfort Superintendent Joshua Mills.

"We believe it's critical that we have the Coast Guard presence here year-round, 365 days," he said.

Officials from Frankfort, Benzie County, regional police and emergency rescue groups will meet with Coast Guard leaders 10 a.m. April 5 at the Frankfort City Hall. They will discuss "modern response capabilities and plans for optimization and seasonalization," according to an email Frankfort station chief Joe Baxter wrote to Mills.

The Frankfort Coast Guard Station is responsible for the Lake Michigan shore from Arcadia Lake to Leland.

Baxter said the station is understaffed with just 15 Coast Guardsmen instead of the necessary 19, as are many Great Lakes stations. That in part prompted the plan to reorganize Great Lakes Coast Guard operations, he said.

There are no plans to close the Frankfort station, Baxter said.

"We're not losing people," he said. "We're not losing boats, but (we want to) put them where they make the most sense so we can provide the same level of response as we have right now, or a better response."

Benzie County Commissioner Roger Griner said he fears the Coast Guard will only staff the Frankfort station from Memorial Day through Labor Day. He advocated for the station staying open year-round, since boaters often go out in spring and fall or in unpredictable weather.

"Lake Michigan's been known to have some very vicious storms that blow up in a hurry," Griner said.

Even the station's presence promotes safety since people likely behave better knowing the Coast Guard is nearby, Griner said.

Baxter maintained the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays are just guidelines, not strict deadlines.

"We are keeping the stations where they're at," he said. "We're just changing how they're operated and how they're staffed so that we don't have redundancies."

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Marvin Kimmel offered few details about the changes, but said the Frankfort station will not close. He indicated the branch may reduce staff for parts of the year.

"That's an ongoing consideration as we figure out the best way to provide service to our boating communities," Kimmel said. "That's always us trying to optimize our resources and do the best that we can for the boating public."

Coast Guard responders provide ice rescue support for area fire departments and assist with distress calls year-round, said Craig Johnson, Benzie County Emergency Management Services Director. He said Coast Guard staff typically respond first to emergencies on Lake Michigan and bring patients to EMS staff on shore.

He estimated there are two to three distress calls a year and as many ice rescues.

"It's not a huge number, but when it happens you're happy that they're there," Johnson said.

Mills isn't optimistic Coast Guard leaders will listen to his pleas to staff the Frankfort station year-round, but said that won't stop him from reaching out to anyone who will listen.

"It sounds very clear that they've already made their decision and they're going through the motions just to notify us," Mills said. "I'm not going to go to war against the Coast Guard, but everyone in Washington D.C. that's an elected official, and everyone involved in the Coast Guard will know about Frankfort, Michigan," Mills said.

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