TRAVERSE CITY -- Activity at the Frankfort U.S. Coast Guard station will subside in the fall as the military branch redistributes its Great Lakes team.
Crews now stationed in Frankfort will be sent to the Manistee station in the slow season, from fall to spring, starting late this year, said Frankfort station chief Joe Baxter.
"By shuffling our people and our boats around, it gives us more flexibility to put qualified people where they need to be," he said.
Baxter and other Coast Guard officials met with community and emergency response leaders Tuesday morning to discuss the changes.
Pulling people from Frankfort and increasing the distance between stations could add time to responses, said Benzie County Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Post. Every minute counts when it comes to water-related emergencies.
"The response area for Frankfort is essentially from Arcadia in Manistee County to just south of Leland in Leelanau County," Post said. "Manistee (station) would be picking up that responsibility. From Manistee to Leland is quite a distance."
Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel worried his department will shoulder the extra duties. He said the Coast Guard's claims that the changes won't affect emergency response in Benzie County are unsupported.
The Benzie County sheriff's department has three boats -- including one docked in Frankfort -- but only staffs deputies to pilot them on the weekends.
"It's going to affect us somehow if they're going to be cutting back, but they say they'll be able to put more seasoned people up this way when necessary," Schendel said. "We're really not going to know how it's going to affect us until it happens."
Responders stationed at Manistee will patrol the coastline to Leland, Baxter said. He said Coast Guard responders must travel to emergencies no matter where they're stationed -- they're out on patrols, not sitting at the Frankfort dock waiting for calls.
The Frankfort station and others in the Great Lakes region are understaffed, Baxter said. He argued it is better to have fewer, fully staffed stations than plentiful understaffed ones.
The Coast Guard is short more than 130 people among Great Lakes stations.
"We have 15 positions at Frankfort, currently," Baxter said. "Of those 15 only 14 are filled. Of the 14, three are administrative ... By realigning it and reducing the unnecessary redundancies in administration, training and operations, we can reinvest our people where they're needed most."
Baxter said the branch has done little to reorganize staff even with increased rescue technology.
Frankfort City Superintendent Josh Mills said Frankfort's waterfront is getting busier, especially in the fall, winter and spring. He said surfers, paddleboarders and kiteboarders often dot the water in the fall, and anglers fished from Christmas to mid-January this year.
That increasing activity calls for Coast Guard patrols, Mills said.
"Our activity that's occurring in our coastal waterways is really increasing," he said. "It's not going the other way."
Mills also is concerned the changes will have an economic impact on the small city which aims to build a year-round economy.
"We're losing a part of our community," he said. "It could impact us long-term by not having year-round presence of the Coast Guard."