Vicksburg sets improvements at gazebo, 2 parks

By Jef Rietsma

Improvements to a gazebo on West Prairie Street and two village parks are underway in Vicksburg.

Village Council members July 18 voted to authorize Frederick Construction to conduct extensive repairs at the gazebo on an overlook along the north side of the street. In addition, the council authorized necessary maintenance at Clark Park, where deck and boardwalk repairs are needed, and Sunset Lake Park, where boardwalk and fishing pier repairs are needed.

Work related to the three projects will cost about $60,000.

Mike Frederick of the construction firm said short-term repairs at Sunset Lake would center on both the north and south boardwalks. They are more than 20 years old and their current condition are considered poor to fair.

Frederick said the structures have weathered significantly and immediate repairs would extend their useful lives by about five years. Specifically, Frederick said the existing wood walkway and handrail system are in need of repairs, as well.

The fishing pier, meanwhile, should be deemed unsafe and access should be prohibited.

“When we’re done with (the work), they’ll be structurally sound, they’ll be usable. They will not be new, but our intentions are to clear some of the vegetation carefully, do the structural corrective measures necessary to make them safe, power-wash them and seal them with two coats of sealers, replace various deck boards and try to breathe a little more life into them,” he said. He noted about 40 deck boards between the two walkways need replacement.

Cost of the Sunset Lake improvements, according to Village Manager Jim Mallery, is $25,150. Frederick said work should be completed by the end of August.

Council members recalled when Sunset Lake Park was an attractive place to swim. Within the past generation, however, they acknowledged the lake’s poor health has been a detriment to such an activity. Mallery said the village has tried to better the area, including two years ago when it brought in more beach sand, added sidewalks and bathroom facilities, and re-stained and re-shingled the park’s pavilion.

Frederick Construction has started work on the deck and boardwalk at the northeast corner of Clark Park. Mike Frederick said the deck is in poor to fair condition, a condition that worsens as a result of heavy rainfall due to drainage from an adjacent parking lot.

“Do we salvage what’s there for a period of time until we get through a master plan to determine what our needs are and what should happen, or short of preventing anybody from using it or tearing it down? We’re right there at that crossroads, is what I’m saying.”

Frederick had offered a number of remedies to improve the deck. The proposal includes reinforcing the upper deck and railing system, installing a new catch basin to collect stormwater runoff, replacing the wood deck, power washing 800 square feet of existing wooden deck boards and 220 lineal feet of wooden handrail system, and applying two coats of sealer. Frederick said the task also includes securing eight midline rail posts, among other minor needs.

The Clark Park work, not to exceed $30,000, should also be completed by the end of summer.

Frederick said a variety of structural improvements to the Prairie Street gazebo as well as a thorough power washing will be completed at a cost of $3,850. That project, too, will be done in August.

In other action, the village is sponsoring a food truck rally in the village’s downtown district on Aug. 9.

Vicksburg wins $10.6 million in federal grant, loans

Vicksburg aerial photo by Taylor Kallio.

By Jef Rietsma

Federal officials last month announced Vicksburg will receive $3.7 million in American Rescue Funds.

The windfall comes through the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.

Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery said the municipality was able to parlay the funds with a 40-year low-interest $6.9 million loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to yield a total of $10.6 million.

The money will be used in various ways, though Mallery said he is especially pleased that a portion will go toward improvements related to the village’s water and sewer systems.

He said $3.7 million is the largest grant in the village’s history. Mallery noted the roots of the grant date to 2019. The village remained aggressive in pursuing the money and the dedication obviously paid off, Mallery said.

“Out of $500 million available country-wide, I think we were very lucky and we’re extremely grateful to receive such a substantial amount,” Mallery said.

The village will benefit in many ways. The grant money will support development of two commercial lots in Vicksburg’s Industrial Business Park and a 100-acre industrial-zoned site.

Meanwhile, a portion of the grant money, coupled with the low-interest loan, will be dedicated to the village’s wastewater infrastructure. Mallery said a critical project includes the installation of a force main parallel to Sprinkle Road intended to carry sewage to Portage’s system and thence to Kalamazoo for treatment.

“As a result, citizens should see continued development in the village because of that infrastructure capacity … what we’re putting in the ground gives us the ability to develop out the village,” he said. “For perspective, if the aging (infrastructure) concerns we have underground were potholes, people would be appalled. When we ran a camera through the system, it was clear we had to do this.”

Mallery acknowledged assistance from Portage and Kalamazoo city officials and the Kalamazoo County Road Commission. Each sent letters in support of the project, he said.

Support from federal, state and local officials accompanied a press release announcing the grant.

“The Economic Development Administration is pleased to support locally-driven strategies to boost business recovery efforts in Michigan,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo. “The upgrades to Vicksburg’s wastewater treatment system that will be supported by this EDA grant will create new and exciting opportunities for the village and the region.”

“This grant from the Economic Development Administration will help Vicksburg upgrade its water infrastructure, creating and retaining 350 jobs and generating $100 million in private investment,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “Today’s investment will build on our efforts to grow our economy, create good-paying jobs, and invest in every region of Michigan.”

“This funding will not only allow Vicksburg to make critical upgrades to its wastewater treatment system, but also expand their capacity for business and commercial development and generate further investment in the community,” said U.S. Senator Gary Peters. “I was proud to help secure this funding through the American Rescue Plan and will continue working to support new and innovative opportunities for growth in communities throughout our state.”

“We are extremely grateful for the help and support provided by Senators Stabenow and Peters, Congressman Upton, Michigan Senator Sean McCann and former State Representative Brant Iden, without whom these dollars could have gone elsewhere,” Mallery added.

“I’m very proud of our staff and their relentless pursuit of opportunities to keep Vicksburg vibrant and progressive. They are doing a very good job of keeping our wonderful community in the news and growing,” said Vicksburg Village President Tim Frisbie.

Schoolcraft seeks to fill key volunteer positions

By Rob Peterson

Due to a shortage of volunteers, the village Council discussed combining the Planning Commission and the Downtown Development Authority.

The Planning Commission is charged with recommending zoning ordinance changes to the Council regarding what property owners may do with their property. They determine what uses are allowed in which part of town and review site plans for proposed buildings.

The Planning Commission also plays a key role in developing the community’s master plan.

The Downtown Development Authority is responsible for increasing investment in the downtown area. A DDA typically has its own budget that increases as property values increase, and it may spend the money on events, promotions and business development.

Members of both groups are appointed by the village president. Most but not all of the volunteers are required to be village residents.

Currently, the village is required to have five members of the Planning Commission, but has just four. The DDA is required to have eight members, but it also has just four members.

State law allows a community of fewer than 5,000 residents to combine the Planning Commission and the DDA, as Vicksburg has. Doing so would reduce the total number of required volunteers from 13 to nine, reducing the shortfall of volunteers.

The council asked village Manager Cheri Lutz to review combining the two groups as a potential solution to the lack of volunteers.

While combining the two groups would allow the village to operate with fewer volunteers, it was not seen as a viable option by staff or the council.

“The Planning Commission and the DDA are two different groups with different perspectives,” said President Keith Gunnett. “The DDA is a group of businesspeople talking about how to grow our downtown, and the Planning Commission is people making rules.”

There was also a concern about having “a small group of people leading the town,” added Gunnett. “We really need more people involved.”

The council decided to keep the Planning Commission and the DDA separate, with a 5-member Planning Commission and an 8-member DDA. It is actively recruiting new members for both groups.

Correction: The May issue of the South County News misidentified the new Schoolcraft police chief. His correct name is Scott Smith.