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City installs first life ring flotation equipment at Kenosha Harbor
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City installs first life ring flotation equipment at Kenosha Harbor

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The first life preserver ring kiosk in the city was installed Wednesday at Kenosha Harbor.

It was mounted by public works employees near the east end of the south pier. The large, bright yellow cabinet holds a circular flotation buoy with a rope, making publicly accessible water-rescue equipment available for lake emergencies for the first time in decades.

Donated by the Kenosha Sportfishing and Conservation Association, the installation comes four weeks after the fourth lakefront drowning in 13 months.

“All I can say is, it is amazing, an historic moment for the city of Kenosha, the city government and the people of Kenosha. (We) came together and now we will have lifesaving devices (going up) on the north and the south piers,” Jim Zondlak, a KSFCA board member and former president, said Wednesday.

At the Common Council meeting earlier this week, Zondlak thanked aldermen for approving Mayor John Antaramian’s amended proposal authorizing four of six planned kiosk installations.

In addition, the council approved a resolution by Ald. Dan Prozanski Jr., stepping up water safety education annually in middle and high schools, guided by the U.S. Coast Guard in cooperation with the Kenosha police and fire departments, the Kenosha YMCA and the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

“I’m overwhelmed with pride in everyone coming together. I could feel the vibe in the Common Council,” Zondlak said.

A long time coming

Although it took the city five years to accept donation of the ring the club purchased for that purpose, Zondlak chose not to discuss the delay, saying Wednesday, “I just want to keep this positive.”

He singled out Tom Zapp, a former KSFCA vice president, for suggesting to the club that the piers should hold life rings. Zondlak kept Zapp’s vision before the members, who kicked in the estimated $600 to buy the set installed Wednesday on the south pier.

“Now that we have it, I hope the people will respect it and don’t vandalize what we worked so hard to put up there. We want this to stay as good as it can,” Zondlak said. “We’ve got people already volunteering ... as they will walk the south pier to inspect it as frequently as possible to make sure it’s there, opening the door to make sure everything is intact.”

Members will report to the city anything amiss with the kiosk.

At the same time, Ed St. Peter, city administrator for operations, said Parks Division employees will check on the kiosks every day.

Alarms, cameras considered

For now, the cabinets are not alarmed with lights, audible signals, security cameras or other devices. But that could change in the future, St. Peter said.

“We’ll wait and see how this goes,” St. Peter said.

He has been monitoring other communities along Lake Michigan and they have shown very little negative activity. One Michigan town on the eastern shore has experienced thefts, he said.

Related ordinances by Bogdala and Prozanski will come before the council for approval Oct. 15.

Bogdala’s will penalize those who vandalize, steal, destroy or otherwise render unusable the kiosks, or the flotation rings and rescue ropes inside the cabinets. Prozanski’s will penalize those who disobey posted warnings against entering the lake waters.

Both carry maximums of $1,000 fines and up to 90 days in jail if the fines go unpaid. Each proposal has received strong support from other council members.

“We’re hoping not only the threats of fines and jail prevent that from happening, but that people get the message: These are here for emergencies, not for playing around; don’t mess with them,” St. Peter said.

Aldermen pleased

Alds. David Bogdala, Rocco LaMacchia Sr., Mitchell Pedersen and Prozanski welcomed the news.

Bogdala and LaMacchia were instrumental in efforts to persuade Antaramian and win overwhelming City Council approval to install flotation rings at the lakefront for water emergencies.

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“I’m extremely happy to finally be seeing this kiosk installed,” Bogdala, vice-chairman of the Public Works Committee, said Wednesday. “Of all of the projects I’ve been involved in as an alderman, this is one of my proudest moments as it may actually save someone’s life.”

LaMacchia, chairman of the Public Safety & Welfare Committee, was unaware the kiosk had been installed until being contacted by the Kenosha News.

“That’s great news!” LaMacchia said. “I’m going to go down and take a look right now. I’m glad. It’s been a long time coming. If it saves one life, it’s worth it.”

Added LaMacchia, “One down and at least five to go. I know they want some at different beaches, too, but we need to get the ones in place that we already approved.”

Said Prozanski: “The first life ring kiosk now in place represents the cooperation and efforts of multiple groups. … It is encouraging to see what can be accomplished when the entire community comes together.”

Pedersen, chairman of the Public Works Committee, also celebrated Wednesday’s installation.

“We have six other life ring kiosks on order, and we are expecting them soon,” Pedersen said.

Public outcry played a part

Wednesday’s installation follows public outcry that erupted after the Sept. 6 drowning, with people clashing on social media over whether the city should install life rings on the lakefront. However, most comments ran heavily in favor of kiosk installations.

Two drownings occurred earlier this summer where the Pike River empties into Lake Michigan in Pennoyer Park north of the Sesquicentennial Bandshell and two in Kenosha Harbor off the north pier, including the most recent on Sept. 6.

For at least two decades the city chose not to reinstall life rings at the harbor, where some recall seeing them mounted near ladders entering the water. Others recall the life preservers regularly being stolen or thrown in the water for no apparent reason other than to see them float away.

The reasons the city gave for not replacing them included theft, vandalism and potential liability if the flotation rings aren’t in place as expected when a crisis occurs.

Most recent drowning

Those reasons resurfaced when the outcry arose after 17-year-old Donovan Anderson drowned about 5 p.m. Sept. 26 in plain view of several witnesses on the north and south piers of Kenosha Harbor.

Unable to reach him physically and without publicly accessible flotation and/or rescue devices available, the witnesses, including a Kenosha Police Department officer, watched helplessly as the youth eventually disappeared beneath the waves. His body resurfaced ashore a week later, nearly three miles north near Carthage College.

The demand to equip police vehicles and the lakefront with water rescue devices was further fueled by the offer of an Illinois woman, who offered to donate up to $1,000 to equip police squads with flotation rings or rescue rope throw bags. She was an eyewitness to the Sept. 6 drowning.

Police Chief Daniel Miskinis has since requisitioned throw bags for all squad vehicles, and, at the direction of the Public Works Committee, St. Peter personally ordered five life ring kiosk sets, nine “spare” life rings and ropes.

As of Wednesday, only the ropes had arrived, and it is uncertain when the five kiosk sets and spare rings will get here, St. Peter said.

More to be installed

In addition to the south pier, Antaramian’s resolution as amended authorizes placing three kiosks on the north pier and two at the Pike River mouth, one on each side. Kenosha Fire Department Chief Charles Leipzig consulted with the U.S. Coast Guard in recommending the kiosk sites.

However, the north pier installations cannot take place until the city and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers complete a written agreement allowing that to happen, since the Corps has jurisdiction over the pier and any structures placed on it.

“I and my colleagues have been in constant contact with the City Attorney’s Office to make sure everything is moving along. I do not have a time frame when it will be ready,” Pederson said.

In a letter to council members, City Attorney Ed Antaramian said he heard from the Corps Tuesday acknowledging receipt Set. 27 of the city’s so-called “outgrant” application for a lease to use the north pier, along with a map showing Leipzig’s site recommendations.

Bogdala said, based on his own recent conversation with the Corps, he feels confident everything necessary will be done on the federal agency’s part “to get this done as soon as possible.”

He said the person with whom he spoke “reiterated his desire to partner with the city on this project. He has done this same thing very recently with another Wisconsin Lake Michigan community so there is precedent and experience.”

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