Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 31, 2014

Beach ordinance negotiations begin

By DONNA SCHILL CLEVELAND, Ledger staff writer | Oct 26, 2012

Local lap swimmers who enjoy lounging on the bright yellow, 40-foot-long noodles installed in the middle of Bonnifield Lake will have to make a strong case for doing so as the city looks to increase safety measures at the beach.

The first draft of a beach ordinance regulating swimming at the lake prohibits swimmers from resting on the buoys unless they “get into trouble.” The Fairfield Public Safety and Transportation Committee presented the mock-up to the full council Monday for first responses. Committee chairwoman Susan Silvers said the draft was meant to act as a framework for negotiations to begin between the city, Fairfield Park and Recreation Department and beach volunteers. Once the council agrees on a final draft, it will hold three public hearings before signing into law.

“We really want to think this through, and put this ordinance together in a considerate, thoughtful way,” said Silvers.

The city’s sensitivity to forming safety rules has stemmed from the tragedy of 31-year-old Jesse Harl’s drowning July 12 at Bonnifield Lake. Harl, of Batavia, became the fifth recorded person to drown in a city-owned reservoir in Fairfield, according to Ledger archives. The mayor temporarily closed the beach out of respect for Harl’s family. After the shock of the tragedy settled, the park and rec board along with law enforcement officials urged the city to permanently close the beach to swimming. Beach volunteers and the community, on the other hand, wanted to continue the “swim at your own risk” tradition at the lake. Silvers said the new ordinance aims to strike a compromise, which will allow the community swimming access under more thorough safety rules.

Chairman of the Bonnifield Beach volunteer committee Bob Klauber shared feedback about the draft Monday. Klauber prefaced his request by reminding the council of the extent to which volunteers had shouldered maintaining the city-owned beach. He said volunteers weeded and picked up trash throughout the swim season, and addressed the goose problem by erecting a fence around the beach to deter geese. He said they also installed the yellow buoys.

The draft states:

“… Swimmers must swim the most direct route to and from the beach for lap swim area. These buoys are to be used by lap swimmers who get into trouble. The buoys are not intended to be used for lounging like swimming pool noodles …”

Klauber felt using the noodles should not be restricted, except to prohibit horseplay.

“Using the buoys for recreation is harmless fun,” he said,

“and it is the most favorite adult entertainment at the lake.”

He also contended restricting use of the noodles would pose greater safety concerns. He said it would discourage swimmers like himself from taking a “pre-emptive rest” on the buoys, encouraging swimmers to continue to the point of exhaustion.

The ordinance gives authority to open and close the beach to Fairfield park and recreation director Derik Wulfekuhle.

Klauber said volunteers would be willing to help prepare the beach in the spring, such as setting up ropes, to help the beach open in a timely manner. He also questioned the ordinance, which would allow Wulfekuhle to close the beach for safety or health reasons. Klauber asked that these terms be more narrowly tailored and clearly defined.

Lastly, the draft calls for a rescue device station. It says the beach will be immediately closed if any safety equipment is stolen or vandalized. He suggested adding signage informing residents of a fine for stealing.

Wulfekuhle was in attendance, and later said while he aims to strike compromises with both volunteers and the park and rec board, he is in favor of restricting use of the yellow buoys.

“We have to try to eliminate the attractive nuisance in the middle of the lake,” he said.

Wulfekuhle said park and rec called for the removal of another such nuisance after Harl’s death — a life-sized faux alligator head used to scare geese from the water. Witnesses of Harl’s drowning said he and a friend were swimming near the alligator head with Harl’s daughter and another child.

“We just don’t want to be attracting kids or people out swimming beyond the designated swim area,” he said. “Those noodles are intended for swimmers needing a break, that was the intent when the ordinance was drawn up.”

Wulfekuhle expressed willingness to work with volunteers to open the beach, accepting their offer to help. He said their request for signage on the rescue device station would have to be presented to the park and rec board.

Even before the public process has begun, the new ordinance has begun presenting the city tough decisions.

“We just need to be patient, work through this, and we can all swim next summer,” said Wulfekuhle.

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