Grand Haven seeks new source for snow melt system

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Haven is quickly working to find a new power source for their downtown snow melt, which melts snow on sidewalks by using hot water.

The city uses the snow melt system to have less maintenance during winter weather events.

grand haven snow melt sidewalks
A utility hatch for the snow melt system in Grand Haven. (Nov. 12, 2019)

The $3 million project was installed about 10 years ago. It spans the few blocks that lead to the city’s waterfront. 

The J.B. Sims Generating Station (coal plant) is set to close in June 2020, leaving the city without a way to power the snow melt.

“It’s very efficient because we’re using the big Sims Power Plant for energy,” city manager Patrick McGinnis said. “Now with this new transition, we’re facing some new issues.”

People who work and visit the area say the snow melt has become very important to them. 

“I can put on my tennis shoes and I can do the six-block stretch once or twice to get some fresh air,” Ron Poppe said as he was walking during his daily break.

grand haven snow melt sidewalks
In this image, you can see where the snow melt system in Grand Haven keeps the sidewalks clear. (Nov. 12, 2019)

While some merchants in the area say they’re not convinced the original investment was worth it, others say the feature helps their business. 

“We’d have to salt and shovel and salt and you’d still end up with icy patches,” Buffalo Bob’s store owner Jalaine Hutchinson said as she described what the sidewalks were like before the snow melt. 

Hutchinson has been the owner of Buffalo Bob’s for about 26 years. Having recently injured her toe, shoveling is not an option for her right now. She says the snow melt helps to clear the pathways for her customers when she can’t.

“It’s very convenient for customers. They can always get a spot without a lot of snow around,” she said. 

The city says they’ve heard similar stories from their aging population. To keep the streets heated next winter, the city is now working through their options.

“We’re trying to get some transitional units until our permanent solution is in place. Natural gas fire is the most likely approach at this point,” McGinnis said. “It’s a long-term investment — it’s a part of our infrastructure. We don’t plan on (the snow melt) going away.”

The city and the Board of Light and Power will continue discussing options for a new power source at upcoming meetings. They hope to make a final decision by spring and have things in place by the winter of 2020. 

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