Berrien County Commissioners visit Niles

Published 10:55 am Friday, June 7, 2024

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NILES — Berrien County Commissioners came to Niles Thursday for their second night meeting of the year and learned more about what is going on in the city. Commissioners also acted on routine matters and four resolutions.

     Niles Mayor Pro-Tem Gretchen Bertschy welcomed commissioners to the city and gave an update on the M-51 (South 11th Street)/U.S. 12 project that has tied up traffic all the way to the state line on South 11th for several months. The project includes the removal of the U.S. 12 bridge over South 11th as well as overall improvements to both highways.

Currently, only northbound traffic is allowed on South 11th Street in the city and southbound traffic has to find alternate routes. “Right now, businesses along South 11th have some sour feelings as do motorists,” Bertschy said. “We were told by MDOT that we signed off on the plan (to have one-way traffic) and we said show us where we did.”

County Commissioner Michael Majerek represents Niles and said that while MDOT officials have said “everything is rosy and fine”, everybody he talks to hates the construction and the traffic detours.

Majerek noted that the number of cars using South 11th Street daily was 30,000 20 years ago. Bertschy said she suspects it’s more now, especially with the opening of retail marijuana stores along South 11th in the city and more traffic coming to them from Indiana.

She noted that the $26 million project initially called for the installation of a large roundabout at the South 11th/U.S. 12 interchange but public concerns forced MDOT to change the plans to traffic lights and indirect “Michigan” left turns.

She reported that MDOT have said the project could be done by this October but she’s afraid it’s more likely to be next spring. “I don’t envision it being better soon,” she said. “They do say growth requires change and change brings good things.”

People also expressed concern about the nearby U.S. 12/South Third Street intersection which has proved to be a dangerous one over the years even with a traffic light being there. It is now getting more traffic with motorists being detoured to it from South 11th Street. That intersection is expected to also get “Michigan” left turns.

Commissioner Jim Curran represents Niles Township and said he has inquired about getting extra funds from MDOT for maintenance of “detour” routes like South Third Street, but hasn’t heard back.

Bertschy also gave an update on one local business in the downtown area. She reported on the Underground Laugh Lounge and the Study now located in the historic Carnegie Library building at Fourth and Main Streets. She noted that besides the two business ventures in the building, the new owners have set aside an apartment where performers can stay.

“A couple has done a phenomenal job renovating the Carnegie Library,” she said. “I give them a positive thumbs up.”

Commissioners also heard from Niles District Library Director Stevyn Compoe who gave them a brief update on what’s going on at the library. He said the library serves 84,000 visitors every year and that the community is blessed with a wonderful facility.

He noted that the library has just finished a five year capital improvement plan to refresh the facility. He added that the library has recently signed new agreements with and to offer history and genealogy services to patrons. The library has also put up historical photos around the library, he said.

The county board’s consent calendar featured action on two resolutions relative to solid waste management, the acceptance of a $61,000 state grant to defray early voting costs and a new agreement clarifying the arrangement between the Krasl Art Center and Berrien County Parks for the placement of sculptures at Silver Beach County Park.

The early voting grant is the second state grant the county has received to defray early voting costs. Counties and municipalities are required to offer early voting services to people since voters passed a state proposal in 2022. Currently, two municipalities do their own early voting and the county runs north and county sites for everyone else.

The solid waste resolutions concern an interlocal agreement between Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties for the development of a multicounty material management plan and the establishment of a planning committee to draft the new plan. New state laws are requiring more county oversight of landfills and efforts to reduce waste streams.

The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission will be assisting the planning committee in the development of the plan. The planning committee will be made up of elected officials as well as representatives of area landfills.

County Board Chairman McKinley Elliott briefly mentioned the ad hoc committee formed last year to consider increasing the public safety millage. Those plans were put on hold when commissioners decided to put a millage renewal with no increase before voters this August.

He said he expects the committee to start meeting again to consider options after the August election. Commissioners acknowledged earlier this spring that it is not the right time to ask for a millage increase with the current state of the economy. Voters defeated a proposed public safety millage increase in 2022.