The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, a 15-year local nonprofit land preservation group has realigned and added new board members.
New is board chair Bobbie Gaunt, perhaps best known locally for her work with the Saugatuck Center for the Arts; attorney Rick Kirk; retired healthcare executive Tim Smith, and Nick Wallace.
They join returning president David Swan, vice president Becky Bruns and treasurer Frank Alfieri, Cynthia McKean and Dawn Schumann.
The Alliance surpassed its $150,000 fund-raising goal last year, garnering $170,000 towards its efforts, said Swan, “to proactively protect community investments in the Kalamazoo River mouth area and expand our partnerships throughout Michigan.”
Gauntm the first woman to enter Ford Motor Co.’s Sales and Marketing Management Program in 1972, retired 29 years later as a corporate vice president and president and CEO of Ford of Canada.
“When I retired from Ford,” she said, “my husband Bob and I could have chosen to live anywhere. We intentionally chose Saugatuck-Douglas for three reasons, one being the beauty of this creation in all of its parts.
“My childhood experiences,” Gaunt continued, “planting in the gardens and reading under the trees inspired me to do my part to ensure future generations of all beings can experience such formative encounters.
“Considering the risk of destruction currently facing this beautiful, bold, historic, reverent environment in which we are privileged to live, specifically the river mouth, and the significant role that the Coastal Alliance has played over the past 15 years in preserving all that we hold dear, I am ready to do my part by joining the board,” she said.
Kirk practiced law for 15 years as an appellate attorney before moving to Michigan and bringing his legal expertise to the board in 2020. He is currently research attorney for the 14th Circuit Court, Muskegon County.
A longtime visitor to the Saugatuck area, Kirk said he is committed to preserving the beauty of the lakeshore.
Michigan native Smith moved to Douglas after retiring from a career as a health-care executive and environmental educator. He has held multiple leadership positions with other nonprofit boards.
“Our magnificent river system, dunes, wetlands, beaches, forests and historic sites comprise one of the most unique and beautiful coastal environments in the nation,” said Smith. “These precious resources require ongoing protection and preservation, led by local citizens.”
Wallace, 22, will be the youngest board member since Christian Birky joined the SDCA as a Saugatuck High School sophomore in 2007. He has summered at his family’s historic cabin on the Kalamazoo River adjacent to the proposed NorthShore development.
Wallace brings breadth of knowledge about the ecology of the Saugatuck dunes and a generational perspective that will provide value to the Alliance.
“There is still much to do on our watch to continue the work set forth by Patty Birkholz and other West Michigan conservation leaders,” Swan said. “Thus, we are realigning the board to ensure we have the talent and leadership in place to allow the Alliance to persist in its proactive, vigilant and future focused efforts.
“Our fundraising shows how strongly the community supports Alliance efforts to protect our parks and historic sites,” he continued. “We are grateful to have the trust of this community; we take our responsibility very seriously.”
The SDCA anticipates a decision on whether it has standing to appeal NorthShore’s 2017 Saugatuck Township PUD permit for the parcel from the Michigan Supreme Court to be issued within the month.
Its appeal of a Michigan Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) department permit has been delayed several times since March 2020 as NorthShore continues to alter its construction methods.
Perhaps most importantly, now in the fifth year of reviewing the developer’s proposed boat canal north of the river channel to Lake Michigan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue a decision. Concerns include preservation of the archeological site of Singapore, draining interdunal wetlands, and impacts to the tribal cultural landscape.