December 21, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
30°F
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Avon Lake: Let’s make beach safer

Power plant intake, high waves contribute to undertows at Miller Road Park, officials say

AVON LAKE — City officials will determine whether Miller Road Park beach can be made safer before next summer.
The drowning deaths of Brandon Glass, 20, and Daniel Smith, 19, both of Elyria, were the third to occur off the beach since Mayor Rob Berner took office, and those deaths have prompted Berner to question if anything can be done.
Both boys went missing around 9 p.m. Thursday after swimming in the choppy, post-storm waters of Lake Erie. Smith’s body was found Friday, while Glass’ body wasn’t recovered until Sunday.
The beach at Miller Road Park has no lifeguards, but a sign warns swimmers to swim at their own risk. The park closes at 11 p.m.
Berner said a specific query will be made to determine how other beaches restrict public access during certain times.
“We can restrict access to the water, but that doesn’t mean they can’t go in the water,” Berner said. “The best thing we can do is to continue to try and educate the public on making good choices.”
The water off Miller Road Park has a number of different factors that can combine for a sometimes dangerous swim.
The eastern shoreline of the beach is warmed by water that is pulled into the nearby Reliant Energy power plant, which uses the water to cool large turbines before pumping it back into the lake.
While the lake typically flows from west to east, the plant’s water use in that area creates an unnatural current that, coupled with the lake’s own current, can make water safety a tricky situation in that particular area, according to Avon Lake Parks and Recreation Director Alex Nichols.
The bodies of both men who were drowned Thursday were found more than 200 yards west of the beach where they entered the water, she said.
Avon Lake police and fire officials couldn’t be reached for comment but confirmed in 2004 that the discharge from the plant can increase the water’s undertow.
Reliant Energy did not return calls seeking comment before press time.
U.S. Coast Guard Officer Paul Decker said anytime the waves are above two feet, the possibility for undertow increases. The waves were reportedly between three and five feet high the night Smith and Glass were pulled under after going for a dip with their girlfriends.
“When waves pick up, swimming becomes more dangerous regardless of where you’re at,” Decker said.
Nichols said her department will evaluate the beach, but it won’t make any changes prior to the 2008 swimming season.
Berner said the beach will remain open throughout the evaluation process.
“As a lakefront community, having a publicly owned park and beach on a Great Lake is certainly an asset,” he said. “But with great reward comes great risk.”
Contact Stephen Szucs at 329-7129 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.