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Published: Saturday, 12/3/2011

Luna Pier coal-fired power plant to shut in '15

Whiting facility brings city half its revenue

BLADE STAFF

Consumers Energy made it official Friday: The J.R. Whiting coal-fired power plant, which provides more than 50 percent of Luna Pier's revenues, will halt operations in 2015.

But city officials, who have been working with Consumers Energy, began putting plans in place in 2008 to replace revenues lost by the power plant's closure.

"It's not a shock to us," said Luna Pier Administrator Greg Stewart, adding the city still will receive property taxes for the shuttered plant. Mr. Stewart said officials don't know at this point what kind of revenue loss they will encounter.

Consumer Energy announced Friday it was scrapping plans for a clean-coal plant near Bay City, Mich., and announced the closure of seven units in 2015, including Whiting. The utility will spend $1.6 million on air-quality improvements at five larger coal-fired units elsewhere, it said.

Knowing the closure was possible, Luna Pier officials overhauled the city's master plan and are focusing efforts on increasing tourism and attracting businesses, Mr. Stewart said. Nine of 21 storefronts in Luna Pier are empty, he said.

The lakefront community received a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to build an accessible beach house in the shape of a lighthouse with an observation deck. There also will be a kayak livery accessible to people with disabilities, and a specialized mat that will allow those using wheelchairs to go into the water, Mr. Stewart said.

Luna Pier, which has 4 1/2 miles of Lake Erie beachfront, is tearing down the old beach house this month and hopes to have the replacement finished by Memorial Day, Mr. Stewart said. The city also received a $100,000 federal grant to build bio-retention gardens, which will use stormwater from streets to grow plants, he said.

To help boost tourism in the western basin of Lake Erie, Luna Pier officials have met with the ferry operator Jet Express out of Port Clinton and the port authorities of Toledo and Detroit.

More than half of all fish caught recreationally in the Great Lakes comes from Lake Erie's western basin, which could be a boon to Luna Pier's businesses, Mr. Stewart said. "Lake Erie has the shallowest, the warmest water in all the Great Lakes," he said. "It's like an incubator for fish."

-- Julie McKinnon



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