Ionia, Clare counties return snow cone machines

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 5:08 pm on Friday, December 23, 2011

Youths line up at a fire safety booth to receive fire safety materials and snow cones made with a Michigan Homeland Security Arctic Blast Sno-Cone machine at the Trout-A-Rama event in Baldwin, Lake County, last July. — Courtesy photo

West Michigan has a shortage of snow, but no shortage of snow cone machines.

The 13 counties of the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC) each received a $900 Arctic Blast Sno-Cone machine earlier this year along with additional equipment through the Michigan Homeland Security Grant Program. Costs for the snow cone machines totaled $11,700.

The WMSRDC is a federal- and state-designated agency responsible for managing and administrating Homeland Security programs in Clare, Ionia, Isabella, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola and Ottawa counties.

The Daily News published a Dec. 3 story about Michigan Homeland Security snow cone machines being distributed to 13 West Michigan counties. The story went viral, showing up on numerous media outlets, including The Drudge Report website, Fox News and The Colbert Report on Comedy Central.

Officials from Clare and Ionia counties have decided to give their machines back, believing the federal purchase was a poor example of fiscal responsibility.

Clare County Emergency Management Director Jerry Becker in Harrison said his county returned the machine Monday, although the Citizen Corps had already used the machine for a medical recruitment drive and a training exercise in Clare County.

“We don’t feel we need it in our county,” Becker said. “As long as I’m the boss here, as long as I’m the emergency management director, when I found out about this project, I said no.”

Ionia County District 2 Commissioner James Lower said an administrative decision was immediately made to return Ionia County’s machine before it was even unpacked. Ionia County officials recently voted to make $550,000 in countywide budget cuts for this fiscal year.

“We definitely are giving ours back,” Lower said. “It’s a snow cone machine, so we don’t really see a lot of use for it. It’s the whole message that it sends too. It was a tough year for our budget and we made a lot of sacrifices so we didn’t really like the message that it sends to everyone who sacrificed this past year. We felt it was right to give it back. It didn’t go with our whole culture of sacrifice.”

Ionia County still has its machine as there was some confusion about where to return it. Montcalm County is currently the legal owner of all 13 machines.

The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners approved the transfer agreement from the WMSRDC to ship the machines to a single location to reduce shipping costs. Montcalm County was chosen as the shipping location due to being the host of regional Citizen Corps meetings.

“As of now, Montcalm County has no plans on giving any equipment back,” said Montcalm County Emergency Medical Services Director David Feldpausch.
Feldpausch said Clare County’s snow cone machine will be given to another county. He has not yet received Ionia County’s snow cone machine.

Kent County Emergency Management Coordinator Lt. Jack Stewart said county officials plan on sending their machine back, but maybe not for three years.

“Quite frankly this (the snow cone machine purchase) came as a surprise to us,” Stewart said. “It’s a grant-related purchase so we have to keep it for three years because of the audit process unless someone signs a transfer of ownership. It’s sitting in a box in our closet. We probably will (send it back). We’ll resolve this eventually.”

“It’s a great recruitment tool, it does have a use and it does conform to the purpose of the mandate we were given,” he added of the snow cone machine.

The Michigan Homeland Security Grant Program’s Allowable Cost Justification document, dated May 9, 2011, states the “ice shaving machines” can be used to prevent heat-related illnesses during emergencies, treat injuries and provide snow cones as an outreach at promotional events.

Lake County Emergency Management Director Mac McClellen in Baldwin said the machine has already been used several times by the Medical Reserve Corps at public health open houses in conjunction with recruiting efforts. Emergency Management officials have also used the machine at a local festival’s fire safety outreach event.

“I felt it was a good use of funds as it addressed two different emergency management and homeland security functions — preparedness and response — with one purchase,” McClellen said. “It is arguably just as important to be involved in public education, training and recruitment as it is in responding to a disaster.”

Mason County Emergency Management Coordinator Elizabeth Reimink in Ludington said her county hasn’t used the machine yet, but it would have been useful during an 11-day search for a 4-month-old child in extremely hot and humid weather last summer. She said searchers went through 20 to 30 bags of cubed ice per day.

“We would have used it had we had it prior to the event,” Reimink said. “Heat fatigue and heat stress were our two biggest concerns. The machine breaks ice down to a more packable level and can be used to fill bandanas or Ziploc bags. When you have it shaved, it’s more manageable, it’s more moldable.”

“Snow cone machine, it sounds hilarious, but if another machine could crush ice and keep ice cool for this purpose, we would have bought that machine,” she added.

Isabella County Emergency Management Director McCarther Griffis in Mount Pleasant said the machine could be useful at events such as last summer’s National Night Out On Crime, when temps were in the 100s. He said the machine could be used to shave ice to pack in bandanas or to make snow cones, which are healthier than drinking soda.

“It has potential,” Griffis said. “It can be used in heat-related scenarios.”
Ottawa County Emergency Management Director Beth Thomas said her county has not yet used its machine either.

“We have not had any need to use it yet, but if the need would arise we would use it as intended,” she said. “It’s intended for heat-related emergencies.”
Officials from Mecosta, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Osceola counties could not be reached for comment.

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