WHITE BEAR LAKE — A possible drowning at Memorial Beach was a false alarm June 20 but the incident spurred requests for lifeguards.

There hasn't been a lifeguard at the beach (also called Optimist) for at least 20 years. 

City Manager Ellen Hiniker added the issue to the City Council agenda June 25, looking for input. 

“We are under no obligation; many lakes in the metro choose not to have a lifeguard,” Hiniker said,  adding that the cost would be $25,000 per season.

Lifeguards at other White Bear beaches, including Bellaire, Mahtomedi and the Ramsey County beach are contracted through the YMCA. 

“I see this as being dependent on how much water is in the lake,” added the city manager. “Seven years ago I couldn't imagine talking about having a lifeguard at Memorial Beach. There wasn't any water as far as you could walk and revenues at the marina were down. Now the lake is healthy. It's something for council to consider.” 

Councilman Doug Biehn feels the city should consider a lifeguard, admitting he wasn't aware the beach was unguarded, and pay for the service from the marina fund. Councilman Bill Walsh disagreed. “I am more of the 'let the buyer beware' philosophy. Ramsey County beach has lifeguards. Parents can choose. They can tell kids to go to the county beach if they want that security.” 

Councilman Kevin Edberg, filling in as acting mayor for an absent Jo Emerson, asked Hiniker is staff had a recommendation. 

“I agree (with Biehn) and I agree (with Walsh),” she replied. “Where I struggle, it is yet another ongoing cost. It's not inexpensive. But I think of the what ifs, especially after the most recent incident, which made everyone in the neighborhood nervous.” 

Hiniker added she would be remiss to not mention the “considerable calls” the city receives about boats mooring too close to the swimming area. “A lifeguard could help that situation,” she said. 

Edberg said he didn't “sense a clear value statement” from the discussion and was inclined to leave it at that.

At a minimum, Hiniker concluded, the city will put up buoys to protect the area from boats and see if further discussion is merited. 

Conservation District ordinance states that watercraft cannot operate within 100 feet of a person in the water or on a raft.

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