2013-04-13 / Top News

State Harbor To Receive State Dredging Aid

By Martha Stuit

Mackinac Island State Harbor is one of 58 waterways around the state that will receive muchneeded emergency funding to dredge marinas in the coming months. Water levels are extremely low, and as a result, harbors around the state need to dredge the bottom to be able use of all their dock space this summer. The state’s Emergency Dredging Plan consists of nearly $21 million in grants for dredging. Governor Rick Snyder signed the legislation at the end of March to provide money to complete the work before boating season.

Forty-nine marinas were slated to receive funding, and then the state added nine more. Mackinac Island State Harbor is on the list of additional locations. The state included the Island and other harbors when the Michigan Department of Natural Resources learned there would be money left over in the funding of nearly $21 million, said Ronald Olson, Chief of DNR Parks and Recreation.

Owing to its secondary addition, the amount of funding for the Mackinac Island facility is not yet determined, nor is the project designed. Planning will begin next week, starting April 15, when Harbormaster Derek Horn said he will sound the harbor to determine depths. The results will show which parts of the harbor need dredging and how much depth must be restored by removing sediment.

The state’s dredging plan cites that water levels are 16 inches below the levels one year ago in Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake St. Clair. Lake Superior is down by one inch from a year ago.

According to the DNR, dredging is especially important for making sure there is enough docking on Mackinac Island for vessels in the annual Chicago to Mackinac and Port Huron to Mackinac sailboat races.

Mr. Horn agreed.

“Yacht races are going to be the biggest challenge,” he said.

Racing sailboats can draw nine to 10 feet of water, requiring deeper water than powerboats.

“If you don’t get dredging, you can only put so many sailboats in,” he explained.

The marina contains 80 slips, and Mr. Horn is uncertain of how many sailboats will fit this year until he completes the soundings.

Typically, 180 to 200 sailboats fill the marina during yacht races because they raft them together, Mr. Horn said. When he completes the soundings, he will send the data to the yacht clubs, because they map the docking assignments during the events and are eager to develop plans for this summer’s races, added Mr. Horn.

At times other than the yacht races, despite low water, the staff can reorganize reservations and keep track of where they assign boats to give sailboats the deeper slips, he told the Mackinac Island Town Crier. In that way, the harbor can be resourceful in filling its slips and not lose revenue.

Last year, the harbor did not lose slips for lack of depth, “but we just had to be careful” with reservations and docking assignments, said Mr. Horn. Smaller boats were docked at shallower slips.

Another aim of dredging is to ensure the harbor’s revenues from boating, along with boaters going to business on Mackinac Island after docking, continue at the same levels. If the number of slips is limited, the harbor will not be able to operate at full capacity, and revenues, both at the harbor and around the Island, could decrease. St. Ignace, for example, is encountering this issue because one dock at St. Ignace Marina is touching the bottom of the lake with a depth of only two and a half feet. That dock will be unusable without dredging, but St. Ignace will also receive state aid and the city hopes to restore the depth at that dock to eight feet.

Senator Howard Walker and State Representative Frank Foster both said dredging will be essential for the local economy. The goal is to complete the work as soon as possible to maximize the tourist season.

“Dredging is an emergency situation,” Mr. Walker said. “The functionality of our harbors is important to our economy.”

“We live in a Great Lakes state,” Mr. Foster said, “and most everyone is tied to water.”

Work at Mackinac Island State Harbor prior to opening May 15 will also include installing new fenders, because the fenders are three feet above the water, said Mr. Horn. Smaller boats are at risk of going underneath the fenders, hitting the steel frame of the dock, and being damaged. Installing new fenders at a lower level will allow the boats to rest against them. Also, Mr. Horn said the safety ladders do not reach the water, and they will be extended before opening.

Locally, in Mackinac County, marinas at St. Ignace, Cedarville, Hessel, and Naubinway will also receive funding. No sites in Chippewa County are included, but Mackinaw City, Alpena, Beaver Island, Cheboygan, Harbor Springs, Petoskey, and Rogers City are among the sites in the Lower Peninsula.

The dredging money has been in the works since February, when the governor requested emergency dredging funding in his state budget recommendation. Preserving access to waterways to encourage tourism and protect the economy are the goals. As a result, the state moved the legislation quickly through the legislature and to the governor’s desk.

The bill, now Public Act 9 of 2013, also includes funding for land acquisitions, recreational development projects, veteran services, and other appropriations.

Two sources will provide almost $21 million of dredging funding. Michigan’s general fund will contribute $11.5 million, and Michigan State Waterways Fund will reallocate $9.64 million. The money will be redirected from other boating improvement projects around the state, and those projects will be revisited in coming years, including the Cedarville and Naubinway marinas in Mackinac County.

Four other bills will assist communities with the dredging process. One bill, now Public Act 10, offers low-interest loans for private marinas on the Great Lakes.

The three other bills will speed up permit approval. The fee for removing sand (at least 10,000 cubic yards of sediment that is at least 90% sand) will drop from either $1,500 or $2,000 to $50, according to Public Acts 11 and 13.

The reduced fee “is quite a bit more affordable for communities,” said Jim Goodheart of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

For emergency conditions including dredging, the DEQ can now issue permits before the 20- day public notice period has concluded, according to Public Act 12.

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