Three Northeast Michigan harbors will benefit from an emergency dredging plan put forth by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to keep low lake levels from crippling local economies.
The DNR announced a plan to spend nearly $21 million to dredge 49 harbors, including those in Alpena, Harrisville and Rogers City, according to department documents. Record-low water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron prompted the department to act, especially after some communities said dropping lake levels could prevent boats from entering their harbors, Parks and Recreation Division Chief Ron Olson said.
Beginning in November, DNR employees began surveying lakeshore communities with harbors to find out which ones were in need of dredging, Olson said. Of the 84 harbors the department surveyed, 82 percent responded.
"We focused in on trying to preserve the harbors of refuge, the recreation harbors that local economies depend on, and to preserve inland boat launches and access to the Great Lakes as well," he said.
Now, the department has released a list of harbors that will be dredged under the plan, along with estimated costs for each project. Dredging the Alpena Small Boat Harbor is expected to cost $805,000, dredging the Harrisville Harbor should cost $280,000 and dredging the Rogers City Marina is estimated to cost $227,500, according to department documents.
Dredging will happen as soon as possible, depending on how quickly permits can be obtained for the projects and on the availability of dredging crews, Olson said. The Department of Environmental Quality will work to streamline the regulatory process, and the Office of the Great Lakes will assist with the plan as well.
Rogers City officials have been informed of the plan, City Manager Mark Slown said. The water is as shallow as five feet in some places in the harbor, both due to dropping lake levels and silt buildup. Compare that to eight feet or deeper when the harbor was completed in 2000.
"The water levels have dropped a minimum of a foot and a half from where they were a few years ago," he said.
Slown said he commended the state for taking action to keep harbors open. The marina is important to Rogers City's economy, and if boaters couldn't use it there would be a serious impact on local businesses.
Dredging also will be important for Alpena's marina, interim City Manager Greg Sundin said. City employees are in the process of submitting needed documents to the DNR to make sure the project happens.
Steve Baksis, Harrisville's harbormaster, said there are a few shallow spots in the city's harbor that need to be resolved.
"As a rule, we probably have more depth than a lot of harbors, but there are problematic areas that need attention," he said. "We're anticipating dredging and resolving the problematic areas in the spring."
Like many communities that were set to receive grants for Michigan Waterways Commission-approved projects, Rogers City will not get the money, Slown said. The city had anticipated getting $27,000 for a new floating gas dock. Instead, the money will be redirected to emergency dredging projects.
Projects that received grants previously will be pushed back to next year, Olson said.
Along with this multi-million dollar plan, state senators want to take an additional $30 million from the state's rainy day fund to dredge harbors for recreational and commercial vessels, according to an Associated Press report. The account has more than $500 million, and lawmakers are considering a plan to use money from a trust fund for buying public recreation lands for future harbor maintenance.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.