Harrison TownshipMarch 28, 2013
Dredging package benefits both public and private marinas
By Julie Snyder
C & G Staff Writer
Funding assistance is coming to Lake St. Clair Metropark to start some emergency dredging work needed to counteract the low water levels that are making it hard for boaters to navigate through channels leading to the lake.
HARRISON TOWNSHIP — The Michigan State House and Senate last week passed with near unanimous support a dredging assistance package that includes financial assistance to public and private marinas and helps streamline the regulatory process within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Under the funding bill, $20.9 million will be distributed to 49 communities to hire excavating companies to dredge sand from public harbors and marinas faced with low water levels that threaten the state’s recreational economy by impeding the passage of large sailboats and leisure boats this summer.
Three of the dredging projects are in the metro Detroit area — Lake Erie Metropark Marina in Rockwood; the William G. Milliken State Harbor in Detroit; and Lake St. Clair Metropark Marina in Harrison Township.
To assist private marinas, lawmakers want to create a loan program to be administered by private banks.
Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, the author of the Senate bill that establishes a marina dredging loan program, said funding will subsidize the program by covering administrative costs for private banks — up to 5 percent of the principal — that agree to finance the loans up to $500,000 at an interest rate of up to 2.5 percent.
“The bank takes the whole risk; the state’s not on the hook for anything,” he said. “Similar legislation was used in 1986 and 1998, and everybody who utilized it paid back 100 percent and not one dime was lost. To be able to borrow money today at 2 1/2 percent is huge.”
The most local public part of the package would go toward dredging the channels leading to and from Black Creek and Lake St. Clair, where water levels are exceedingly low. Brandenburg said that, in addition to the recreational advantages that come along with dredging, it will improve property values at the lakefront homes and would provide some work to the approximately 10 dredging companies located around the southeastern part of the state.
Gov. Rick Snyder approved the emergency dredging package bill on March 27.
The package also helps expedite dredging by slashing permit fees from $1,500 or $2,000 to $50 and allowing the DEQ to issue emergency dredging permits and bypass a 20-day public notice period.
Michigan ranks as one of the top states in the nation in registered watercraft, and recreational boating brings an estimated $3.9 billion economic impact to the state each year.
Harrison Township Supervisor Kenneth Verkest said water recreation is important to the local economy, as well.
He said while Lake St. Clair makes up only 0.4 percent of Michigan’s Great Lakes surface area, Harrison Township marinas account for almost 5 percent of the total Great Lakes in the entire state.
The township has 29 commercials marinas and multiple waterfront condominium developments, only eight of which are lakefront marinas. However, they comprise 47 percent of the total value of all commercial land in the township.
Harrison Township has 2,200 commercial boat slips and even more residential boat slips that rely on these channels for lake access.
“It’s good that they are going to do dredging at Lake St. Clair beach, but there is a bigger issue out there: the private marinas,” Verkest said.
Many local marina owners feel there has been more focus on state and municipal harbors, while private marina have been excluded from the funding, which harbor the majority of recreational vessels. And many private marinas access the lake on channels that lie on state-owned bottomlands. Because of this, it can be difficult for marina owners to approach a bank for a loan to make improvements on property they do not own or control.
Eric Foster, owner of Belle Maer Harbor in Harrison Township, said the lack of dredging funding assistance for private marinas has been a bone of contention with local marina owners for many years.
“The $21 million that the state will spend on dredging this year is a good thing, but unfortunately it won’t help any of the private marinas,” said Foster, whose 60-acre marina has been successfully operating in the township since sprucing up the property in 1984.
In a letter to local legislatures, Verkest suggested a revolving loan fund be established for dredging channels and access points to the Great Lakes. He said this would help private marinas that cannot exist without the channels, and in turn, it would help to maintain the state’s recreational boating industry.
Foster said that, in 2000, he spent $800,000 to dredge the one-mile lake access channel at Belle Maer, and he anticipates spending between $800,000 and $1 million this year to widen the channel that he said has narrowed. When full, Belle Maer can accommodate more than 900 boaters. The marina is open year-round, though Foster said the boating season traditionally runs from April through the end of October.
It’s one of the busiest marinas in the state.
“The way I look at it is, it’s no different than having roads going to and from the highways,” Foster said. “I take care of the interior of my marina,” he said, adding that the “roads” (channels) used to get from Belle Maer to Lake St. Clair should be taken care of.
“This is important to me because without those boaters a lot of marinas wouldn’t survive here,” he said. “So it’s important to get these channels dredged.”