SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. – In downtown South Haven, there are more places to dock a boat than places to park a car.
“We have a thousand slips on the river, and it’s easy access to Lake Michigan,” said the city’s harbormaster, Paul Vandenbosch.
But it’s only easy access to Lake Michigan as long as water levels are high in the Black River and silt levels from rain runoff are low.
Vandenbosch said that’s not the case right now. “It’s shallow, and sometimes it just gets too shallow.”
During the winter, the city officials in South Haven planned to spend the city’s own money to dredge out the silt, even if that meant draining the bank account to make it happen. “We would have run out of money and had to go $100,000 to $200,000 in debt,” said Vandenbosch.
South Haven isn’t the only community with this problem.
Up and down Lake Michigan, from New Buffalo to Ludington, harbor communities applied for help from the state to dredge.
Ron Olson with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources says there are 83 harbor communities in Michigan, of which 58 said, when asked, that they needed the state’s help to dredge. They then submitted estimates of how much their projects would cost.
According to the DNR, the estimated cost for dredging in West Michigan communities look like this:
- Ludington Municipal Marina: $20,000
- Muskegon – Hartshorn Municipal Marina: $175,000
- New Buffalo Municipal Marina: $1,042,000
- Grand Haven Marina: $180,005
- Pentwater Municipal Marina: $16,205
- South Haven Municipal Marina: $436,050
- St. Joesph – West Basin Marina: $105,00
- Whitehall – White Lake Municipal Marina; $182,00
The money is made possible through an emergency dredge plan signed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. The plan allows the 58 harbor communities to complete dredging projects through a contractor, then get reimbursed by the state.
The grant is funded by marine fuel taxes.
In South Haven, the city plans to dredge from the edge of the pier to the drawbridge.
The path is crucial to the success of downtown businesses.
Larry Fargoules, owner of the Harbor Toy Company in downtown South Haven, said a full harbor is good for business. “What are you going to do at night? You are going to come out and shop and buy toys and other things. So yes, it’s huge.”
Denise Nordby, owner of the Rambling Rose next door, agreed “We need to be able to get boats in this harbor. It’s a beautiful harbor, a beautiful downtown.”
In addition to the state money, some communities will also be getting federal help. Money from The Super-Storm Sandy Relief Fund will be available for the Army Corps of Engineers to help in the dredging efforts.
It’s too soon to say when those federal funds will be made available.
In South Haven, they hope to have the state-funded dredging finished by the end of June at the latest.