WASHINGTON – The government agency in charge of dredging Michigan harbors hopes to know by the end of the month if there will be enough money to dredge all the harbors that need it.
Lynn Duerod,spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit,said the office received enough money in fiscal year 2008,$20 million,to complete all 39 dredging projects. She said she is hopeful the agency will receive the same amount under the continuing resolution for fiscal year 2009 that Congress passed in September.
Commercial harbors are often guaranteed funds,but recreational harbors are sometimes in danger of not receiving money for dredging,she said.
“They're not always part of the top federal-interest projects,” Duerod said.
Even in the years when funds are not available,Rep. Pete Hoekstra,R-Mich.,said the harbors still need to be cleared because the local economies would be negatively affected if boats could not make it in.
“There's always shifting sands moving into the harbors,and they all need to be dredged,” Hoekstra said.
During the summer,the Army Corps posted a warning that sandbars had formed in Pentwater Harbor,in Pentwater.
Without open waterways,neither freighters nor fishing boats could make it into some areas,Hoekstra said.
He said that in some years,such as last year,all projects are completed. “Then some years you just pray that there's a lot of rain and the lake levels go up,” Hoekstra said.
Hoekstra said he remembers one year when Pentwater had to be closed because it was not dredged.
Mitch Diesch,Manistee city manager,said the city's harbor,which is a commercial and recreational harbor,supports about 600 jobs on Manistee Lake.
The industrial freighters bring raw materials to the industries near the lake and leave with products headed for other areas,so the doglegs in the harbor have to be deep enough for the ships to navigate,Diesch said.
One December a few years ago,he said city officials were told that there was not enough money to dredge Manistee Harbor. Late in the winter,he said the city,congressional representatives and the Army Corps worked to find the money for the project.
“The Corps of Engineers understand perfectly what the issue is,” Diesch said. “There are just not enough funds being provided to the Detroit district.”
Without the dredging to keep the harbor channel clear,he said the local economy would be devastated by the loss of industry.
In Ludington,the harbor has to be deep enough so that the freighters can get in,said city manager John Shay.
If it is too shallow,the ships either have to go to another harbor or unload some of the products,costing the shipping company more money,he said.
“Our harbor is one of our economic lifelines,” Shay said.