After a 3-foot drop in water levels on Lake St. Clair last summer many marinas are ready to embark on an expensive reality this spring.
The Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle has started a $1.036 million dredging project and the cost will be shared by club members who directly benefit from the dredging of its harbor.
Closer to home in the quaint Macomb County community of Harrison Township is Belle Maer Harbor, where a proposed dredging project is expected to cost about $80,000. Marina ownership will pay the bill.
It all adds up for private marinas on the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair that were left out when Governor Rick Snyder announced plans last month to fund public harbor dredging across the state.
In Macomb County the two public sites are proposed for improvements: Black River at Lake St. Clair Metropark and the Clinton River.
“I do know that the Black River is going to be dredged, and I believe Clinton River is supposed to be dredged,” said state Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township. “There are many public waterways across the state being dredged, but no money allocated for private waterways.”
Brandenburg, and nine other legislators, recently introduced Senate Bill No. 215, which if approved will provide for low interest loans for private marinas in need of dredging.
“This bill won’t cost taxpayers anything,” Brandenburg said. “My bill calls for this: a marina operator can borrow money from a bank and the state and it will be cheap – a 3½ percent prime rate and pay it back over 20 years. No one has to worry about getting paid back because the state would guarantee it.
“The bill … is referred to the Outdoors Recreation Committee in the Senate and it will go from there. I will shepherd it through Senate and House and hope the governor signs it.”
Brandenburg said he would like to get more than just two areas in Macomb County dredged, which is why he wants another $30 million funding for dredging of private waterways.
“That would be an appropriations bill,” Brandenburg noted.
“Private waterways are every bit as important as public waterways,” he said. “My business is in Mount Clemens. I look at the river and it has to be dredged. All the private money from marina operators and they cannot take in all the boats they used to take because of low water.”
But dredging is expensive. Just ask Eric Foster of Belle Maer Harbor, a private marina in Harrison Township, who said he will dredge the marina at a cost between $40,000 and $80,000.
“We have a west-east flow and what happens is this southwest quadrant starts narrowing from the silt,” said Foster, who noted Belle Maer last dredged its channel in 2000.
“Most every marina (and canal) on the lake has to get out to the lake,” Foster said. “The boaters need to get out of from their private canals and marinas to access the lake. It should be the state’s responsibility.”
Foster has asked the Department of Environmental Quality to look at ways they can help reduce “the cost of dredging, permitting, and speeding up the process to get dredging projects going.”
Foster, who has been at Belle Maer for 29 years, has been working with Brandenburg’s office because private marinas get no money from the state.
“The problem with the Governor Snyder’s proposal – and I appreciate the $21 million allocated, but nothing is there for public waterways,” Brandenburg offered. “All those private waterways, marinas, restaurants, gas docks, private homeowners – they need help to pay taxes.
“The problems facing our waterways need to be addressed immediately and a long-term strategy to maintain them needs to be developed,” he said. “Dredging plans needs to be developed that will allow Michigan harbors, ports and waterways to be accessible.”
Fisher noted there are 56 small dredging projects the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for each year, but the Corps will only dredge four projects this year.
“There are no loans for dredging,” Foster said. “The private marinas need realization – there is going to be no money from the state, even though we are the majority of boaters.”
Belle Maer Harbor fronts on the Anchor Bay section of Lake St. Clair with interior canals and consists of approximately 59 acres.
Still, Foster said he is looking forward to a great 2013 boating season.
“We will get a bump in water levels in spring and more importantly from up in the Lake Superior Basin where we get our water from,” said Foster. “Hopefully, we are going to get this spring bouncer. The snow pack and Superior Basin has been more normal this year.
“As far as the lake, we’re keeping more positive,” he said. “We’re going to get through it. As long as they (government) understand the boating industry is good for Michigan. And people here can’t survive without the summer boaters.”
The Michigan Boating Industries Association applauded the introduction of Brandenburg’s legislation.
“This is another great example of our state’s leadership working together to help Michigan’s boating industry, which is critical to Michigan’s future,” said MBIA Board Chairman Jim Coburn. “We commend the sponsors of this bill for their fine work in revitalizing a program that worked successfully in the past to help Michigan’s boaters.”
Michigan ranks as one of the top states in the nation in registered watercraft. Recreational boating brings a $3.9 billion economic impact to the state.