To Combat Record Low Great Lakes water levels, Michigan Waterways Commission cReates Emergency Dredging Plan

February 10, 2013

With current water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron at all-time lows – and levels in lakes Michigan, Huron and St. Clair expected to continue dropping – the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today announced that the Michigan State Waterways Commission has adopted an emergency dredging plan that will provide zero-match grant funding opportunities for harbors of refuge, recreational boating harbors, marinas and boat launches most affected by the low water levels.

As part of the plan, the DNR Parks and Recreation Division announced it will redirect nearly $8.8 million of Waterways funding from existing appropriations; allocate $0.7 million of uncommitted Waterways funding; and receive $11.5 million from the FY 2013 General Fund, as recommended in Gov. Rick Snyder’s just-released budget. In total, nearly $21 million would be dedicated toward keeping Michigan’s waterways operational.

According to Ron Olson, DNR Parks and Recreation Division chief, dredging involves the removal of accumulated bottom sediments in waterways to maintain adequate depth for navigation.

“Such dredging is needed in the most critically affected areas in order to allow safe access to harbors,” added Olson. “Without this action, some harbors are in real danger of closing.”

To streamline the grant-funding process, the state of Michigan will:

  • Waive the regular local-match requirement for 2013 emergency dredging projects;
  • Immediately contact communities that have been identified to receive zero-match Waterways grant emergency-dredging monies;
  • Not accept 2013 grant applications because of the decision to redirect funding; and
  • Facilitate coordination and involvement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to DNR Director Keith Creagh, quickly and creatively solving the challenge of low water levels is important on many fronts.

“The safety of Great Lakes boaters, as well as the economies of local communities, urgently demands dredging work in the hardest-hit areas,” said Creagh. “Because federal money for dredging of harbors is uncertain, we have found our own solution. The emergency dredging plan helps address the problem for this year. We must still seek a long-term solution to this continuing challenge.”

Creagh added that in addition to boater safety and the health of local economies, the swift actions laid out in the emergency dredging plan will preserve broad access to the Great Lakes and improve recreational boating opportunities statewide. The DNR will redirect staff toward dredging at state facilities with no extra funding.

To estimate the cost of the emergency dredging plan, the DNR surveyed all 83 public recreational boating harbors (63 local municipal harbors; 19 state harbors; and one federal harbor) in December 2012 and January 2013, with a response rate of 82 percent.

With more than 800,000 registered boats in 2011, ranking third highest in the nation, the health and sustainability of Michigan’s waterways are vital to the state’s economy. Water levels will continue to be monitored throughout the year.

The emergency dredging plan was developed in collaboration with the DNR, the Michigan State Waterways Commission and the Department of Environment Quality, including the Office of the Great Lakes.

The Michigan State Waterways Commission was created by Public Act 451 of 1994. The commission is an advisory group for the DNR on overall recreational boating facilities, policies and funding. To follow progress and get more information about the Michigan State Waterways Commission, visit the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/dnr and choose Boards, Committees and Commissions from the left side of the page.

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