KLHA Workshop Brings Together State & County Environmental Officials To Discuss Best Ways Of Removing River Sediment
The Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority workshop session hosted by Edgewater Resources President Greg Weykamp last Friday with local and state officials was called “very productive” and sets the stage for a road map toward siltation mitigation of the local harbor.
Attending the session were Saugatuck and Douglas city officials, various state of Michigan and Allegan County environmental officials, and members of the public.
Several officials called the harbor the “lifeblood” and “economic engine” of the two communities.
The cities’ officials and the engineering firm Edgewater initially set the meeting as a closed session—not open to the public or media—claiming there would not be a quorum of elected officials and it was meant to only be an informal workshop.
Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, however, called for it to be open and the participants concurred.
“A ‘do nothing’ approach will eventually result in a marsh with a stream through it. This is not a viable option,” said Weykamp about the current state of the harbor.
Both local cities contracted individually with his engineering firm Edgewater last year to develop a long-term plan and to look for funding options for dealing with the growing siltation problem.
One of the key takeaways of the meeting, engineer and regulatory agency officials agreed, was the need for “regional collaboration”—a successful strategy must involve a partnership between all regional entities that are directly and indirectly connected to the issue, including upstream neighbors (e.g., farmers) as well as local, county and state agencies, including those present at the meeting.
Those groups include the the Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority, Allegan Conservation District, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and DNR’s Office of the Great Lakes.
Working together will engender a stronger position in trying to secure state and federal grants while keeping everybody’s interests at the forefront, including economic concerns, according to the regulatory officials.
Regulatory agencies were also on board with Weykamp’s broad, multifaceted proposal, which includes:
First, “stop the bleeding,” by reducing as much as possible the silt coming into the harbor by dealing with it upstream at the source (e.g., farmland topsoil runoff, hydraulic instability, riverbank erosion, etc.).
Second, create sediment traps by digging deep holes in strategic locations where sediment would drop down into them. The sediment traps would be placed upstream, but be close and with easy access (e.g., at the bridge of Blue Star Highway or the bridge at I-196) so as to create a cost-effective means to dredge sediment that has been trapped.
Weykamp’s third and final step in his preliminary plan is finding the least costly way of dredging the sediment already in the harbor along with finding a place to put that dredged spoil, including a possible confined disposal facility (CDF).
One idea advanced—one the public really likes, according to Weykamp—is to use the drained sediment material to create sound berms (noise barriers) along I-196 at Shultz Park.
Dredging—whether part of Edgewater’s ongoing proposal, or in future mitigation projects, or from emergency removal operations in the near future—will always need to take place if the Kalamazoo Harbor is to remain viable in perpetuity, engineer and state officials said.
“There is a lot of (sediment) build up; this problem is not going to go away,” said Weykamp.
The “least attractive” proposal and one Edgewater is not likely to pursue—at least not for now—is channelization, a method that involves keeping sediment suspended and moving through the river by a high-velocity water flow so that it ends up depositing out into Lake Michigan and not in the harbor.
That proposal is more expensive than others and involves complicated hydraulic modeling and rigorous engineering.
There is another major concern with channelization: the Kalamazoo River water carries PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) and another contaminants, albeit at a low level.
Asked by Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority Vice-Chair Patrick Burroughs if those contaminants could end up on Saugatuck’s Oval Beach, Kameron Jordan of the DEQ, noted, “That is a possibility.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does periodically—and with no charge to the community— dredge at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River, using hydraulic pumps to push sediment out into Lake Michigan and deposit it along the lakeshore area.
However, that sediment is considered mostly “clean” and safe, and is used as “beach nourishment,” while the sediment upstream and in the local harbor contains more silt and low-level contaminants (contaminants adhere a lot more easily to silt than sand).
Members of the Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority said the meeting was an opportunity to get more acquainted with the state and county regulatory agencies and start working together with them, such as the Allegan Conservation District.
“Regional partnership is definitely the way to go, especially because we already have the connection with the farmers,” said Ana Hedberg, executive director of the Allegan Conservation District.
Her office works with federal programs such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA) in farmland preservation efforts to help area farmers (e.g. putting in filter strips, installing fencing to prevent animals from going to the riverbank, no-till farming, etc.).
In fact, Office of the Great Lakes Jon Allan noted the problem facing the Kalamazoo Harbor, particularly if presented as a regional issue, would lend itself well to grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Bill, namely the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
The RCPP program supports collaborative projects meant to improve soil quality, water quality/quantity, and wildlife habitat in a specific area.
“The big dollars are in federal farm grants for projects that take a thoughtful, regional approach,” said Allan, referencing the millions of possible dollars available in federal in grants.
A 2006 study by the engineering firm JJR estimated a comprehensive dredging effort—a dredging of all the local harbor area— would cost close to $45 million.
In late 2012, the cities allocated $60,000 for the Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority to begin Phase I of an emergency dredging proposal, a big part of which was a response to the low water levels at that time.
The total estimate for emergency dredging came to $2 million and consisted of dredging a few channels in strategic, shallow areas so boats could navigate the lake.
While a lot of preparatory work was done by the harbor authority, the emergency dredging project was never started nor has any other funding been secured besides the $60,000 already allocated by Douglas and Saugatuck.