State Legislators Tour Saugatuck And See Dredging Needs First-Hand
The stuck tugboat in the middle of Saugatuck’s Kalamazoo Lake served as an impactful visual reference for state of Michigan representatives about the importance of local dredging needs.
Invited by State Representative Bob Genetski, (R-Saugatuck), and hosted by the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), members of the House of Representatives’ Tourism Bureau toured the streets and waterways of the Saugatuck area aboard the Harbor Duck on Monday.
The tour helped the legislative leaders get a first a first-hand look at the harbor and its relationship to the local economy.
“What better way to show the harbor and its economic impact on tourism than to have a local business man who makes his living from tourism (Harbor Duck Tour owner Brent Birkholz) show state representatives around?,” said Felicia Fairchild, the CVB’s executive director.
The resort community brings in two million people a year, and a 2012 CVB study of the economic impact, which focused on direct spending (i.e., meals, lodging, gifts), showed that impact to be a whopping $155 million-plus, another $25 million related to recreational boat activity and the rest related to ancillary activities that are connected to the water.
Despite data showing such figures, the government at the state and federal levels continue to prioritize commercial harbors (i.e. industrial shipping) while discounting recreational harbors when it comes to dredge funding. It is one of a number of aspects the chair of the tourism committee, State Representative Peter Pettalia (R-District 106), said he is well aware of and wants to change.
Pettalia said he is concerned about proper disposal of contaminated silt and the red tape around getting required dredging permits.
“If we get the (dredging) permits loosened, get them to be easier to obtain and at a more reasonable cost and deal with pollutants safely, that would be a triumph this year,” noted
“Economic development through tourism is very important,” he said, adding that there was a need to change and upgrade the local CVB bed tax assessment from 2% to 5% so that it could remain competitive with other CVBs across the state.
CVBs are customer-funded programs in the State of Michigan generated from add-ons to lodging costs.
“(The Saugatuck-Douglas) CVB should be able to decide with the influence of business to increase to 5% like many (CVBs across the state) have already done so. Why is it stuck at 2%?” asked
Along with the tugboat, Pettalia said he also was visually impacted by what Douglas residents call the “volcano,” the dredge spoil pile on the Tower Marine property. Genetski, a tourism committee member himself, said, “We want to have the committee look at a long-term plan for harbor dredging statewide.”
State Representative Ken Goike, (R-District 33), vice-chair of the House Tourism Committee, joined Genetski and Pettalia on Monday’s visit to the area.