State To Provide $$ For Local Harbor Dredging
It was a potent trio that finally convinced Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his staff to add the Saugatuck area to the list of recreational harbor communities to receive state funding for much-needed dredging this year.
That threesome with the one-two-three punch includes State Rep. Bob Genetski (R-Saugatuck), Felicia Fairchild, executive director of the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Yorktown cruise ship.
The Saugatuck-Douglas community has been hit hard by low lake levels, but when Governor Snyder announced in February that $21 million dollars had been earmarked for dredging Michigan harbors, Saugatuck-Douglas was not on the list.
That has now changed.
The news comes this week as a relief to the lakeshore community, which banks on the economic impact of recreational boaters during the summer months.
Many say it was the news of a large cruise ship’s return to Saugatuck that helped push the funding through.
The docking of the Yorktown along the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck in the summer of 2012 was big news, but low water levels stirred concern the ship wouldn’t navigate the channel.
“The corps of engineers said if they hit a swell, even a sailboat, they could hit ground like that,” said Fairchild. “It’s dangerous.”
Following a successful season in 2012, the ship will dock in Saugatuck at least a half-dozen or more times in the summer of 2013, but with water levels the lowest they have been since the early 1900s, the ship needs at least 10 feet of water to make its way in.
A tough tourism season there means fewer sales tax dollars for the State of Michigan, perhaps a selling point for state approval of dredging funds.
“We are one of the few harbors this year that will welcome a cruise ship, the Yorktown, and I think the negative press of not bringing that ship in could be a concern for the state,” said Rep. Genetski.
Letter after letter has been written to the governor, asking for help clearing the channel. That funding has just now been approved and city leaders are hopeful the news comes with enough time to draw in others.
“The recreational boating industry has an economic impact of about $25 million a year, it’s huge,” said Fairchild. “Even more than that and the tourism impact here is about $255 million a year.”
Last year the Yorktown alone brought in $40,000 for city tours, and nearly $700,000 in media coverage for the state.
“It’s going to alleviate some of those concerns, which is why it is so important to get the word out that we are solving the problem,” said Fairchild.
Genetski said that he hopes the paperwork will be on the governor’s desk within the next two weeks.
It was Genetski who reportedly used his political experience, negotiating skills, a little arm twisting and deal making to get the governor and his staff to finally recognize the importance of including the Saugatuck harbor on the list for dredging funding.
In early spring crews will come out and survey the channel to see just how much work needs to be done.
Local marina owner R.J. Peterson is on the Michigan Waterways Commission and says dredging the area would be a relatively low cost.
“It only requires about $150,000 and we have a local dredge operator, so we could probably get a reduced price,” says Peterson.
The Yorktown is slated to make its first visit of the summer in early July.