TRAVERSE CITY - Gov. Rick Snyder will call for spending $11 million this year to dredge Michigan harbors in danger of losing their connections to open water because of low Great Lakes levels, aides told The Associated Press on Friday.
The Republican governor will include the proposal in his 2013 budget, which will be released next week, spokesman Kurt Weiss said. It's part of a broader initiative being developed by state agencies to help water-starved harbors as the federal government cuts back on dredging and the lakes continue declining because of drought and warm temperatures that boost evaporation rates.
Other steps will include expediting Department of Environmental Quality permits for dredging projects, lobbying the federal government to boost funding and devising a long-term strategy to pay for keeping harbors deep enough for recreational and commercial vessels to move between docks and the open lakes.
This is an aerial view of the Grand Marais Harbor on Lake Superior, which has long struggled with finding funds for dredging operations. Gov. Rick Snyder will call for spending $11 million this year to dredge Michigan harbors. (Burt Township photo)
"Michigan needs to be open for business, and our port and harbor communities need to have reasonable access to the water," Jon Allan, director of the DEQ's Office of the Great Lakes, told the AP. "It's their lifeblood for the summer."
Michigan has 56 harbors and channels that the federal government is responsible for maintaining, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to dredge only six of them this year. They are in Detroit, Saginaw, Manistee, Muskegon, Grand Haven and Holland.
The Corps of Engineers gives top priority to large and medium-sized ports used by commercial vessels. Smaller harbors where the traffic is mostly or entirely recreational "are considered a lower priority under the constrained funding we have now," said Dave Wright, chief of operations with the Corps' Detroit district.
A federal tax on freight shipped at U.S. ports raises about $1.5 billion a year for dredging and harbor maintenance. But about half of the money is diverted to the treasury for other uses. Members of Congress from coastal states are pushing to change that policy. Bills introduced in the House and Senate this week would require that all the money in the fund, which has a $7 billion surplus, be spent on dredging and other harbor and port upkeep.
Allan said he and Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan DEQ, will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to lobby for approval of the measures.