Dredging Michigan's Harbors and Marinas

Given record low water levels we are experiencing throughout the Great Lakes this year, the Michigan legislature has introduced a number of bills to deal with the dredging emergency that is facing our recreational harbors in the state of Michigan. The bills are HB 4106, HB 4398, HB 4399, HB 4400, HB 4197, SB 229, SB 164 and SB 243, and they outline new funding procedures, dredging requirements, evaluation and reporting procedures.
In this blog we give you a brief synopsis of legislation dealing with dredging in our legislature at the moment.
Under SB 229 (Sen. John Moolenaar, R – Midland) and HB 4106 (Rep. Bob Genetski, R – Saugatuck), dredging would be an allowable use for grants from the Natural Resources Trust Fund. MUCC has identified a number of problems with this concept. First, there is strong reason to believe that a grant for dredging would not be an allowable use under the Michigan Constitution. The Constitution declares that the Trust Fund can be used only for the acquisition of public land and for recreational development. The Trust Fund is not to be used for general maintenance, and it is widely believed that dredging is a maintenance project. In addition, dredging projects have a hefty price tag, costing anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions. Because of the price, it would be possible that only one or two dredging grants could wipe out nearly all of the development portion of the Trust Fund, leaving very little left for other communities to use for recreational development projects. There is currently so much demand from local communities for development grants from the Trust Fund that the Trust Fund board can only accommodate about half of the applications. SB 229 and HB 4106 are well intentioned to help with the dredging problem facing many local harbors and marinas that are the backbone of many communities’ summer economies.  However, too many constitutional and practical long-term questions remain about whether this expansion of the Trust Fund is even allowed or in the best interest of the Trust Fund given its historic mission, and MUCC is opposed to SB 229 and HB 4106.
The rest of the dredging proposals, however, get a more favorable report from MUCC.
Senate Bill 164 (Sen. Tom Casperson, R – Escanaba) and House Bill 4197 (Rep. Frank Foster, R – Petoskey) both appropriate 30 million dollars to be used for emergency dredging of harbors. This of course is a counter of the Governor Snyder’s appropriation of 21 million dollars to be used for emergency dredging that is proposed in his 2014 budget. The Governor’s plan to raise $1.2 billion dollars for the state’s transportation infrastructure also states that a portion of new revenues would go to the state’s Waterways Fund to be used for dredging and harbor maintenance.
Of course, there are costs associated with the dredging process. House Bills 4398, 4399, and 4400 (Representatives Pscholka, Price, and Pettalia) – along with a similar SB 264 (Sen. Tom Casperson, R – Escanaba), streamline the DEQ’s permitting process and cuts permit fees for dredging projects where the dredge material is at least 90% sand. If a local unit of government or harbor request a permit for dredging, it would normally cost up to $2000 for the dredging of 10,000 cubic yards or more. If the dredge material has been determined through testing to be at least 90% sand, then the cost of dredging would be reduced to $500.
Senate Bill 243 (Sen. Darwin Booher – R, Evart) requires the DNR to conduct annual assessments of all public harbors to determine the need for dredging and infrastructure improvements. Upon the completion of the assessment, the DNR will be required to post the report on its website. SB 243 also requires that not less than 50% of the Waterways Fund be used for dredging and breakwalls between 2015 and 2021.
All of the above proposals are being currently considered and are starting to move forward.  We hope the legislature will hold on any substantial changes to the Natural Resources Trust Fund, but moves quickly to provide the needed emergency relief for dredging to ensure that the State of Michigan’s waterways are accessible and navigable for the coming year.

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