FRANKFORT — State legislation that would allocate millions of dollars to dredge Michigan harbors could help cure one of Benzie County's most pressing issues: what to do about historically low water that threatens both business at the Frankfort marina and fish migration at the Betsie River mouth.
Legislation approved by the Senate this week would authorize $21 million for emergency harbor dredging. If the state House concurs, four northern Michigan harbors will receive $3.1 million, including $2.2 million for dredging at Frankfort Municipal Marina.
Frankfort Manager Joshua Mills is optimistic the state will allow local officials to administer the money, if the measure is approved. He believes the community's hot-button issues can be addressed, with state agencies' help.
"Our fishery can be preserved, enabling all fish species to traverse between their spawning grounds in the river and Lake Michigan," Mills said.
Low water prevented some salmon and steelhead from migrating into the river last fall, prompting state officials to limit fishing at the site. Fishing in the Frankfort-Elberta communities is a huge tourism draw: several fishermen said they would cast their dollars elsewhere if fishing conditions didn't improve.
In Leland, where water levels are about three inches below the ordinary low water mark, dredging money would be greatly valued. Leland could receive $420,000 in dredging monies.
"We are holding our breath," said Russell Dzuba, harbormaster in Leland. "The legislation still has to get through the House."
Dzuba said the harbor water level is "as low as its ever been." He added the harbor's health and its ability to attract boating tourists is critical to the scenic Leelanau County community's economy.
"The economic impact this harbor has on this community is incredible," Dzuba said. "If things are soft in the spring and summer, the lady from the grocery store will ask me what is going on and where are the people at."
Elk Rapids Memorial Harbor would receive $420,000 in dredging money. The Northport harbor would receive $87,500.
Other harbors in the area scheduled to receive dredging money include Arcadia Township Veterans Memorial Marina, $133,000; Boyne City's F. Grant Moore Marina, $105,000; Cheboygan's county and city marinas, $615,650; East Jordan City Marina, $420,000; Harbor Springs Municipal Marina, $700,000; municipal marinas in Manistee and Ludington, $43,450; Muskegon Municipal Marina, $175,000; and Petoskey City Marina, $49,000.
The legislation would delay the planned upgrade of a boat launch on the Boardman River. To fund the emergency dredging, the Michigan Waterways Commission recalled over $9 million in marina and boat launch improvement grants statewide, including $156,200 promised to Traverse City for the boat launch project.