Low water levels, not low funds, maybe the biggest threat to the 2013 boating season in New Buffalo’s 1,000-vessel recreational harbor.
“The water level is 17 inches below what it was this time last year. That’s huge, almost a foot and a half. We’ve broken the record low since the Army Corps of Engineers has been keeping records,” said Robin Abshire, New Buffalo Recreation Facilities Superintendent, at the Harbor Commission’s Feb. 7 meeting.
The low level threatens to bring major headaches to the city’s launch ramp on the Galien River, on the federal channel from the Whittaker Street Bridge through the mouth of the harbor and in the city’s transient marina.
Hoping for the best from Mother Nature, the New Buffalo Harbor Commission is taking steps to have all systems go when the boating season begins in early April.
“Let’s get the ball rolling now so we’re ready to go,” said Commissioner Brian Flanagan.
Commissioners instructed Abshire to secure bids for dredging both the federal channel and the Galien River from the bridge to the city’s launch ramp.
Technically, the harbor mouth and federal channel are the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers. However, in 2009 the City created an Emergency Dredging Fund for use when federal funds for dredging are lacking.
This year, the fund has nearly $135,000 and has been granted $150,000 from The Pokagon Fund. The City matches funds collected from launch ramp users and slip owners in the private harbors such as The Moorings, Oselka Marina, South Cove and Lake Michigan Yacht Club. Dredging on the Galien River will be funded jointly by Harbor Pointe and the City.
The federal channel is cleared using a hydraulic method that pumps the dredged sand onto the shore for beach nourishment. Silt dredged from the river is done mechanically and must be trucked to a remote site.
“The two processes are independent of each other, but we hope to get some savings by bidding the two projects together,” Abshire said.
Abshire also will explore the cost to install an articulated ramp at the city’s launch to extend its length far enough into the river to float the boats off their trailers. Low levels last year forced commercial haulers into a two-step retrieval for larger boats.
Although Harbor Commissioner Bob Spirito said he the thought the cost for the articulated ramps would “be out of sight,” Ashire said she would gather additional information.
“I’m not going to make any assumptions until I have the facts. We have to ask what happens to the economy in this community if the ramps are rendered useless,” Abshire said.
The city already has a Department of Environmental Quality permit for adding loose rocks at the foot of the ramp.
“Let’s dump the rocks now so the silt can begin to fill in and we’re ready to go in spring,” Spirito said.
Flanagan asked if the city would relax its restrictions on times for commercial launchers if the low water levels pushed them into a time crunch. Abshire suggested the commissioners request the City Council to review the existing ordinance that limits commercial haulers.
“As harbormaster it is not my goal to infringe on your operations based on some old policy,” Abshire said.
Commercial operators may launch from 9 a.m. to one hour before sunset Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays; and only six boats per day on Saturday, Sunday and holidays between the hours of 8 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.
Source: harborcountry-news, February 14, 2013