ALPENA - It has been more than 20 years since the harbor in Alpena has been dredged, and as a result, the water levels have reached a point to where larger watercrafts, particularly sailboats, will have a hard time entering and staying in the harbor.
Harbor Master Don Gilmet said the water depths were checked this winter by drilling 80 holes through the ice throughout the harbor and then used sonar to determine how deep beneath the hole.
"There are some problem areas," Gilmet said. "There are areas near the harbor's entrance that are about five feet deep, but then there are others that are only three or four feet deep. It is past the point of needed to be done."
News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
Even though the ice has yet to melt inside the harbor in Alpena, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t activity. Alpena Harbor Master Don Gilmet said tests were done through the ice to determine how deep the water is. Gilmet said sonar was used through 80 holes in the ice and found places that were as shallow as three feet deep.
Gilmet said the lower water depth contributed to the amount of sediment on the harbor's floor. He said there are three primary reasons sediment settles near the docks.
"Well, the strong current from the river brings sediment in because it sort of cuts in because of the breakwall. Once it reaches calmer waters, then it settles," Gilmet said. "Another cause is when weeds grow in the harbor, we kill them and they lay on the bottom like someone's compost pile and over time, the debris turns onto sediment."
Gilmet said the third reason sediment builds up in the harbor is because when large waves crash against the breakwall, the sand finds its way through the cracks into the water on the other side. Gilmet said at this point, sailboats have the hardest time entering the harbor, and some large motor boats can't enter at all. He said not only does it result in a loss of revenue for the city and marina, but it forces some boats to refuel while parked in the river.
"The large boats can't get into the harbor to get to the fuel pumps, so they have to park in the river, and a large truck needs to be used to fill them with up," Gimet said. "Now God forbid something happen and we have a fire or a spill, because we wouldn't be able to handle it the way we would at the marina, because we have the means available there to start cleanup if a gas or oil spill were to take place."
The harbor in Alpena is a federal harbor refuge and may be eligible for federal funds to help pay to have the harbor dredged. Gilmet said Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin are leading the charge to help get funds from the federal harbor maintenance trust fund, which is made up of funds from the tax on cargo move by freighters. Stabenow and Levin are attempting to put measures in place to make sure the funds are used for what they are designed for.
According to Gilmet, the situation in Alpena affects many of the 115 federal harbor refuges around the Great Lakes. With a cost of $600,000 of work to have done, most communities simply can't afford to pay to have the work done on their own.
"This is a common theme for all the harbors in the Great Lakes," Gilmet said. "We're trying to find a way to have it paid for, because obviously the city isn't going to be able to. It doesn't have that kind of money, and not many of the other harbor towns do either."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.