A bill authorizing emergency dredging funds for 49 Michigan harbors and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday had support from three Northeast Michigan lawmakers.
Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, said he supported the bill for "obvious reasons." His district, the 106th, is a coastal one. It includes Alpena, Alcona and Presque Isle counties, and has three harbors that will receive emergency dredging funds. They are the Alpena City Marina, the Harrisville Harbor and the Rogers City Marina.
Pettalia was also one of three representatives to introduce bills to streamline the dredging process, he said. One bill lowers the permitting fee to $50 from $1,500 and another speeds up the permitting process. Pettalia's allows spoilages, the materials dug up while dredging, to be handled faster.
"It's very, very important that we get this done before the season," he said. "It's economically important. It's not only economically important for the residential boating industry, but for industrial shipping."
Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, said he's pleased Alpena and Harrisville will receive funding to dredge their marinas.
"I think it's really a recognition by the governor and the legislature that dredging is an urgent priority from a safety standpoint, as well as making use of our natural resources, of which we are very blessed in northern Michigan," he said.
Michigan harbors around the state face a challenge from low lake levels, both immediately and in the long-term, Moolenaar said. He and other lawmakers continue to work on policies to address these challenges into the future.
One solution Moolenaar and other senators proposed would be to use Natural Resources Trust Fund money to be allocated for dredging expenses, he said.
"The purpose of this legislation is really to initiate a discussion of the needs of longer-term solutions to our dredging," he said. "We're looking at all sorts of different avenues that would give our state the tools to address this."
Michigan's harbors are a big economic driver in the state, Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, said. His district includes Presque Isle County. While he supported the dredging funds bill, he did so with "a bit of consternation."
"Some of the funding source is waterways funds," he said. "There are already projects that have been approved for the Waterways Commission that were going to use the money, several of them throughout my district."
Walker attempted to amend the bill to include funding for dredging and the previously approved projects, he said. His amendment died in committee for lack of support. He would have liked to tap into $75 million going to the state's budget stabilization fund. Instead, the previously approved projects will be pushed back to next year.
"Be that as it may, the process is a process," he said. "The main thing is, we're at a point where we can do emergency dredging in a timely manner."