Residents, officials looking for Black River river mouth solutions
ALCONA — Since the early 2000s, Black River, a nearly 15-mile waterway in Alcona County that flows into Lake Huron, has had an issue where sand moves and builds up at the mouth that lets water into Lake Huron.
Fish are easily able to pass through, but for water crafts such as canoes and larger boats, it’s unpassable.
Many residents and officials have different reasons for the origin of the stronger currents that create this buildup, but there is no clear answer for how this started. All anyone knows is that it’s an issue that needs resolution.
The issue was apparent in a television episode of “Michigan Out-of-Doors,” a series dedicated to looking at the many aspects of nature in the state. On the Sept. 7 episode of the series, Erich Carlson, a professional angler in Northeast Michigan, showed the show’s hosts the small and narrow mouth of the river.
He could not get out onto Lake Huron from the boat launch on Black River.
For years, Alcona Township handled the parks around the river and the river itself. To fix any silting and movement, the township had Lafave Excavating come and dredge the sand out of the entryway.
Dredging is a quick solution to the issue, but after a week or after a bad storm, the sand is back to block watercrafts from entering or exiting to Lake Huron.
In 2019, the township gave that responsibility to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources while it handles the parks. Now, the DNR bears the responsibility to fix the issue.
Since then, the DNR continues to dredge the sand and lay it out on the beach.
Dan Gauthier, Steve Bieszki, and Marlena Mac Neill are locals near Black River who are upset with the lack of resolution to the ongoing issue.
Each of them have worked with government officials to try to get the ball rolling on a solution, but are frustrated with the lack of any progress.
“They come out, they dredge this, then they charge back the state of Michigan for the amount of money that’s going to be spent on dredging, ” Gauthier said. “This is nearly crazy when they’ve got the study to do something out here.”
The study Gauthier refers to was conducted by GEI Consultants of Michigan in Oct. 2022. It was a study that the DNR paid for to figure out the best long term solution to the overbearing siltation.
In the conclusion, GEI found the two solutions that meet the objectives of its study would be constructing jetties or a breakwall; although, it said jetties would be “less costly and more likely to be permitted with the appropriate design and sediment transport studies.”
A jetty is a long narrow structure that protrudes out and into the water for people to walk on.
The study said constructing this solution would cost $2 million and that “if the DNR spent as much as $50,000 annually to dredge the mouth of the Black River, the capital cost of the jetties would be equivalent to 44 years.”
Richard Hill, DNR parks and recreation division Gaylord district supervisor, oversees developments on Black River. He said dredging costs can vary, but that an average dredge costs the department $12,000.
Many residents, including emergency responders, say that even if it costs that much, they want it due to concerns for safety and the wellbeing of people.
“The fire department provides fire and emergency services to the entire Alcona Township area to include water emergencies on Lake Huron or Black River,” Alcona Township Fire Department Fire Chief Chad Kamischke said in an email. “Traversing through the mouth is always of great concern as it gets plugged up so frequently. We strongly support fixing the mouth to provide a safe and reliable mouth to access lake huron. Our next closest rescue resource would have to come either from the sheriff in Harrisville or the coast guard out of Tawas.”
Residents like Gauthier also worry for the wellbeing of fish that spawn seasonally in Black River.
Gauthier was a part of the Alcona Black River Watershed Advisory Council, a group created in 2006 to support the wildlife of the river.
On Black River, undersized culverts, which look like small arches for the river to flow through, made the water move faster as it went through the passage, creating problems for fish that swam upstream in the river to lay eggs.
As the council worked closely with government officials to perform studies on the many fish that inhabit the river, it learned that Black River holds native fish species such as Chinook salmon, brook trout, coho salmon, and more.
The culvert and water flow issue was resolved and the council parted ways, but with the dredging, Gauthier is concerned that the digging of sediment is disturbing the fish’s life cycle.
“It’s certainly not good to be dredging out here when the fish are spawning,” Gauthier said. “As our fish are coming in, and spawning, you don’t want you just don’t want this mess. It’s not ecologically good just for the sole reason of all the species of wildlife that use the Black River.”
Hill said the DNR has a permit to dredge up the mouth of the river and it does not have any restrictions in concern for fish spawning.
“We recognize that the river naturally builds up sediment and it creates a challenging issue to resolve,” Hill said. That is why we invested in the study. Now that we have some solutions, as a department, we are evaluating what this could look like.”
Hill said no final decisions have been made for a definitive solution and the DNR is always looking into the matter.
State Rep. Cam Cavitt, R-Cheboygan, has become aware of the issue from residents who call in to his office. He said he thinks it is a large public safety concern and will support the DNR if they decide to ask the state government for funds on a construction project.
“Funding is available, whether it be from grants, bills, or other funds,” Cavitt said. “The DNR does a great job with helping the state’s waterways and the people that live around them. I will be supportive and give letters of recommendation if they need it. The government has money, the DNR has money.”
On Sept. 12, the Alcona Township board unanimously approved the formation of a committee to push a solution forward. Gauthier is the lead person for the committee.