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March 27, 2013     Post 36
Saving Our Channels

Lake Ontario Log Story Spring 2013

As Log readers may recall, I've written before on lake water levels. But I haven't addressed another aspect of the topic- its impact on channels (and keels). As some of you who own boats with keels may be all too aware already, we on the south shore of Lake Ontario face a building danger to our navigable channels and small boat harbors. For various reasons including a changing environment and its impact on siltation rates, and International politics, our harbor channels are filling in.

Late last August when we set out with “Sara B” with her five foot draft we were told that several of our planned destinations were problematic. People were running aground in Wilson and Oak Orchard and boats were being hauled early in Pultneyville because of low water and silted in channels. Our own Fair Haven channel had one high spot close to the west jetty less than six foot in September. While the first boaters to notice the problem are those with fixed keels, inevitably, even smaller power boats eventually will be endangered by breaking waves in excessively shallow channels.

Some of the most motivated people working on the problem include “six pack” charter boat skippers (like myself!) who operate smaller fishing boats.

I live near Port Bay, where the short channel is maintained by the property owners' association using shore based excavators. They typically dig it out to around six feet. Last fall in just a few weeks, that privately maintained entrance completely filled in. ( see photo). A single storm can move tons of sediment into a channel in a very short time.

The problem exists on all the Great Lakes and is particularly acute on Lake's Michigan and Huron where the water is two feet below the long term average. In fact, deferred maintenance of recreational harbors and waterways is as national problem. And if the climate scientists are running good models with their computers, the outlook is grim.

More storms, less anchor ice, greater evaporation rates for the ice free lakes, and increased erosion and sediment transport may make the problem worse. In the recent past the various recreational “harbors of refuge” were dredged with “pork barrel” money obtained by sympathetic Congressmen responsive to their constituents local needs. Alas, so called 'ear mark' money is no longer available to keep harbors open.

And national politics do not look good for recreational boating infrastructure in general, despite the fact that recreational boating pumps millions of dollars into the local economy. For the Great Lakes as a whole, boaters spend billions - 7 billion for Michigan alone. So is this the new normal? And if it is, how do we adapt?

There are potential solutions. One is to lobby the feds for a re-allocation of money designated originally for dredging harbors on the lakes that has since been diverted to other budgets. Chuck May of the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition has been tireless to do just this. He even managed to get his Michigan state government to kick in ten million for badly needed dredging. He suggests that all of us start making 'crowd noise' directed at both the folks in DC and at our own Albany based Pols.

The Small Harbors Coalition encourages all Great Lakes boaters to lobby for bringing two bills, H.R. 335 and S 218 (RAMP Act) to the floor for a vote. RAMP (Realizing America's Maritime Promise) Act would assure that money budgeted for harbor maintenance would actually be appropriated. Another effort targets state government for supplemental relief. State and Federal representatives need to be contacted and urged to sign on. Even if the Feds free up money it will be 2014 at the soonest before any of it might come our way. And we will be in competition with harbors on the salt water coasts for maintenance.

Stay tuned for more on this topic.

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