Bill would float marinas a state loan for dredging costs

REGION – Drops in water levels of the Great Lakes are prompting lawmakers to protect summer recreational boating.

A House proposal would award emergency state loans to commercially-owned marinas for dredging services that will let pleasure boaters more easily dock their crafts. As temperatures get warmer and people plan their vacations, lawmakers say they’re concerned about Michigan’s $8 billion tourism industry.

“It’s not unusual for the state to try to assist an industry when they’re dealing with extraordinary circumstances,” said Rep. Scott Shackleton, R-Sault Ste. Marie, the bill’s sponsor. “Some of these marinas are in terrible shape. These folks need some help.”

Dredging removes the sediment, sand and rocks at the bottom of a body of water. With water levels approaching record lows, larger pleasure boats increasingly will be difficult to dock.

“I’d rather not just give them the money, but I think it’s appropriate that the state lend some sort of assistance,” Shackleton said.

The measure is currently before the Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Committee and was expected to be addressed on April 27. Shackleton said the bill should have wide support from both parties.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Rep. Doug Bovin, D-Gladstone, a co-sponsor of the bill. “We’re the Great Lakes State. We have to do as much as we can to utilize that. We have recreational boat needs, and if we have our traditionally nice summer of boating, it doesn’t do us any of good if we don’t have access to those waters.”

Loans would be provided to marina owners on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The intent is to get this quickly in place,” Shackleton said. “Let’s get the money out and get it working. These folks need some help.”

Kathy Aylsworth, co-owner of Glen Craft Marina and Resort in Glen Arbor, said her marina is feeling the pinch of low water levels. She is looking at estimates for dredging, but said she isn’t sure she’ll need the loan program.

“We’d like to begin dredging as quick as we can–the weather is getting much warmer,” Aylsworth said. “Our bigger boats are going to have to be careful.”

She said the loan program may help marinas, but it should have been considered sooner because marinas have to prepare now for the busy summer.

Eligible marina owners would be able to borrow the money–a maximum of $50,000–at reduced interest rates. They would have seven years to repay the loans.

Lake levels are approaching record lows because of a lack of snow from an unusually mild winter. Much of the annual water supply comes from the melted snowpack along the shorelines.

Levels have been dropping for the past three years, but the Great Lakes haven’t been this shallow since 1964, when a drought exposed thousands of acres shoreline.

Adam Emerson is a correspondent with Capital News Service, based out of MSU. BIZNEWS