Posted on April 19, 2023
Jim Herbert of Westfield recently took us for a walk toward the federal channel at Barcelona Harbor along Lake Erie.
“You can see between those two lights, that’s the break wall,” said Herbert. “That’s the harbor entrance. You can walk across there.”
That’s because it’s filled in with rocks, debris and sediment clogging about a quarter-mile off what’s supposed to be open water. Several commercial fishing boats and others are unable to get through — many have been stuck there for a few years.
“It’s very upsetting,” said Herbert. “And the federal channel is not being maintained.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently announced it was going to dredge the harbor in May, three months earlier than expected.
Town Supervisor Martha Bills says worsening weather conditions over the last five years are to blame.
“Strong storms, high waves and no ice in the winter has caused a lot of damage,” said Bills. “One storm last year, we lost 35 feet of beach and it seems like it’s washing down, up and over the break wall.”
While the Army Corps has dredged in the past, the town continues to work with elected leaders to find a more permanent solution.
“We have generations of families that make a living fishing in the harbor, not to mention all the people that come for recreational purposes to support all the local businesses in the area,” said Bills.
“It’s very frustrating. I mean, this is our whole business,” said Cameron Monroe, owner of Monroe Marina.
Monroe Marina is one of the largest businesses at the harbor, where boats that can’t get out help supply local restaurants. Boats that attempt to go through the other, more shallow opening run the risk of suffering major damage when the water gets rough.
“It’s difficult to have a viable business when your customers can’t reach you,” said Monroe. “And if they can’t get into the harbor, they can’t dock and they’re not going to want to store here if they can’t leave.”
Monroe is grateful for the dredging, but will feel better when he sees equipment in the water.
“It is my livelihood, and I’m not sure what we would do,” said Monroe. “I’m hopeful we don’t have to cross that bridge. If we could just get the harbor usable.”
Monroe and Bills caught up with Herbert, who is not very optimistic and is calling on the federal government to fund the entire cleanup and pay to keep it clear moving forward.
“It’s a Band-Aid,” said Herbert. “It’s going to open it up so we can get in and out. And in two years or three years, it’s going to be the same thing again.”
Crews are expected to take the dredged material out about three miles into the lake for disposal.
Because the federal government owns the channel and the break wall, it’s designated a safe harbor of refuge where boaters can enter during storms. That was created by the River and Harbor Acts of 1938 and 1946.