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St. Joseph Can Handle Commercial Dredging, City Manager Says, Recreational Dredging Needs Unclear

Bill Chickering

Posted on September 19, 2016

By John Matuszak, The Herald Palladium

St. Joseph’s city manager doesn’t expect that the community will be in over its head if and when it assumes responsibility for the commercial dredging of its commercial harbor.

Maintaining the St. Joseph River channel for recreational boating, on the other hand, is uncharted water.

On Monday, Berrien County Commissioner Bill Chickering reported to St. Joseph city commissioners and staff about the impending dissolution of the St. Joseph River Harbor Authority. This move, if approved by the Board of Commissioners, would turn the responsibility for maintaining the harbor over to St. Joseph, Benton Harbor and, to a lesser extent, St. Joseph Township.

County Administrator Bill Wolf determined that the local governments have the real authority to make land use decisions along the harbor and should be handling the maintenance and development on the waterfront.

St. Joseph City Manager John Hodgson, attending the Michigan Municipal League’s annual convention on Mackinac Island his week, commented by email Wednesday that taking on the job of keeping the harbor open for commercial shipping should be a smooth transition.

“With regard to the dredging of the commercial harbor, thankfully this has been, and is expected to remain, a federally funded effort carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Hodgson wrote. “The Corps has been a great partner and our area has benefited from Representative (Fred) Upton’s leadership in ensuring the dredging effort receives the needed funding allocation in the federal budget process.”

In order to receive dredging funds, a local sponsoring agency is required. Berrien County has served in that role for 20 years, but Wolf pointed out that there is no legal requirement that it continue in that capacity. Commissioners are expected to vote in October on a resolution to dissolve the Harbor Authority by the end of the year.

Hodgson said city officials have reached out to Benton Harbor and St. Joseph Township leaders to begin discussions on forming a new harbor authority.

In his presentation, Chickering said the local governments will be on their own in funding dredging the river, which does not receive federal funding.

“In some ways the greater challenge is the recreational harbor,” Hodgson agreed. “Based on past years’ experiences the potential costs seem to be less than the commercial harbor, but there is no established process to follow in making decisions, no organization to determine and perform needed work, and no current funding source. In our communities, we have many marinas, boat ramps and individual boaters on the river and who use the river.”

Hodgson said it is fortunate that there are high water levels on the river, which should give communities time to form a plan before dredging is needed. Communities have been told that county officials will be available to assist with dredging projects.

Typically, the commercial harbor needs to be dredged every two years, depending on conditions, while dredging for recreational boating is done every five to 10 years.

The St. Joseph River Harbor Authority has been unsuccessful in the past in convincing local governments and businesses to work together to find a way to ensure that sections of the river are dredged for recreational boaters.

Source: The Herald Palladium

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