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St. Joseph harbor closed to commercial vessels; emergency dredging needed

Posted on October 26, 2022

Unexpected changes likely caused by recent weather have shut down a southwest Michigan port.

The St. Joseph harbor is closed to commercial vessels until further notice after the carrier ship Manitowoc encountered shoaling conditions last Thursday in the outer harbor. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has since confirmed the shoaling conditions, and efforts to secure emergency dredging are now underway.

The Manitowoc, a 630-foot carrier loaded with limestone, was preparing to enter St. Joseph Harbor when they discovered the conditions, according to St. Joseph Harbormaster Michael Moran.

“Shoaling is where sand drifts across the river – basically like snow drifting across the road in winter,” Moran said. “The [Manitowoc] was able to move to deeper water under its own power with no damage or injury. There was no pollution or discharge from this event.”

Moran said the sand has basically blocked about half the channel, maybe more. Storms causing gale-force winds and 15-foot waves last week are the likely culprit, according to Moran.

“There is an area of significant shoaling outside the pierheads off the North Pier,” he said. “In some areas, depths are less than 12 feet, which is less than the 21 it should be.”

Moran said he has been in contact with the Army Corps every day, and officials are looking to secure funding for the emergency dredging.

“We’re still scheduled to get about 10 to 15 boats this season,” Moran said. “So, the longer the channels close, the more problems it’s going to cause.”

The shipping companies are also working to see if there is a way to get in the part of the channel that is not shoaled off.

“Plans are being explored that could involve possibly marking a ‘safe’, narrow channel around the shoaling to allow vessel traffic to resume,” said Moran, in a Facebook update. “If this happens, it would have to be done VERY carefully in ideal weather as the channel would be narrow, but it is a possibility.”

Moran said all hands are on deck to get the situation corrected. Even Congressman Fred Upton’s team is working toward a solution.

“Everyone’s working really hard on this,” he said. “We’re trying to get all the answers we can and get things reopened.”

Stay tuned for more updates as they become available.


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