Municipal marinas in Southwest Michigan are in line for a total of more than $1 million in state funding for maintenance dredging.
The funding from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources emergency dredging initiative would help boaters using the West Basin Marina in St. Joseph, the South Haven Municipal Marina and the New Buffalo Marina.
State Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, and Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, announced that funding for the sites is included in the DNR's emergency dredge plan.
St. Joseph would receive $105,000, South Haven, $436,050, and New Buffalo, $1 million.
In addition, Pscholka said Berrien County has $200,000 available in the state Waterways Fund that could be used to help pay for dredging on the St. Joseph River outside the federal navigation channel.
The St. Joseph River Harbor Authority is developing a plan to dredge sections of the river upstream from the Bicentennial Bridge to improve navigation.
Years of scant snowfall and last year's drought have contributed to record low water levels on Lake Michigan and shallow rivers.
Officials see a difficult season ahead for boaters, though dredging is expected to help.
Pscholka said inclusion of the municipal marinas in the DNR's dredge program is a "first step in the right direction.
"While St. Joseph is on the list, we need to continue to work with the department and others to make sure our harbors are safe, useful and productive," he said. "Shipping on the Great Lakes saves hard-working consumers millions of dollars compared to trucking those materials on our roads."
The DNR emergency dredging initiative includes a harbor-by-harbor proposal of funding requests from the state along with a detailed approach to improve harbors around Michigan.
The money sought by the DNR would come from the Waterways Fund and general fund.
Before it can be distributed, the Michigan Legislature must concur with Gov. Rick Snyder's recommendation that $21 million be spent for dredging.
The DNR is also looking to the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal government for supplemental funding.
Because they handle ships, commercial harbors such as St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, Holland and Muskegon are supposed to be maintained by the federal government through the Army Corps.
But only a few Michigan harbors have been funded this year. The St. Joseph River Harbor is not on the list.
Proos, a member of the Senate Waterways Caucus, has advocated maintaining public and private harbors.
"Properly maintaining our harbors is critical to the economic viability and the financial bottom line of shippers and importers and to the success of the growing tourism in Southwest Michigan," he said.
The DNR has agreed to waive a requirement that local governments match the funds appropriated to them by the state and will immediately contact communities that are to receive emergency dredging money.
Pscholka, co-chairman of the bipartisan Waterways Caucus, said he's working on long-term solutions to the problems affecting harbors.
"Shipping and recreational boating has a multi-million-dollar impact on our region and is connected to economic development and job creation," he said.
A group of U.S. senators has asked the Army Corps to allocate to Great Lakes harbors some of the federal money set aside to address damage caused in October by Hurricane Sandy.
If approved, Pscholka said, that could mean an additional $500,000 for the St. Joseph River harbor.