Dock owners: future of St. Joe Harbor in jeopardy

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. – Emergency dredging finally started on Lake Michigan Sunday morning. The St. Joseph Harbor has been closed for about three weeks, in mid-December a ship got stuck on a sandbar and put the commercial shipping industry on hold.

As soon as the weather was favorable and the waters calmed, contractors got out on the dredging boats to deepen the channel, but dock owner John Kinney said this is just a quick fix to an ongoing, critical problem.

“This is a short term solution; I almost want to call this a band-aid on a bullet hole,” Kinney said.

Owner of Central Dock in Benton Harbor said he’s lost more than one-hundred-thousand-dollars this year because ships haven’t been able to get through the channel. “A lot less product is coming across this dock which long term is going to cost the consumer a lot more money.”

The shipping season is almost over, docks shut down on January 15th and now they’re rushing to get ships in and good delivered before the lake freezes.

Kinney said eight more ships were supposed to come in before the end of the season, but now because it is getting so late, only four will be coming in. Now, the rest of the deliveries will have to be trucked in and that will cost a whole lot more time and money.

“A truck will hold 55 ton, a vessel can bring in 12-thousand, it’s just simple math,” Kinney said.

The cost will go up for everyone if boats cannot get into the harbor, and that’s exactly what will happen if another sandbar build up and ships aren’t able to get through. Kinney said, “No boats is going to cost everybody more money”

Two or three more storms and Kinney said the channel will close back up, “If it fills in, these docks are closed,” Kinney said.

The St. Joseph Harbor should open on Monday, but Kinney said he’s worried about the future, “That’s where the real problem comes in because in the long term picture of this thing there is no money available for dredging this harbor next year.”

Local dock owners are frustrated because the Federal Government is not paying for the dredging. Shippers said they pay a special tax each time they dock and that money is supposed to go to maintain the harbors, but so far those funds have not been used for that.

“Why they won’t release this money to dredge these harbors and keep all of these people employed and businesses open is completely beyond all of us,” Kinney said.

On Monday Congressman Fred Upton will hold a press conference to discuss his plan to change government funded for projects like dredging the harbor so it can stay open for business.

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