Harbor dredging becomes pressing budget topic

Harbor dredging has become an important topic of discussion as the budget is introduced in Lansing.

Gov. Rick Snyder wants to spend $21 million on dredging Michigan harbors that are becoming too shallow because of slumping Great Lakes water levels.

The governor's proposed budget released Thursday calls for an $11.5 million special appropriation for dredging. Additionally, he wants to transfer more than $9 million from the state waterway fund for the purpose.

The fund usually pays for maintenance of break walls, docks and other harbor infrastructure. Some of those projects would be delayed because of the short-term transfer.

Additionally, aides tell the Associated Press Snyder wants to build a long-term dredging fund with money that would come from a proposed increase in the state gasoline tax.

Federal funding for keeping harbors open has declined in recent years. State officials say it's essential to the Michigan economy to keep harbors open.

Representative Frank Foster introduced legislation on Wednesday that would help pay for harbor dredging this boating season.

Foster said his bill to tap the state's Budget Stabilization Fund, or rainy day fund, as it's known, is necessary as a one-year bridge so the state and federal governments have time to work with local harbor municipalities on a long-term permanent plan for dredging waterways to improve navigability.

"If a good portion of your town and economy is based on the boating business for commerce or recreation tourism, you definitely would see harbor dredging as an emergency situation this summer," said Foster, R-Petoskey. "The state's rainy day fund exists for drastic shortfalls that will affect life in Michigan - dry harbors fit that definition."

Rep. Foster says the low water levels have potential to negatively impact shipping, commercial fishing, and recreational boating in the upcoming year.

Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, has introduced a Senate version of the bill.