Clogged-up cove costs commerce

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette A frozen-over Ontonagon harbor will remain inaccessible to ships even after the ice recedes this spring due to a lack of dredging, causing loss of revenue for Ontonagon and add extra costs for businesses to transport goods.

ONTONAGON — The clogged Ontonagon harbor is costing regional businesses and hindering commerce as it remains closed off to ships.

With letters of support from both the Ontonagon County Board and Village Council, the Economic Development Commission (EDC) is pushing state and federal governments to provide funding for dredging the harbor.

EDC member Alan Ralph wants to keep up the pressure on state and federal elected officials.

“We are going to have to emphasize to our elected officials the importance of reopening this river,” Ralph said.

With construction of a biofuel plant imminent and interest from companies transporting goods, the demand for dredging the harbor around the outlet of the Ontonagon River is high and will require commitment, Ralph said.

The site around the river could require yearly maintenance and a full dredge every few years.

While the harbor remains undredged, the village and the EDC is losing money, said EDC member Pat Tucker.

The 2017 loss of the four boats that planned to use the port was around $50,000, Tucker said, when considering losses from preparation and the $41,000 in loss of the shipping revenue.

However, the loss of ships this year should also be considered, Tucker said. Ontonagon is a preferred location for many businesses, and the EDC has had no choice but to turn away interested businesses due to the blocked harbor entrance.

One company informed Tucker the inability to use the harbor was costing a significant amount of money, with shipments needing to go to Duluth, Minnesota, instead.

EDC President Sue Preiss also raised the issue of Ontonagon’s safe harbor status for ships in distress. As things stand now cargo ships would be unable to enter the harbor.

The EDC will be sending a letter to elected representatives, with an additional request to provide line-item funding to the United States Army Corps of Engineers so the funds cannot be sent to other projects higher on the Corps’ priority list.