US allocates $1.5M for harbor dredging

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette The view near Ontonagon Harbor could include more ships on the horizon in the coming years after the federal government on Tuesday announced congressional approval of $1.5 million for dredging.

ONTONAGON — After months of letter writing and continued efforts to get the Ontonagon Harbor dredged, $1.5 million in funding has been approved.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the 2018 fiscal additions with Ontonagon among the $79 million in projects.

The additions come after Congress appropriated extra funding for the fiscal year 2018 Energy & Water Development Appropriations Act, part of the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, according to an Army Corps release.

For months the region has been pushing for harbor dredging with letters of support from the Village Council, County Board and the Economic Development Commission to representatives and the Army Corps.

EDC member Alan Ralph was encouraged by the announcement, noting that the specific allocation of funds and level of funding were both good signs.

The 2016 partial and fall dredge job that filled in during the winter was between $800,000 and $900,000, he explained.

The $1.5 million is an indication the dredge will be more thorough this time around.

“It’s exciting because it’s a piece of the puzzle,” he said.

However, Ralph cautioned the timing must be right this time around.

“Nobody on the EDC or in Ontonagon wants this to be dredged until next spring,” Ralph said, pointing to the failure of the dredging.

He said this dredge won’t be a one-time fix, either.

“There’s just an ebb and flow of materials near the mouth of any river. It’s not just Ontonagon, but ours is considered a safe harbor and deepwater port, and it’s the key to shipping in a lot of materials in and out of the Upper Peninsula,” Ralph said.

Lynn Rose of the Army Corps said Wednesday that official details of the project will not be released until late September when the contracts are awarded. Included then will be a timeline on the dredge and the details on the amount to be dredged.

“We appreciate the amount that we do have and we’re ready to get out there and do the work,” Rose said.

If scheduling goes as the EDC hopes, Ralph said ships will start using the harbor next spring, generating economic benefit for the area.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” he said. “All of this stuff is going to take years, but you know the old saying, ‘Every journey begins with a single step.’ This community is coming back from 20 years of depression.”