Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Long underwear and patience were the order of the day 
back in early March when Mike Kahr's barge returned to Detroit Harbor to 
dredge near the island docks.   Hoyt Purinton will be in short sleeves, and smiling, 
when he sees the Roen Company construction barge
enter port later this summer.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

There was never a certainty, but quiet optimism prevailed until the moment when the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee approved a measure yesterday in the state's budget bill for $5.2 million to dredge the Detroit Harbor channel.  This is believed to be the most difficult hurdle to funding the channel dredging project.

Rep. Garey Bies said, “This is great news for the residents of Washington Island.   I’m thankful to the members of the committee who listened to my concerns and prioritized funding for the project."

Bies also commented on the potential economic loss should the channel impede regular ferry transit:

"While the safety of the residents of the Island is the biggest concern, I was also worried about the significant economic impact a loss of ferry access would mean to the Island and our district as a whole. Year-round access generates more than $16 million in annual economic activity through the transportation of passengers, vehicles and cargo." 

This is about the best news we've had in this corner of Lake Michigan since an effort was begun in August of 2007 to gain the attention of government officials. At that time, beginning with an historic, in-person visit by then sitting Senator Russel Feingold, the project was posed but water levels weren't as extreme as they soon became during late 2012.   Several meetings attended by local, state and federal officials brought sympathy for our situation, and behind-the-scenes conversations took place, but the effort didn't seem to be of a serious nature until work with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Harbor Assistance Program (HAP) began in 2011.

Last June, as you may recall, Washington Island's 2012 HAP grant was turned down, and for several good reasons.  Efforts were made to provide better engineering data, and this was augmented by a Wisconsin HAP grant for approximately $150,000 late in 2012.  Bottom core samples, exacting yardage fignure - in short, a project ready for bids, resulted from that grant, and it culminated in three contractor bids for the actual project last month.  While no official selection has been made, the Roen Salvage Company of Sturgeon Bay was low bidder and is expected to be awarded the contract once the HAP funds are officially secured.   The $5.2 million figure represented the combined total of the Roen bid, plus engineering fees, plus contingency, plus anticipated island road repair costs from heavy truck traffic.

The Joint Finance Committee's vote (12 to 4) won't be the final hurdle.   Action is still needed in the State Senate and Assembly, with the governor's signature after that.    The earliest possible formal, final approval would take place in late June as the state's two-year budget is approved.

The significance of this recent action, put forward by our State Senator Frank Lasee and his staff members, and Garey Bies and his staff on behalf of Washington Island, is that the money is marked for Detroit Harbor.   Other ports will have a chance to apply for other available money in the HAP grant pool, but Washington Island's project has been underscored as being essential and not to be upstaged by other needed commercial port work.

Thanks through email, phone call or letter is due Senator Lasee, Rep. Bies for their legislative work, and to members of the Town of Washington Board who stuck with the HAP program application process through a second round.   
Contact information for Rep. Garey Bies:  
         Toll free phone:   888482-0001     or email:
                     P.O. Box 8952    Madison, Wisconsin   53718-8952
State Senator Frank Lasee's contact information:  
         Phone:   608-266-3512                       email:        
                       State Capitol Rm. 3165, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, Wisconsin  53708

Town Chairman Joel Gunnlaugsson took
the call with the good news from Rep. Garey Bies at the Northport
pier late Tuesday afternoon.
Other good news coupled with this extraordinary legislative action for Washington Island is that Lake Michigan's level continues to rise slightly each week.   In yesterday's brisk, southerly breeze, water levels were at their highest since sometime in early August of 2012.

-   Dick Purinton

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