Friday, October 25, 2013


One of approximately eight dump trucks that hauls dredging
spoils on the six-mile route to the
town gravel pit, off Gunnlaugsson Road.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The Detroit Harbor dredging project, the digging and hauling part of this project, is now in week five, and approximately 25% of the total project depth for the channel has been achieved.

That figure, 25%, is an approximation that is based on counts of barge-loads of spoils.  Actual figures will be derived from the differences calculated from pre and post-project depth contours.  But, the estimates show weekly progress in what is not necessarily straight-forward digging by the primary contractor, Roen Salvage Company of Sturgeon Bay.   When weather permits, an excavator digs on a round-the-clock basis.  Off-loading of the spoils barges and trucking occurs only between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.  This window for trucking - most of it during daylight - is intended to reduce noise for residents when the trucks pass by homes and businesses.  It also enables better and easier monitoring of loads, road conditions and dumping at the spoils site.

It's surprising and annoying that with what should be considered a positive project with the island's welfare in mind, that there are still a number of detractors.  Whether they're driven by personal business reasons, ego magnification, or just plain small-town pettiness, the complaint calls (some anonymous), whether about trucking, digging or otherwise managing this large project with many pieces, it gets old after awhile.

We've heard some rumbling about those occasional large stones that were dug from the bottom of the harbor, then set aside on the Potato Dock because they're too large to fit into dump trucks without removing the tailgates.  To whom do they belong, and, aren't they Town property?  

Perhaps the Town of Washington might wish to mark the Community Center parking lot with those beauties.  For now, at least, those stones considered too large to haul in trucks (because they would require tailgates to be removed) have been set aside along the western edge of the Potato Dock, just to get them out of the way.  Perhaps they'll be moved later, and perhaps not.  It's up to the Town.

We should make clear, once and for all, that use of the Potato Dock facility for this project (a private property leased by Washington Island Ferry Line) is being made available at no cost to the Town or to any contractor.  The pier, given its geographic location a short distance from the channel, is a logical place to unload dredge spoils, moor barges, and position other related equipment.  We've called it "our contribution" to making this project work, and it further reduces the overall cost of the project.   WIFL does not intend to charge "tipping fee" for stones placed on the Potato Dock, whether such placement is permanent or temporary.  Perhaps the Town of Washington will offer these stone as souvenirs to interested citizens who may bid for them and pay for trucking to their properties.

Let's get real, people!

Thankfully, detractors of projects such as this  (who, by the way, always have the better solution) are a very small minority.  The majority of Island citizens and visitors plainly see the need to get this work done, and they understand that when you dig and transfer mud and stone there will always be dust, minor spillages, busted blacktop and the associated noise of engines and machinery.  All of this comes to a halt when the project depth is achieved, or it will come to a temporary halt when freezing and ice enters the picture.

Dave Hanlin runs two of the trucks for the offload.  Shown is Rich Ellefson,
unlocking the tailgate of the truck he's driving for Hanlin. 

It looks now like the change in seasons with freezing temperatures will shut down dredging operations in late December or January, before this project is completed.  If that is the case, then dredging would resume when the ice is melted and when WDNR permits allow for the continuation of digging.

Economic benefits, too

Everyone knows that without a harbor deep enough to navigate, the Island's economy and our community would be in jeopardy.  But along with this necessary and considerable work being accomplished by a number of contractors and workers, there is a positive economic spin-off.  Dollars are spent in motels, restaurants, stores and other establishments.  Workers engage in twelve-hour shifts, and during that time they eat lunches purchased locally.  When not on duty, they sleep and eat on the Island.  Lunch breaks for truckers consist of food grabbed on-the-fly, resulting in hundreds of dollars in food each week from restaurants and stores.  (Two trucks were parked briefly at the Albatross one noon, as their drivers ordered lunch-to-go.)

 A loaded material barge approaches the Potato Dock.
The shore-based crane swings the empty away from
the pier to make room.  The dredge is in the background.

We should also recognize there are Wisconsin taxpayer dollars, paid to Wisconsin contractor companies, and to their to workers and subcontractors, workers who, with few exceptions, live in our state and pay Wisconsin income taxes.  The primary contractor is Roen, Sturgeon Bay based, and most of their men are from Door County.  The trucking is nearly all by island men, and the trucks are owned by Islanders.  How much more local can we get in terms of keeping these dollars near home?   Paychecks, fees and products purchased result in multiple turnover of dollars, further helping to strengthen local and state economies.  Nowhere will the impact be appreciated, however, as much as at our local, Island level.

Remember the visit from Senator Feingold about six years ago, with whom the topic of dredging of the Detroit Harbor federal channel was first broached?

Given the long run-up to achieving a shovel-ready, fully-funded project, I count myself among those pleasantly surprised by the way things have thus far progressed.   This is a huge undertaking, with major expense, and we need to thank our lucky stars it is happening today. (We need to thank our key legislators, too, for their steadfast support resulting in funding legislation).  Future generations of Islanders and Island visitors, we hope, will not be adversely impacted by low water in Lake Michigan, such that it could jeopardize ferry transportation or drop property values.

-  Dick Purinton


Bill Tobey said...

Thanks for the update Dick. Very good commentary on the value of the project and the pictures are great too!

Anonymous said...

don't forget that our town chairman, your employee, promised to replace all the roads along the dredging route upon completion of this dredging project and also promised to daily clean the roads of this dust, dirt and debris, which is not currently being done.