"Millions of Dollars at Work for PA Harbor"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Friday, December 3, 2010

Many changes are taking place in the world today, many we hardly notice even though they occur right before our eyes.

An outstanding change I noticed before I left Port Austin in mid-November was indeed right in front of all eyes to see. The dredging of Port Austin’s harbor drew hundreds of onlookers, and I was one of them every day.

I’ve observed dredging of the harbor many times over the years. Each was performed in a different manner. The first dredging I saw was quite simple. They dug up the bottom — mud, rocks and sand, and loaded it on a barge, then pulled the barge straight north of the harbor. About two miles beyond the Port Austin Reef Light, they simply dumped the load in about 80 feet of water. This operation created an underwater island that comes up to about 50 feet and has been affectionately referred to by local fishermen as the “Junk Pile.” The area has been a popular fishery for years and many believe it to be a nursery for lake trout, walleye and at one time, perch and whitefish.

As years passed and scientist and environmentalist studied, it was decided this type of dredging was unhealthy because it stirred up sediment — chemicals and waste materials then deposited them back into the lake.

Another dredging of the harbor I recall was a completely different operation. A huge, oil-fired dragline on a barge was used. Black, smoky soot could be seen for miles and much of it settled on cars, boats, homes and any other items outside. Spoils were dropped along the shoreline to partially drain back into the lake. After the piles dried, they were loaded on trucks and hauled to a dump site. This not only contaminated the air but spread mud on roads around the dock area, which was tracked all over town. Needless to say, with little or no scientific study, this was determined not the best way to perform the required dredging.

A few years later, the inner harbor and Bird Creek needed to be cleaned out to continue operation of the marinas, and its many seasonal docks. There was considerable study done before this project got under way. A sand sucker type dredge was used to suck the spoils off the bottom and pump them into a pre-made storage area. A large hole was dug then lined with vinyl and water, and relief drains were installed that eventually allowed water to run off after being filtered through sand. It was required the creek be partially blocked for a time, but most businesses were not adversely affected.

The fact the previous job in Port Austin’s harbor had worked well was discussed and a similar project was set up years later for the Grindstone basin. No hole was dug and no lining used, but a sucker type dredge was set up with hundreds of feet of tube that pumped the spoils into an old, unused grindstone quarry. It was thought since these quarries held water the spoils would be held safely. Unfortunately, because the sand stone in the quarries was in layers and cracks prevailed, the runoff actually washed through them and allowed liquids to collect on beaches and waterfront property. By the time dredging concluded, the flow had become forceful and a runoff of green, foul smelling drainage was deposited all along the shore. It seems the engineering of this project was less than perfect, and many nearby property owners feared their wells were contaminated.

Millions of dollars worth of equipment arrived by truck and barges to accomplish the latest dredging effort in Port Austin’s harbor. To control material runoff, an area to receive the dredgings was developed, sediment went from bottom to barge, and a continuous fleet of trucks delivered it to that site. This job is far superior to any previous one, and was a fine example of modern day progress.

Construction and maintenance changes on and around the water have advanced and boats that ply our waterways are also advancing. My next column will reveal some of my adventures into the future of boating — and perhaps our planet.


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