"Port Austin Needs Harbor Work"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012

Port Austin’s continuing harbor project brings forth mixed emotions — but why?

On July 10, 1989, dignitaries representing the federal government (Army Corp of Engineers), state government (Waterways Commission), county government (commissioners) and village government (council) and elected officials from a wide variety of state and federal agencies gathered aboard the Miss Port Austin. The occasion was to dedicate construction of a second breakwall — which had been long awaited. The officials gathered at the stern of my boat and tossed brightly painted rocks overboard at the position where the new rock breakwall would start.

It was announced at the time the breakwall construction would only be the start of a complete harbor renovation, and the first to combine state and federal dollars. At the end of the dedication ceremony, Judy Wheeler (Waterways Commission chief) introduced a three-phase plan for improvements to the Port Austin Harbor.

The first phase would be the building of new facilities to house the office staff, plus attached showers and restrooms for the boaters visiting the harbor. This very first phase was postponed a few years due to a lack of funding and transfers of funds to harbor projects deemed more urgent.

The new offices and service building even included a laundry room, which boaters truly enjoyed after phase one was completed. Word spread throughout the cruising community that Port Austin’s harbor was a great place to seek refuge from rough seas and enjoy the village just steps away.

The docks were raised and a few temporary efforts applied as the years passed, but further development plans were repeatedly delayed. Vessels that had stopped on passages north soon began to by-pass Port Austin due to the harbor’s need of dredging and the poor condition of the docking facilities. As water levels lowered, the docks were difficult to use and in some cases even dangerous. In recent years, the harbor has held no attraction for boaters.

Some Port Austin residents failed to acknowledge the value of the harbor and felt seeking improvements would fail to provide any big advantage to the town. This thinking always puzzled me. I was a pleasure boater and a commercial business person who was always connected to the harbor. I can assure all the area residents, the improvements will benefit the entire area and reflect favorably on local business. It will add new jobs both at the harbor and in the businesses.

Boaters shop in gift shops, buy grocery and beverage supplies, play miniature golf and try out all of the restaurants as they sit in port. While spending a few days, if a local event takes place, they will participate and spread the word about the fun they had while in Port Austin.

The on-going project work will cause restrictions and inconvenience at the waterfront this season which may be costly for a few businesses. Once completed, combined with the improvements done thus far, I believe Port Austin’s harbor will once again be a favorite stop for boaters. Anglers, using the launch plus fishing ashore, will enjoy the facilities. Visitors to the area, anxious to get a look at the big lake, will stroll the docks in the evening and admire the yachts. They will spend time in our shops and dine in the restaurants. Some will come for fun at the village beach and stay for sunsets.

The completion of our harbor has been a long time coming; it will be like the icing on the cake for Port Austin. Everyone just needs to sit back, be patient and let the work proceed. We will all enjoy sharing our gem at the tip of the Thumb.

We should all extend a great thank you to John Pridnia, whose many hours of effort will help reach the reality of a great harbor in Port Austin.




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