Alpena waits on permit to dredge harbor

ALPENA – After receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to dredge its marina, Alpena city officials are waiting for a permit before they can move ahead with the project.

Boaters shouldn’t see any interruptions once the project to maintain the Alpena Small Boat Harbor’s water levels begin, Building Official Don Gilmet said. Other than a few disruptions at the launch ramp, operations will continue as usual. He’s hopeful work will begin in late July or early August, and should take about a week and a half.

Alpena’s harbor is one of 49 across the state to receive a share of a $20.96 million appropriation state lawmakers approved in March. The money will fund projects to address “the most critical short-term dredging needs of harbor communities,” according to a state website detailing the plan. Low water levels, high costs for communities with harbors and marinas and a backlog of dredging work combined to prompt the state to put up the money. By doing so, the state is hoping to preserve what many lakeshore communities rely on as economic drivers.

“Take a city like Alpena, and that’s one of our front doors, coming in off the water,” Gilmet said.

Rogers City and Harrisville received grants for their harbors as well, with Rogers City getting $227,500 and $280,000 going to Harrisville.

As of now, the Alpena harbor has around 6.5 feet of water, enough for some of the larger research vessels that tie up there to get in and out without trouble, Gilmet said. He’s hoping to keep traffic flowing by using $805,000 granted by the state to remove around 30,000 cubic yards of soil from the bottom of the harbor.

“The lakes are actually up right now, up from where they were last year,” he said. “We’re not sitting too bad right now. Boats can get in and out but it would be hard for larger sail boats to get in and out, or the really large pleasure craft.”

Boats that can’t get into the marina still can use Thunder Bay River, Gilmet said. Other than a spot behind the former federal building, the south side between the marina and the Second Avenue bridge is managed by the marina.

In June, average Lake Huron-Michigan water levels hit 577.19 feet above sea level, up slightly more than a foot from January when the lake averaged at 576.02 feet, according to Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory data. The lakes, which are considered hydrologically to be one body of water due to the connection at the Straits of Mackinac, hit a record low at the beginning of the year.

Before dredging can begin, Gilmet is waiting to receive a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality, he said. The permit also is split with the Department of Natural Resources and the United States Corps of Army Engineers, the latter of which has a say on any projects affecting navigable waterways. Alpena’s permit is still open for public comment.

Once the public comment period ends, Gilmet will put the project out to bid, he said. More than 20 samples of the marina’s bottom soil were analyzed for contaminants, and none were found. This will make it easier for the city to deal with the soil removed during dredging.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at