August 30, 2014

Elyria
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Vermilion seeks solutions to low water levels

VERMILION — Dredging of the shallow Vermilion Harbor can’t come soon enough, boaters and marina owners told government officials Wednesday.

“I just want a channel so my boaters know which way to go out to the river,” Linda Taylor, owner of Riverview RV Park and Marina, told officials at a meeting attended by about 120 people at the Vermilion Court Complex.

Because of federal budget cuts, the harbor, which used to be dredged every two to three years, hasn’t been dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers since 2004, according to Bill McCarthy, Vermilion Port Authority operations manager. He said 32,000 cubic yards of sediment were removed in 2004 and an estimated 59,000 cubic yards of sediment need to be dredged from the harbor.

Depths are as low as 3 feet on the west side of the break wall, and McCarthy said depths are nearly 2 feet shallower than normal. The shallowness was exacerbated by drought and superstorm Sandy dumping tons of silt over the break wall in October.

“These are extraordinary circumstances,” said Ken Alvey, meeting moderator and president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, which lobbies for boat dealers and marinas. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a combination of the environmental situations that have occurred.”

Harbor master and police Sgt. Gordon Adams said the Police Department has had more calls about boats getting stuck the last two years than they had in the previous 25. While marina owners stressed there are safe entries and exits on the east side of the break wall, they asked that warning buoys be placed in shallow areas to warn out-of-town boaters.

“A sailor coming in or any large powerboat coming in not knowing the problems will be put in a peril,” said marina owner Don Parsons of Don Parsons Inc.

Officials said the Coast Guard would place buoys within 30 days. However, they made no promises about dredging.

Vermilion applied for a $475,000 grant funded by boater registrations from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for dredging, but water testing and permits come first. That could take six months, according to Rodger Norcross, chief of the department’s Division of Watercraft.

“We’re going to do our best to get this fixed as quick as we can, (but) we can’t control the permit process,” he said.

Marina owners must lease their properties to the authority and pay 50 percent matching fees to get areas around their businesses dredged, said Phil Miller, division resource planning administrator.

“It’s a public benefit, but there’s private benefits associated, so we expect a good, fair partnership,” Miller said.

While the Corps no longer dredges recreational marinas, Joshua Feldmann, operations chief of the Corps’ Buffalo, N.Y., branch, said it might dredge if significant damage from Sandy is proven. He said there was a “glimmer of hope,” and urged marina owners to send any evidence of Sandy damage.

“My hope is that we’re out here to dredge,” Feldmann said. “That’s still dependent on whether or not I can, with a straight face, say there are Hurricane Sandy-related damages here, and we should dredge it.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.