November 21, 2014

Elyria
Partly cloudy
18°F
test

State to fund Vermilion River mouth’s dredging

VERMILION — Boaters are assured of at least being able to get from the mouth of the Vermilion River into Lake Erie this summer.

Bill McCarthy, Vermilion Port Authority operations manager, points to a bulkhead that shows where the water level used to be last month in Vermilion.

City officials were notified that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources will pay for and perform dredging work crucial to keeping the river channel open at the mouth of the river to allow boaters, especially sailboats, to move to and from the lake during the city’s busy boating season.

“The (Army Corps of Engineers) and ODNR are going to work together to take testing samples (for sediment) and obtain (dredging) permits,” Mayor Eileen Bulan said Thursday.

The process may take four or five weeks; but barring major hang-ups, the mouth of the river should be dredged by the time boaters come out in force in June.

“They haven’t given us a firm date, but said they’ll work as fast as they can,” Bulan said. “I can’t say enough for the Corps and ODNR and how helpful they have been to us.”

Dredging of the mouth of the river as well as the Vermilion Harbor has been deemed a critical operation for the upcoming boating season in Vermilion, which sports the biggest recreational boating harbor on the Great Lakes.

Marina owners have been nervously anticipating the season thanks to a significant build-up of silt from severe storms, including superstorm Sandy in the fall, unusually warm and dry winter conditions in 2011-12 and a hotter, drier summer in 2012.

Water depths are as low as 3 feet on the west side of the harbor breakwall and about 2 feet shallower in general, according to Bill McCarthy of the Vermilion Port Authority.

“The entrance at the west side of the harbor coming off the lake is very shallow,” Bulan said, saying that exact water depths are yet to be determined from soundings.

How much it will cost isn’t known, but the bill will be paid for through a Waterways Safety Grant made possible by the state’s Recreational Harbor Evaluation Program. Money for the grant comes from Ohio boater registrations.

The city also has applied for a $475,000 grant to deepen parts of the Vermilion River that are outside the river’s federally designated channel from the harbor breakwall to the Liberty Avenue bridge.

“Just to keep the channel open for sailboaters is huge,” Bulan said.

Sailboats require deeper water to maneuver in than powerboats.

Vermilion police have received more calls in the last two years about boats getting stuck near the breakwall than they have in the 25 years prior. Some sailboats returning to port reportedly got stuck at the mouth of the river last autumn.

The city may apply for another state grant to aid with dredging, Bulan said, thanks to an extension of an application deadline to June 1.

Federal budget cuts have limited dredging work to commercial harbors.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which used to dredge the city’s harbor every two to three years, has not done that job since 2004.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.