VERMILION — Shallow spots in the Vermilion River and harbor that have proved a headache for some boaters should be deepened by this fall thanks to a $500,000 state grant.
City officials received word Friday that the Recreation Harbor Evaluation Grant Program of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft is awarding the city and its Port Authority a dredging grant worth $506,000.
The amount is even more than the original $475,000 grant the city originally applied for in April. After that application, the city sought $25,000 in additional dredging funds when the state extended the deadline to June 1.
“This is especially good news for us,” Mayor Eileen Bulan said Friday. “Both the state and federal governments have been very helpful in processing the Corps of Engineers dredging permit.”
Vermilion’s harbor has the distinction of being the biggest for recreational boating on the Great Lakes, which made dredging work a priority.
Police have handled more calls from boaters stuck near the harbor’s western breakwall in the past two years than in the previous 25 years, according to Vermilion police Sgt. Gordon Adams.
The situation even led to a yacht getting stuck as it entered the harbor in early May.
Local marinas have tried to help by teaming with the Vermilion Boat Club to foot the bill for about $50,000 in private dredging work so boaters can move from local docks to the harbor channel.
The city must wait to receive the permit, which has a 15-day waiting period, and see the release of grant money from the state before bidding out the dredging work.
Once the city contracts for the work with a commercial dredging company, the actual work is estimated to take four to six weeks, according to Bulan.
A combination of factors led to water depths being 2 to 3 feet shallower in the harbor area.
It was blamed in part on unusually warm and dry winters in 2011-12 compounded by tons of silt settling in the harbor because of superstorm Sandy last fall.
Adding to the situation is the Army Corps of Engineers last dredged the harbor in 2004. The Corps used to dredge the harbor every few years, but federal budget cuts now limit dredging work to much larger, commercial shipping harbors.
Heavy rains since the spring alleviated the situation in Vermilion but not enough, according to the mayor.
Depth soundings and testing of silt content in the area led to recommendations by state and federal officials that 45,800 cubic yards of matter be removed, Bulan said.
State and federal authorities told the city it can deposit whatever is dredged into the lake instead of having to haul it away by trucks as was the case in the past, Bulan said.
Despite the size of the grant, city officials realize it won’t be quite enough money to remove the recommended amount of silt.
“We’ll do as much as we can,” Bulan said. “We’ll get the worst spots first and go from there.”