(616) 546-4274 Posted Jun. 16, 2014 @ 7:00 am
The commodore of the Saugatuck Yacht Club has been cruising Kalamazoo Lake in his power boat out to Lake Michigan for more than 20 years, and he’s always kept an eye on the dropping water levels.
This year, things are looking up as water levels in the Great Lakes and their connecting bodies have been rebounding, though Kalamazoo Lake remains shallow.
“Nature has provided us a reprieve,” said Demetrios Criezis about the lake levels and the crisis in the harbor that helps feed the Saugatuck and Douglas tourist industry.
Bob Sapita, chairman of the Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority, is grateful for the water rise as well.
“That’s kind of taken the pressure off for now,” he said, saying the group can take the focus off immediate emergency dredging and look to the long-term answer to siltation in the lake.
The 184-acre lake is filling with silt, hindering navigation and threatening the tourist industry.
To remedy the problem, the harbor authority, formed in 2011, came up with a Phase I plan to dredge three channels in the lake to get large boats to marinas, parks and private docks. The authority has all the permits from the state Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Transportation. MDOT was needed to approve a pipe that would take the almost 100,000 cubic yards of dredged materials to a proposed holding area at the Kalamazoo Lake Sewer and Water Authority site in Saugatuck Township to dry.
The total cost for the Phase I dredging is about $1.5 million with another $455,000 for the proposed holding site in the township.
Now, the authority needs money to start dredging or $75,000 to pay for a study to plan on how to stop the siltation of the lake in the first place.
“Ideally we want to do both the Phase I dredging and the long-term study. Mother Nature with the higher lake level has allowed us move the priority in favor of the long-term plan for the time being,” Sapita said.
Lake Michigan water levels have been slowly rising since the record low in January 2013.
Monthly projections show lake levels continuing the traditional increase through July and August and possibly hitting the historical average in September or October.
The higher Lake Michigan levels mean the water levels in Lake Kalamazoo have risen as well, something that has made Jeff Zita’s job easier at the yacht club. He teaches youngsters how to sail on the lake, and in past years, some of the boats have hit sand bars, he said.
To keep all mariners safe even with the higher waters, the harbor authority and other private businesses have placed buoys along the deeper channels. The markers follow the west side of the lake by Tower Marina to the Blue Star Highway bridge to the Center Street ramp in Douglas and Schultz Park by I-196.