Salted with Sharks

Elberta Village President Seeks Betsie Dredge

In On and off the Apron, Open Season on September 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm

By Emily Votruba

This year’s salmon run may or may not be salvageable now, says Elberta Village president Reg Manville, but dredging will be necessary to avert the next possible low-water casualty: the spring steelhead run.

The Alert spoke with Manville Tuesday night by phone. Manville also made a statement on the subject at last night’s Village council meeting.

“I appreciate the grassroots involvement. But what we have to do is get funding to dredge. If we have another winter like we did last year with very little snowfall and no runoff, what I’m concerned about more now are the steelhead, which run in the spring.

“If you have a normal winter, ice forms over the water and keeps the water from evaporating, but the last few winters, especially last year, we’ve had hardly any ice at all. We have a good chance of being at an all-time low [for Lake Michigan and Betsie Bay water level].

According to the Record-Patriot, Lake Michigan on Saturday, September 15, was at 577.5 feet. The record low, in 1964, was 576.05 feet. The recorded low for the year 2012 so far was in February, at 576.71 feet, a fraction of an inch shy of the overall record.

Salmon Thrown Off Course by Low Water, Sand Bar Obstacles

“The natural channel the fish would use to come through the bay and up the river to spawn is on the left side, the Elberta side. It starts at the lighthouse, goes down our side, heads about halfway down our pier, then heads to our stubby, goes through our two deepwater ports, where the fish tend to congregate. From there they run up past our development [the Elberta Land Holding Company property], past the dockominiums and the North Star Marina where we have the old poles there sticking out of the water, and up the old channel to our [Mini Pond] marina. At North Star Marina at about the third pole there was an old channel that went off to the right and over to the bridge.

“What’s happened is, and this is the first year this has ever happened, the fish are coming up both sides [of the bay]. Usually the fish did not come up the right side, but East Shore Marina dredged over there a few years ago because their charter boats were having trouble getting out. So now there is a channel over there and it looks about 50/50, half the fish are coming from the right and half from the left.

“In order to make a viable channel you have to figure out which of these two channels you want to enlarge, and then in turn you have to block the other channel. So there’s a lot more to this than people understand.

The Dredging Option

“Kurt [Luedtke, of Luedtke Engineering] told me that even if magically we had the funds appear, it would still take him time to get his equipment here, and the project would take four or five days. The biggest problem with the dredging is getting rid of the muck and the sand that you dredge, because that cannot be stored on site. It has to be trucked off, because there are contaminants in that. It’s a long process. You’ve got two or three different procedures you have to go through with the EPA, the DNR— there’s a lot of red tape involved.

“Without any money there’s not a whole lot we can do. We might be able to do something right now, instead of having a major dredge. We could get a backhoe and a barge and do a temporary dredge in there, but there’s no way that channel would stay open. It would be more of a cosmetic thing.”

Manville said an adequate dredge operation would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He described the procedure Luedtke performed on the Elberta marina a few years ago. “They sucked it out in huge pipes and they had a big bladder that sat on the shore between the North Star Marina and the Mayfair. Then they let the dredged material dry up a bit and then they trucked it out.”

Reg said a meeting will be held next week with Josh Mills (Frankfort City superintendent) and Luedtke Engineering, to which the public would be invited.

The Economic Threat

“There’s a misconception that there are no fish in the river. There are fish getting up. The DNR thinks there’s enough fish to have a successful run. There may not be as many as there have been in the past, but it’s not like in 2015 there will be no fish in the river. If that happened, then you’re talking about charter boats, motels, I mean the whole community that relies on that type of business would be shut down.”

Reg referred to the salmon population crash in Lake Huron. “When the salmon fishery crashed over there it was a huge economic disaster. This year here will be touch and go [for the salmon] but we have to look down the road and not let this happen to the steelhead.”

“People don’t realize that our river doesn’t get planted. Everything that goes up the Betsie is a natural spawned fish.  The salmon run will continue into October but the ban will help because people out in the bay are spooking the fish. Today because of the water and the recent rainfall, and the west wind, the volume of water in our bay is up. Fish were running the river today.

“I asked Josh [Mills] and the [unspecified] others if there was any emergency funding for things like this and they just shrugged their shoulders. It’s hard for me to believe that there isn’t something we could tap into. We’ll try to coordinate a group to brainstorm a solution. It’s good that people are concerned. Sometimes I think that fishermen are the only ones who really worry about it.

“Josh wants to captivate the energy that we have now. You could get 100 people out there with shovels but the actual good it would do would be barely noticeable. It just fills right back in. Way back in August when I started noticing this was happening and that it was going to be a problem I talked to Kurt and asked if it was a federal deal or a state deal and he said it’s a state deal, the state would have to tap into federal funds. There’s no way either of our communities have the money for this.

“There’s no easy solution except for money. Maybe if Obama wins again he’ll pour more money into the Great Lakes.”

The Big Picture

“On a grander scale, what the DNR is trying to do is control the population of the predator fish in Lake Michigan because our feedstock, the alewives, are down, and they’re trying to figure out what happened in Lake Huron [why the alewife population died off there].

“The DNR have decreased the plantings in areas where they plant, but they have no idea in a natural river like ours what goes in and what goes out. The way they look at it, this [dieoff] might even be a good thing  because the lake is overpopulated.

What Fishing Means to Elberta

“If you look at the number of people who fish off our deepwater port—it’s just unbelievable. On a normal day down there from the middle of August to now, if you went down there at six o’clock in the morning you would have a hard time finding a spot to fish. We have 100 to 150 people fishing there through the day. It brings people into our village this time of year. It’ll be that way all the way till the road access to the pier gets impassible.”

The Alert had interviewed a few fishermen over Labor Day weekend about whether or not it would b reasonable for the Village to charge for access from the Mini-Pond Marina. The fishermen, who were from out of state, said that without improvements, like paving or a cleaning station, access should be free.

“That’s how we ran the marina before the water got too low to make it viable for a decent-size boat to get out there,” said Manville. “We had an honor-system box there. A long time ago when the marina was really viable the marina was manned just like it’s manned in Frankfort, with a cleaning station. The big thing with the cleaning station is you have to have water, and now you’re talking some major costs.”

When was the last time there was a charge down there or a cleaning station?

“When I first started living here full-time, in ’97, the [honor-system] box might have still been there. You could still get a boat out then. It needed to be dredged at that time and of course the Village doesn’t even have the matching funds to get a grant to dredge that out.”

Manville hadn’t heard about Adrian Poulisse and Dennis Holcombe’s effort to secure permits for dredging and/or sandbagging to raise water levels. According to an e-mail from Holcombe the Alert received yesterday, which was sent to members of the Gilmore Township board as well as the Village Clerk and Treasurer, Josh Mills submitted a joint application to the MDEQ and US Army Corps of Engineers on September 15 for permission to place sandbags at the mouth of the Betsie. Holcombe recommended that the two municipalities hold a joint meeting to discuss the problem and also that officials write in to MDEQ and USCOE in support of the grassroots sandbagging effort.

Manville said he would let the Alert know of any meetings held next week.

  1. Do Not let this issue DIE.. We/all can WIN.. This is HUGE.. Support it.. Remember 1989 BKD and your local economy??? Thanks..

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