It’s full speed ahead for boating season at Vermilion Harbor as long as you watch where you’re going.
Buoys placed Tuesday on the west side of the entrance to the harbor where water is as shallow as three feet and plans to dredge the mouth of the harbor next month have pleased marina owners whose businesses depend on easy access to the harbor and its 100-foot wide channel.
“This is a huge improvement for the time being,” Mike Moes, owner of Moes Marine Services, said Sunday as he looked out at the four buoys by the western break wall at the entrance to the channel. “Last year they had a lot of incidents where the harbor patrol was pulling people off of this shallow area. At least now it’s marked.”
Moes said the harbor has been hit by a triple whammy. Unusually warm weather the last two years caused a record drought that reduced Lake Erie water levels. Tons of silt poured over the break wall from superstorm Sandy last October, and the Army Corps of Engineers hasn’t dredged since 2004.
Around the harbor, depths are two feet shallower than normal in some places, according to Bill McCarthy, Vermilion Port Authority operations manager. About 59,000 cubic yards of sediment need to be dredged from the harbor, McCarthy estimates.
Last Sunday, a yacht got stuck entering the harbor, according to marina owner Don Parsons of Don Parsons Inc. More boats have gotten stuck in the last two years than the past 25 years, according to harbor master and police Sgt. Gordon Adams.
Some 3,000 boats use the harbor annually, according to Moes.
The dredging, announced Thursday by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, will take about a month. .
Vermilion also has applied for a $475,000 state grant for dredging from the Liberty Avenue bridge to the mouth of the river and may apply for an additional $25,000 grant for more dredging, according to Mayor Eileen Bulan.
The dredging will supplement private dredging by Moes’ Marine Service, Parsons Inc. and the Vermilion Boat Club. Moes said the three marinas are spending a combined $50,000 on dredging to get boats from the dock to the channel and a combined $7,000 on permitting and water testing.
Some 1,500 cubic yards of sediment have been dredged with between 250 and 500 more yards of dredging to be done. Dredging is done by the marina owners every few years.
“It’s part of doing business,” Moes said. “You obviously have to provide docks for your customers.”
However, Moes stressed that marina owners can only do a limited amount of dredging due to a lack of money and permit problems. The corps no longer dredges recreational harbors due to federal budget cuts but might do some dredging next year if marina owners can prove superstorm Sandy did substantial damage to the harbor. Downed trees and branches from Sandy were visible on the beach during a 30-minute tour Sunday of the harbor by the Chronicle-Telegram on the Mystic Belle, a 30-foot, flat-bottomed tour boat piloted by Parsons.
Like many of the marina owners, boating is a family business for Parsons that spans generations. Parsons, 74, said his family has lived on the river since about 1870.
His grandfather purchased the property in 1913 and the marina opened in 1957. Parsons said he serves about 220 sailboats annually and provides cruises to some 3,200 passengers during the boating season from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Parsons said conditions have changed dramatically in the last 30 years. He recalls sandbagging around the harbor in the 1980s and 1990s due to high water.
In those days, the harbor was regularly dredged by the corps. Parsons said the main problem is the lack of dredging by the corps causing the bottom of the river to be silted in.
“Nobody worried about it because the water level kept on going up,” he said. “Now that the water level’s going back down, everybody is concerned.”
Moes, 35, said his great-grandfather bought the family’s marina property in 1917 and his grandfather opened the marina in 1938. The marina stores 50 boats for owners, but its major focus is boat restorations.
Moes said he’s grateful for the efforts of Bulan and the department for keeping the harbor operating. “To go through all the things that have happened, the outlook looks really good,” he said.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.