The situations change, but the upshot is the same — time and again the federal government and members of Congress essentially abscond with millions of taxpayer dollars by routing them to other purposes or other constituents than they were initially intended.
And what the rest of us get is sandbagged — or, in this particular example, sanded in, like Leland Harbor.
The U.S. Army Corps of engineers over the years built dozens of small harbors on the Great Lakes like the one in Leland; half of them were in Michigan. Usually, the federal government owns the breakwalls and the channel while the state and local community own and fund the harbor basin and docks.
It used to be that funds to maintain the federal portion of the harbors came from the harbor maintenance tax, a federal tax on commercial shipping, Chuck May of Portage Lake Harbor in Onekama, said.
In the 1980s, the federal government rolled back the amount it paid to maintain harbors to 60 percent, and by the late 1990s it was completely cut for recreational harbors and funding was left to earmarks.
Earmarks are when a member of Congress sets aside funding for a special project in a large appropriation bill or instructs an agency to give preference to a specific project. Today, earmarks are political poison, but places like Leland still depend on that money.
There were no federal funds for dredging in 2011, but by the time Leland officials found out it was too late to do much about it. Buoys were installed to warn boaters that the channel had narrowed, but several boats still ran aground.
A five-month local fund-raising effort will keep Leland Harbor open this season, but officials are rightly worried about next year. The harbor helps bring in millions in tourist dollars every year and helps support commercial and charter fishing operations.
The Corps of Engineers has determined that 29,000 cubic yards of sand need to be dredged this year but the community could only raise enough to dredge 10,000 cubic yards at a cost of $88,000, harbor master Russell Dzuba said. The dredging will clear the channel entrance to a depth of 12 to 13 feet.
But the sand will just keep coming, and Dzuba doesn't think he can go to the well again. Next year doesn't look good.
So where have all the millions initially meant to maintain all those small harbors gone? Why have recreational harbors been put on the chopping block? What are places like Leland supposed to do? Wade ashore?
Just don't expect a life-ring from your public servants in Washington.