TRAVERSE CITY — Leland Harbor could be in deep trouble unless officials scrape together enough money to dredge its sand-choked entrance.

The harbor was last dredged in 2014 and sand continues to pile onto the lakebed and has cut the channel to less than 6-feet deep, effectively blocking passage.

“We just had a nasty storm a week ago Monday that sealed the deal. It’s closed off,” said Harbormaster Russell Dzuba. “It doesn’t matter what happens this winter, when it comes to springtime, we are closed.”

A tight Leland Township Harbor Commission budget and limited federal funding during the past several years continues to stymie dredging efforts for the harbor that houses fishing boats, ferries and acts as a refuge for Lake Michigan boaters in distress.

Harbor officials asked for state assistance and received it in 2013 to compensate for the lack of federal funding. Harbor officials paid for dredging in 2012. Annual dredging would cost about $200,000 and the odds of receiving federal or state assistance looks bleak, Dzuba said.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials receive federal funding for such maintenance, but most of it typically goes to larger industrial harbors. Little goes to recreational ports, like the Leland Harbor, although federal funding this year isn't out of the question.

“There is a possibility, but it’s low,” said Tom O’Bryan, Army Corps of Engineers’ Lake Michigan area engineer.

Harbor commissioners, instead of exposing themselves to continued recurring costs, hope to collect $200,000 through a fundraiser to supplement the purchase of a $500,000 dredging boat. That boat would enable harbor officials to do the work themselves.

Approximately $368,000 has already been secured between donations, pledges, and funding already set aside for dredging, said Leland Township Supervisor Susan Och. Officials would tap the harbor commission coffers, which hold about $300,000, to bridge any funding gap.

Jim Munoz, an owner of Manitou Island Transit and harbor commission member, supports the fundraiser and feels purchasing the boat would eventually be much cheaper than spending more than $100,000 for yearly dredging.

His business sends ferries to the Manitou Islands from May through October. If officials are forced to close the harbor, he could be forced to stop the ferries.

“It would be catastrophic,” he said.

Owning a dredge boat certainly would help the situation, but Dzuba fears the costs to operate, maintain and staff the boat would break the harbor commission's budget. A dredge typically operates 24-hours, broken into three separate shifts with three to four people working per shift, he said.

Dzuba said buying the boat likely would be a worthwhile venture, despite his concerns.

“It ought to pay for itself in a relatively short amount of time,” he said.

Och stressed the importance of obtaining the boat and dredging the harbor as quickly as possible to allow it to remain open.

“The harbor itself brings a lot of people in and lot of dollars into the community,” she said. “If you look at any Pure Michigan literature, they love Fishtown.”

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