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Great Lakes Article:

Dredging project for river
Nearly $2 million being spent by U.S. gov't
Jack Poirier
The Sarnia Observer
07/25/03


Years of drought and heat have the U.S. government spending nearly $2 million (Cdn) on a massive dredging project along the St. Clair River.

The money has been earmarked for dredging and maintenance on the river and some Blue Water Area harbours, aimed at improving transit for recreational and commercial traffic.

The work will start after Oct. 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year, said Scott Parker of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' regional office in Detroit.

The St. Clair River is dredged periodically. Last year's drought lowered the water level and made the dredging necessary, Parker said.

All the Great Lakes are experiencing near-record lows. Ralph Moulton, Manager of the Water Levels Information Office for Environment Canada, said Lake Huron is 60 centimetres below average and only 15 cm away from its record low in 1964.

Moulton said the decrease in water levels is a result of hot and dry weather and a lack of precipitation, which have caused the Great Lakes to evaporate more quickly.

He said it's possible the water levels will drop further before they start to rise again.

In the river, because it serves as a commercial shipping channel, the water has to reach a depth of more than 7.8 metres (25.5 feet). Parker said the St. Clair River is about 28 feet deep, depending on current speed and soil types.

The problem has taken its toll on the shipping industry, which has been dealing with low water levels for several years now.

Shane Foreman, Manager of Policy and Research at the Canadian Shipowners' Association, said the lower water levels mean the shipping industry operates much more inefficiently.

Foreman said seaway cargo in the Great Lakes was down by about 4,000 tonnes last year, but emphasized low water was only one of many contributing factors. Less cargo translates into less revenue.

John Greenway, General Manager of Operations for the Upper Lakes Group shipping company, said the water levels have affected them "big time."

Greenway said when water levels were higher ships could have draughts (how far down the ship sits in the water) of up to 28 feet. Now, he said, the ships are running with draughts of 25 to 26 feet.

That equals about 700 tonnes per trip the ship can't carry, he said. That equates to about 72 transport trucks.

The river is used by 12,000 commercial ships per year, said Petty Officer Andy Carvalho at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Port Huron. According to Pierre Papineau of Sarnia Marine Communication and Traffic Services Center, about 15 per cent of those vessels are from outside North America.

Bridgeview Marina operator Dave Brown said the marina underwent considerable dredging in recent years at the 650-slip facility. However, no dredging projects were undertaken this year.

The lower water levels have resulted in increased education among recreational boaters, he said.

The only local marina to undertake any dredging this past year was the Sarnia Yacht Club.

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