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Without federal money for dredging, Leland turns to crowdfunding

Amanda Holmes
Fishtown inside the harbor at Leland.

Small harbors in Michigan have a big problem. Over time, access to harbors gets blocked by sand and sediment, and the harbor needs to be dredged. But the money to pay for dredging just isn’t there anymore.

In Leland, the problem has gotten so bad, the community has turned to a crowdfunding website to help pay for its own dredging equipment.

Chuck May leads an organization called the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition, that’s trying to get government to prioritize dredging in Great Lakes harbors. May says the dredging of harbors in the Great Lakes is the responsibility of the federal government, which collects a Harbor Maintenance Tax from shippers to help pay for harbor maintenance.

But May says most of that money is not spent on harbors.

“In the late 1990s, the president took 85 percent of the harbors out of the budget … and that’s our problem,” says May. “The money that was intended to take care of them has been used elsewhere … approximately $9 billion dollars worth.”

Chuck May spoke with IPR’s Aaron Selbig about the “broken” system of harbor funding, and what might be done to fix it.