Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grand Marais harbor - crimminal neglect

On our Friday paddle at the symposium last weekend, we launched at the mouth of the Hurricane River and paddled over two shipwrecks in the short distance it took us to reach the AuSable lighthouse. It's one thing to have the lighthouse available for mariners to avoid the "shipwreck coast" and quite another to have a harbor of refuge to duck into "when the waves turn the minutes to hours". Grand Marais harbor, the scene of much of the teaching at the symposium, has been that harbor of refuge since Congress recognized its value as such in 1880. In a couple of years however, it may only be suitable for launching kayaks because the breakwater, essential for keeping sand out of the bay during the frequent fall nor'easters, has gone completely to hell.

The last time any work was done on the harbor breakwater, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's Afrika Corp was charging across the north African desert and President Franklin Roosevelt was meeting with Winston Churchill in Casablanca. Most of the wooden piling breakwater is gone and the remains were paddled over many times last weekend. The impact of this neglect was brought home tragically when three out of four Grand Marais fisherman drowned during a rapidly developing October storm in 2006. They had launched an 18' boat because it was impossible to launch a larger one due to the sand that had filled in the harbor. When they got into trouble, none of the many available boats could launch to assist them and they had to wait for the Coast Guard helicopter from Traverse City on the lower peninsula. Only one of the four returned to Grand Marais.

The definition of criminal negligence is, "the failure to use reasonable care to avoid consequences that threaten or harm the safety of the public and that are the foreseeable outcome of acting in a particular manner". I would submit that the government knew of the threat to public safety that resulted when a 90 mile stretch of, arguably, the wildest lake on the planet had no harbor of refuge. That's why Congress addressed that fact when they declared Grand Marais a harbor of refuge in 1880. I would also have to think that the foreseeable outcome of letting the breakwater go to hell and having the harbor become unusable would be mariners that perished because they either had no place to go or their rescuers couldn't get to them in a timely fashion. I stand by my headline on this post.

After our pasty dinner, a Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium tradition and a fundraiser for the senior class of Grand Marais high school, Burt Township supervisor Jack Hubbard spoke on the issue and filled us all in on the ongoing effort to prod the government into doing whats right. He spoke with the passion that only a man who lost friends could bring to the table. Through relentless and dogged efforts, classic Yooper stubbornness as my buddies from Ironwood would say, the wheels appear to be slowly turning in the direction of fixing this problem. For about $6-8 million bucks, a rounding error in the federal budget, the problem can be solved. I've personally seen the superb new harbors of refuge along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. One of 'em is only a couple miles north of the port of Duluth-Superior. If they can build harbors of refuge every 35-40 miles up there, and we are talking building from scratch on a couple of them, I don't know why the hell we can't maintain an existing harbor that's plunked down in the middle of 90 miles of some of the most treacherous water on the big lake.

The folks in Grand Marais are pushing hard and steadily on this issue. As a lover of Lake Superior, a GitcheeGumeeGuy, I think the least I can do is drop off a couple notes to my elected representatives that represent us folks on that same big lake. Michigan's two senators are on board and making their colleagues in other Great Lakes states aware of this problem can't hurt a bit. Heck, send them a link to this post and/or the Save Your Harbor website and bring a little 'kayaker heat' on these guys.

It has been 66 years since anything constructive has been done besides jawboning about the issue. Its time folks, and it needs to be done quickly. According to a Marine Engineer from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, about 6,000 semi loads of sand per year are being blown into the harbor. If people keep the issue on the front burner it will happen. Those round rocks along the lake weren't round when they first got there. It took years and years of relentless and constant wave action for them to get that way. The folks in Grand Marais have been exerting that 'wave action' on the government for years and it would be great if we users and lovers of the lake could give them a little assist. Let's git er done!


Nan said...

I noticed when I was there a few years ago that the harbor seemed to be silting up. Even to my untrained eye, it did not look good.

DaveO said...

It was bad. Those folks up there lost their friends a couple years back and don't plan on letting this thing go until its properly resolved. That's very apparent when you talk to them.

Silbs said...

Solid piece. I wonder why they don't at least dredge the area

Peggy O said...

Got my emails to Senators and Representative off this morning. Figured the longer I wait, the less likely that I'll do it... Thanks for the reminder.