About 1,400 boaters, including 573 at Meinke Marina and 419 at Anchor Pointe Marina, are again able to navigate Cooley Canal to reach Lake Erie waters, thanks to the completion of a $300,000 dredging project.
That includes hundreds more that annually use Lucas County’s public dock on Cooley Canal, located in Jerusalem Township.
The problem began last summer when boats were getting stuck on sandbars and had to be towed. The reason — lake levels have dropped, says Paul Ashburn, board member and officer for Anchor Pointe.
“Last year was the first year in recorded history, according to the Corps of Engineers, that Lake Erie did not see a seasonal rise in the spring,” Ashburn said. “It never went up last year for the first time since they started recording that in 1918.
“Last summer, it became very apparent that Cooley Canal was in trouble. I took my boat out for the first time, and the week after the fourth of July, I got out of the east side of the channel without any problem. But when I came back in on the west side, I almost stalled my engines after I hit sandbars. Had I stalled, I would have blocked the channel.
“We actually had to pull the boat out of the water two days later to make sure we didn’t structurally damage the bottom of the boat,” Ashburn continued. “Last year, any boat much above three foot draft would have been in trouble. The worry was this year we were going to have lower water yet.”
Since then, Lucas County secured a Recreational Harbor Evaluation Program Grant offered annually by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to complete the dredging.
Without the dredging, the loss in revenue to the local economy would have been about $2.5 million because of its affect not only on the marinas, which would have lost tens of thousands of dollars, but also on local restaurants, bait shops, charter fisherman, and other related businesses. About 20 charter fishing operations operate out of Cooley Canal.
In 2013, marina officials estimated that over 130,000 gallons of diesel fuel were sold to boaters using the canal and 3,000 jobs are supported by access to the lake.
Without the dredging, the marinas would have had to close, or restrict access to boats that could draw one foot or less of water, such as jet skis. Boats needing three to four feet of water would be able to pass at times, and five foot or more may have had to find new docks. Plus, it became a safety issue.
“We had to put those in categories because they wanted to know, ‘What is the percentage of boats that couldn’t use the canal in its presence state?’” Ashburn said. “We came up with between 35 and 40 percent of the boats, or fewer, could not get out.
“The biggest problem was the safety factor. We showed (ODNR officials) nine photographs of (Meinke owner) Vernon Meinke pulling sailboats and power boats off sandbars right at the entrance of the canal. The point we made while we were in Columbus was, if we would have had a storm you would have had 400 boats on the lake fishing, which is typical for a Saturday or Sunday summer afternoon, and those boats blocked the canal, someone is going to get hurt.”
Meinke Marina also has about 400 dock slips on Ward Canal in Metzger’s Marsh, but Ashburn estimates only about 20 boats are docked because a build-up of sediment there has made it impassable. At a press conference Thursday morning, county commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak addressed that issue, also.