Gary Buck, a retired engineering technician and biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers, expects to have a permit this week for dredging Ward’s Canal, located in Metzger’s Marsh in Jerusalem Township.
This comes nearly a month after Lucas County officials celebrated the completion of the $300,000 dredging of Cooley Canal in Jerusalem Township. Because of that, about 1,400 boaters, including 573 at Meinke Marina, 419 at Anchor Pointe Marina, and hundreds more who use the public access ramps, are again able to navigate Cooley Canal to reach Lake Erie waters.
Both canals developed a build-up of sediment over recent years making them impassable and affecting thousands of boaters and sportsmen.
“What caused it to get really bad was the tail end of Hurricane Sandy,” Buck said. “The same thing at Cooley Canal — it drove in a tremendous amount of sand in the entrance channel in all these little harbors. You know, down even at Willow Beach, they get 100,000 yards of sand, and generally we’re talking maybe 20,000 or 30,000 at Cooley. Probably at Ward’s Canal, maybe 15,000 yards — it all depends on when you do the soundings how much it is.”
Buck alleges that after Hurricane Sandy hit, the Western Lake Erie basin did not get its share of federal disaster relief funds.
“Cleveland got hit hard, and FEMA only went as far to get some funding at Ashtabula and Cleveland,” Buck claimed. “In Northwestern Ohio, it’s like we don’t exist. At FEMA, they gave a lot of money to the state of Michigan but western Ohio got almost nothing. All these little harbors are really holding the bag.”
Ward’s Canal is home to Meinke Marina East and the Cooley Yacht Club. Laraine Meinke, who co-owns Meinke Marina with her husband Gary, says of 400 boat ramps at their East Marina on Ward’s Canal, there are only about 20 boats.
“It’s not good. The smaller boats are getting in and out. There is a sandbar that is growing just inside the channel,” Laraine said. “Our rentals have been down for years. Now, they are almost nothing. The last couple years have been really bad. The yacht club is there — it has a lot more boats, and bigger boats, so it’s for their interest, too.”
Lucas County secured a Recreational Harbor Evaluation Program Grant offered annually by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to complete the dredging at Cooley Canal. Now, Buck and the marina owners at Ward’s Canal have to seek funding to have Ward’s Canal dredged.
“This (permitting) is the first hurdle. That’s half the battle,” Buck said. “As far as getting the authorization from all the state and federal agencies allowing it to happen, you’re talking about dredging the channel and taking all that dredging, the sand and gravel, back out to the lake according to state law and regulations.
“I think if the county can come up with some money that would be fantastic,” Buck said. “At one time, probably 25 years ago, back when Sandy Bihn was a commissioner, the Cooley Canal Yacht Club and Gary Meinke went to the commissioners and the commissioners declared the entrance channel at Ward’s Canal was a public highway and therefore, they extended funds to ‘clear the highway.’
“Their money came out of local funds, but normally that kind of money comes through the Division of Watercraft because a certain amount of money for boat licenses and all of that is supposed to be set aside for harbor maintenance and improvements, but we have to fight to get it.”
Buck was with the Corps 34 years, retiring in 2003. Buck got the call from the Corps’ Oak Harbor office last week that the permitting for Ward’s was close to being finalized.
“We submitted that back in April along with sediment samples out of the channel,” Buck said. “Gary has done this free of charge, as well as my own time, getting this permit through. We paid for samples being analyzed and everything, because he has some interest there, too. Over the years, he’s carried the ball for the Cooley and Ward’s Canal. Finally, the state stepped in at Cooley.”
The history of these marinas in both channels dates back over a half century.
“The East Marina has been there a long time,” Laraine Meinke said. “Anchor Pointe is the oldest in this area, and then came what used to be Romstadt’s Marina first — that came in the early 60s and Anchor Pointe came in the late 50s, and then we came in ’75. We bought the East Marina in 1980.”