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Saginaw River Deepening Study on Hold as Funding Unavailable

For several years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has looked into deepening the Saginaw River near Saginaw Bay in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, but the federal government has not fully funded its share of a feasibility study, expected to cost $1.3 million in total.

The 22-mile-long river has an authorized shipping channel depth ranging from 27 feet where the river empties into Saginaw Bay, to 22 feet at the C&O Railroad Bridge in the city of Saginaw, according to a Corps Detroit District fact sheet.

The state of Michigan and the Saginaw River Alliance, an organization of companies involved in the shipping business, have contributed to funding the study, said Jim Koski, a consultant for the Alliance.

“Saginaw County has not paid a nickel,” said Koski, former Saginaw County Public Works Commissioner. Private sector companies and the state Department of Transportation have contributed to the non-federal share of the study cost, expected to top $600,000.

The Corps is about halfway through the study, according to Adam Fox, chief of the Detroit District Planning Branch. “Our funding ran out last fall,” Fox stated in an email, adding that the Corps does not know when additional funding will arrive, so there is no timeframe for study completion.

Commercial vessels plying the Saginaw River haul commodities including limestone, coal, lime, petroleum products, gypsum, salt, cement, food and grains, potash and fertilizer.

In April 2016, Corps Detroit District Chief of Operations David Wright presented an overview (http://bit.ly/2mTcfSb) of the river and the economic benefits of deepening the 17.9-mile-long shipping channel. Currently, many ships cannot load to their full capacity in the Saginaw River, and some vessels have had difficulty maneuvering through turns and constrictions.

Additionally, larger vessels are becoming more numerous, further underscoring the need for a channel deepening. Failure to ensure reliable waterborne transportation would make the Saginaw Bay region less economically competitive, the report stated.

“If we’re able to improve this port, we’re going to be able to get a whole lot more activity in here,” Koski said.

The Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce has steadfastly supported the deepening feasibility study, according to Veronica Horn, senior director, government and community affairs. “We remain very supportive of the project and believe it can bring great economic opportunities to this region,” Horn said.

The entrance channel in Saginaw Bay requires annual maintenance dredging of approximately 180,000 cubic yards, according to Corps. The upper river channel requires maintenance dredging of 50,000 to 100,000 cubic yard on a 2-to-3-year cycle.

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