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Native American 
Pokagon Foundation Awards Dredging 
Funds to Michigan City

It’s no news that Michigan lakeshore towns have been having to step up, along with the state, with additional dredging funds in the face of historic low water that threatens the state’s multi-billion dollar boating and fishing tourism industry. The Corps of Engineers has been strapped for funds to dredge and maintain even federally mandated channels, so states and local communities have had to fill in the shortfalls.

Bob Stratton, owner of Service 1 Marine outside New Buffalo, told the South Bend Tribune on February 19 that the water is shallow enough now for him to wonder if large boats will reach their slips without running aground.

“Everybody is having the same problem,” he said.

Trail Creek in Michigan City is especially shallow south and east of the Franklin Street bridge toward B & E Marine and Blue Chip, an area with many boat slips and a heavily used municipal boat launch, said Gene Davis, a conservation officer with the

The ongoing drought has contributed to Lake Michigan being 17 inches lower than it was this time last year, and about six feet lower than the record highs of the mid-1980s, according to the Corps.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has asked lawmakers for a special $21.5 million mid-year appropriation for dredging (See “Michigan to Pay for Dredging”, page 27).

But while Michigan waits for spending that won’t start until October even if the governor’s budget is approved, the city of New Buffalo has obtained funds from the Four Winds Casino revenues from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians to help pay for the emergency dredging.

Receding water levels also mean ramps are becoming too short to launch boats. New Buffalo has approved extending its ramps with gravel until water levels go back up.

A percentage of the money the city collects from boat launch fees and slip rental will cover the balance of the expense, New Buffalo Mayor Warren Peterson told the South Bend Tribune.

The city is waiting for approval of permit applications and results of soundings to determine the depth of the river before obtaining a formal cost estimate. A company has not yet been selected, a city spokesperson told IDR.

This is the third year in a row that New Buffalo is getting help with its dredging from a private charitable fund, the Pokagon Fund. On February 25, the city of New Buffalo learned that it had been awarded a $200,000 grant for federal channel dredging from the fund, out of a total of $472,007 awarded in February alone.

The Pokagon Fund is a private foundation created by an agreement between the City of New Buffalo, the Township of New Buffalo and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the area’s original inhabitants. The Pokagon Band numbers 4,672 members, according to its enrollment director.

The foundation is funded by a percentage of electronic gaming revenues from the Four Winds Casino and Resort. The Pokagon Fund provides grant funding to nonprofits and municipalities in the areas of arts, education, human service, environment, recreation and economic development.

Since 2007, when the casino opened and the foundation was initially funded, the foundation has provided $14 million in funding for worthwhile projects that, according to its mission statement, “enhance the lives of the residents in the New Buffalo region through the financial support of local governments, nonprofits, charities and other organizations.”

Mary Dunbar, the Pokagon Fund’s executive director, told IDR, “Because federal funding is no longer available for the dredging of the New Buffalo harbor, The Pokagon Fund provided grant funding to dredge the federal channel (harbor) for the City of New Buffalo in 2011, providing them $106,251. In the spring of 2012, we awarded a $150,000 grant to dredge the harbor.

“This year, due to historically low water levels, The Pokagon Fund has pledged funding in the amount of $150,000 to dredge the harbor, AND an additional $200,000 grant award to dredge a portion the Galien River (the tributary to Lake Michigan) from the city’s boat launch to the harbor.”

That brings the total granted by The Pokagon Fund to New Buffalo for dredging purposes over the past three years to $606,251.

Dunbar said 45 percent of the fund’s grants go to discretionary projects in the fund’s service area; another 45 percent to nonprofit organizations operating in the service area; and 10 percent to the Pokagon Band Land Trust. The city must apply for the grants each year.

“They call this part of the state ‘harbor country,’ and without our harbors, we lose the tourism that keeps us going,” said Dunbar. “The Pokagon Fund believes that providing this necessary funding to dredge the Harbor and Galien River supports our local economy and its residents that work in or affected by the tourism industry. Without an accessible harbor, visitors would go elsewhere and our local economy would suffer.”

The New Buffalo city council had earlier approved, out of its own funds, a $6,500 bid for Launch Access Channel dredging engineering and a $7,138.75 bid for permit modification, both from Wrightman & Associates, the Harbor Country News reported February 27.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi people is one of 12 federally-recognized tribes in Michigan and Indiana. It maintains its sovereign right to self rule and its government-to-government relationships with Indiana, Michigan and the United States. The Pokagon Band strives to give its people a better quality of life, and to be economically independent from federal and state governments, allowing the band to exercise its sovereignty.

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