2010-07-01 / Front Page

Dredging Work To Begin July 5

By Josh Perttunen

The tugboat Manitou towing two barges arrived in the middle of the night Tuesday, June 22, setting in place the pieces required for this summer's $2.4 million Les Cheneaux waterways channel dredging project, to begin Monday, July 5.

Malcolm Marine of St. Clair was awarded the project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with a deadline of November 1, for dredging a 100-foot-wide and seven-foot-deep navigation channel from Government Bay into Cedarville Bay and around to Urie Bay. The federal channel then continues down Snows Channel into Mackinac Bay, turning west between St. Ledger and Marquette Islands, and then northwest into Hessel Bay.

“Nearly 75% of the digging will take place in Cedarville,” said David Malcolm, who runs the family-owned business along with his brother, Don, and his sister, Diane.

These three locations will be dredged to a depth of eight feet. Even though the project was approved for seven feet, excavators are allowed to go up to a foot over the approved depth.

The process involves taking two barges into the channel at a time, where both are filled with mud excavated from the lake bottom. The channels will be too narrow for the Manitou to make it through, and that boat will be anchored at Government Bay for the remainder of the summer. Instead, Huron Lady, a smaller tugboat, will be responsible for directing the barges through the narrow channels.

The two barges are 150 feet by 50 feet and 120 feet by 33 feet. Between the two vessels, 600 cubic yards of sediment can be carried to the Cedarville boat ramp at a time. From there, the contents are to be loaded into three trucks and carried in a straight shot one mile north to the Taylor Pit on M- 129 in Cedarville, while the barges go back for more. The contract calls for 66,000 cubic yards to be removed.

“The biggest difficulty is in keeping the amount of mud spilling out of the trucks to a minimum.” Mr. Malcolm said. “Other than that, the work is pretty straightforward at this time of year. When we get into fall, that will complicate things with the boats. Then we'll have to deal with high winds and cold weather.”

The work will continue six days a week with one 10-hour shift a day.

“If we don't get enough production, we might go to two shifts,” Mr. Malcolm said.

Malcolm Marine's last big project involved dredging at the Coast Guard station in Port Huron, where the company a five-year contract to perform all of that station's dredging needs. Other jobs have included towing and icebreaking.

“I've grown up and worked on tugboats all my life,” Mr. Malcolm said. “It's the kind of work I like to do. I'm familiar with the Straits area, since we do quite a bit of icebreaking there and lay over at the state docks. The Les Cheneaux area is beautiful and it's going to be a beautiful place to work. People are happy to see us there. Everyone seems happy to see the project finally go through.”

Mr. Malcolm will arrive with a crew of four, mostly family, and the task of driving the trucks will be contracted out to S.A. Torello, Inc., a trucking company out of Port Huron that Mr. Malcolm has worked with for previous projects. During their three-month stay, the Malcolm Marine staff will stay together.

The Les Cheneaux Islands channels have not been dredged since 1971, as concerns over fish repopulation have outweighed concerns about maintaining a regular dredging cycle. Now, sedimentation and weed growth have necessitated this work to be done, since it is adversely affecting boat traffic in the area's boat-dependent economy.

“Every channel has the same problem,” Mr. Malcolm said. “Eventually, the silts build up. This is one of the larger yardage projects we've worked on. We've dredged marinas, channels, and canals.”

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