2017-08-24 / News

Moran Bay: City Awaits Word on Jurisdiction, Eyes Use of Booms To Aid Ice Formation

By Erich T. Doerr

The city has delayed action on closing Moran Bay to boat traffic for the pond hockey games this winter while it awaits a jurisdictional determination from the Coast Guard. The city council had received no word by the time it met Monday, August 21, so the matter was tabled for another two weeks.

In the meantime, the city is looking at other options to protect ice formation in the bay.

Pond hockey organizers have proposed closing the bay for several weeks in January and February to allow ice to form sufficiently to set up more than 30 hockey rinks for the annual U.P. Pond Hockey Championship, scheduled for February 15 to 18. Boat traffic, especially that from Shepler’s freight boat, they contend, can disrupt ice formation. Closing the bay would force Shepler’s to shut down or find another dock from which to ship freight during the ice formation period. The area requested to be protected extends from the Favorite Dock to the Mill Slip. In the winter, Star Line operates only from the old Chambers Dock (formerly State Ferry Dock 1) and Arnold Freight operates from Dock 3 near the Coast Guard station, so only Shepler’s freight service would be affected by the proposed closure.

City Manager Les Therrian said the city is still awaiting word from city attorney Tom Evashevski about who has the authority to close the bay. Mr. Evashevski has been working with Coast Guard officials from Sector Sault Ste. Marie, Cleveland’s Ninth Coast Guard District Headquarters, and its national headquarters in Washington, D.C. as they work on the issue. He expects word on what the organization’s responsibilities are at any time.

Councilmember Paul Fullerton said he thought the Coast Guard was clear at the last meeting that only the Coast Guard has the authority to close the bay and he questioned the impact Shepler’s has on ice formation, noting that mild winters are likely the bigger issue, as shown by the lack of usable ice for the event elsewhere in the Straits area. He said he also doesn’t think it is right for the city to disrupt commerce to Mackinac Island by temporarily stopping freight shipments from a boat company.

St. Ignace Events Committee member Mark Sposito agreed with the council about waiting for Coast Guard input, but wants the city to keep an open mind about what influences ice formation. He said he has seen the Shepler boat Sacre Bleu plow up the ice and prevent it from thickening beyond the three or four inches needed for the ice to start locking into place. Citing concerns at the prior meeting that Little Bear East Arena, the St. Ignace Hockey Association, and other special events, like Saturday night fireworks, would suffer without the revenue generated by the pond hockey tournament, he asked if the city had given any thought to a plan to help prop them up.

Mr. Fullerton responded by asking Mr. Sposito if he was trying to blame the council if the pond hockey tournament cannot take place. Mr. Sposito said that is not his intent, but he wants to know about what the city would do without the event.

He said the Events Committee has looked at alternative locations off Moran Bay, but reiterated from the last meeting that the event cannot continue at its present size without sponsorship from Labatt Beer, and that brewer was drawn to St. Ignace by the picturesque setting of the bay downtown. Proposed alternative sites, like the Little Bear East parking lot or Horseshoe Bay in Evergreen Shores, can’t compete with the beauty and convenience of the St. Ignace bay, he said.

Mr. Fullerton asked Mr. Sposito if he was trying to threaten the council into either closing the bay or losing the pond hockey event. He said it is not fair to blame the city council if it “didn’t bow down to your demands.” He believes if ice builds up to a level that is sufficient for stopping ferry traffic on its own, there might be a chance for enough ice to form to hold the tournament on the bay.

“I’m sorry I don’t agree with you,” Mr. Fullerton said. “We’re not Mother Nature, and I totally disagree. The boats aren’t icebreakers.”

“There has never been one time that I have ever threatened not to have that pond hockey tournament,” Mr. Sposito responded. “It absolutely affects my own business, too.”

Mr. Sposito said it would be devastating to the area’s youth hockey program if there isn’t a pond hockey tournament, noting a chain reaction from losing that income could sink the hockey association and hurt Little Bear through the loss of both ice and its accompanying ice rink advertising revenue.

Mayor Connie Litzner noted that the issue is something that everyone in the community will have to look at if winters continue to stay warm. The concern, she said, spreads beyond pond hockey to all of the city’s winter activities.

Mr. Sposito said there have been mild winters during the tournament’s 12 years of existence, but only of late have there been ice issues on the bay.

Councilmember Luke Paquin suggested all of the involved parties get together in a group to work out a resolution, but Mr. Sposito said a resolution couldn’t be made without a binding mediator, given Shepler’s stated goal to operate throughout the winter, if possible. Mayor Litzner said group mediation is always good, but wondered if the city has the authority to enforce a possible agreement at this time, since the Coast Guard has not yet clarified the jurisdiction issue.

“We will be more than happy to work with this group, and we will come back when we have more information,” Mrs. Litzner said.

Mr. Sposito said he doesn’t want, and isn’t asking for, passenger ferry service to the Island to be stopped in the winter months, but Mr. Fullerton noted any closure of the bay could impact passenger service in the future because Shepler’s could possibly bid on and win the Island’s winter passenger franchise when Star Line’s contract expires.

The city is looking at other options to help aid ice formation. Mrs. Litzner has asked Enbridge Energy if it could use some of its rubber booms designed to contain oil spills in Moran Bay to contain the ice in the area. It is possible the booms could serve as a barrier between the hockey area and Shepler’s ferry route. Enbridge engineers are presently checking into whether that the idea would work.

“It’s not that we aren’t supportive,” Mayor Litzner said. “It’s just that we are hoping that something can be worked out. We’re not just sitting. We are looking into the alternatives.”

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