Chris Brown speaks at Pentwater Township meeting

Pentwater Village Manager Chris Brown speaks at a Pentwater Township board meeting while trustee Michael Flynn and Township Supervisor Lynne Cavazos listen on Wednesday.

PENTWATER — Help could be on the way for the channel between Pentwater Lake and Lake Michigan, which is becoming dangerously shallow due to sand build-up.

An anonymous person donated $30,000 Thursday morning for dredging, or removing sand from the channel, according to Village Manager Chris Brown.

The Village of Pentwater recently contributed the same amount, and there’s $22,442 sitting in a dredge fund at the Oceana County Community Foundation. Also, the county is set to chip in $20,000 of its federal stimulus for the work.

With over $100,000 to work with, Brown said he hopes to secure a dredging contract as soon as possible so sand can be removed in time for boating season.

“We’re ecstatic. You can see the outpouring in the community,” he said, adding, “It’s overwhelming what we can do when we need to do something.”

The channel’s ideal depth is 12 feet, but it was measured at less than 4 feet deep in some areas on April 28. A channel that’s too shallow to safely use — or the perception of one — would be a major blow to the harbor town’s vitality and culture.

The more-than-150-year-old channel was dredged by the federal government nearly every year from 1963 to 2009, when funding dried up for recreational harbors.

Community fundraising bought a partial dredge in 2012, and high water levels bought some time until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers secured funds for a complete dredge in 2019.

Township denies funds

The amount anonymously donated Thursday morning is the same amount that officials in Pentwater Township, which surrounds the village, voted against contributing at the Wednesday board meeting.

Board members acknowledged the vital importance of the channel to Pentwater’s economy and reputation, but said there was no legal avenue to provide the money the way the village asked.

Officials said they were investigating multiple other options, but their legal counsel told them it wasn’t possible for a township to spend public funds on dredging. Their vote was not unanimous, however. Treasurer Heather Douglas said she “just can’t” vote against the match.

“I agree that where there’s a will, there’s a way,” she said. “My intention would be to figure it out and get it done ASAP.”

Township Supervisor Lynne Cavazos said the match was a no-go because Michigan townships have “no expressed statutory authority … to contribute public funds for dredging” a channel, adding that the village can because it operates a marina and a boat launch.

Brown doesn’t buy that. He said the dredge would be a valid expense in the name of “health, safety, welfare, commerce” — “and any government agency can spend money on commerce.”

“(The township) is splitting hairs. It comes down to: they don’t want to,” he said in an interview. Asked why the township might not want to contribute, he didn’t “even want to speculate on that.”

The township hall was packed with locals on Wednesday, most of whom spoke up urging the township to go ahead with the match. After several accused township officials of trying to find a way not to help with dredging, Clerk Maureen Murphy said the accusation is “a falsehood.”

“We’re trying everything that we possibly can do, because I believe everybody here is just as passionate about that harbor,” she said. “We wouldn’t live here if we didn’t.”

Daily News Staff Writer

Justin Cooper can be reached at justin@ludingtondailynews.com.

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