Preparation work for dredging the Detroit Harbor between the Door Peninsula and Washington Island started last week, the first step in ensuring safe passage across the water that’s threatened by low water levels.
The project was awarded $5.2 million from the state Harbor Assistance Program to help offset the total cost of more than $7 million. The Town of Washington is providing a $1.9 million match by disposing of the sediment.
Getting the award wasn’t easy, said Hoyt Purinton, president and captain of the Washington Island Ferry Line, because the port is small compared to others in the state with dredging needs. But because the island’s economy relies on people visiting and supplies shipped up from the mainland, the project is necessary.
“[We don’t have] the kind of sexy metrics that triggers immediate support either. We had a hard time conveying – the hardest thing to do is put the value on human cargo and the potential risks – the rather fragile economy, mostly tourism based. If we lose just a part of that or if it’s impacted on either side we very quickly see an island economy that would be affected for one year, but would take many years, if at all, to recover.”
The dredging will deepen the channel by three feet, bringing it to a total of 17 feet below the low water level. It will also widen the channel by 20 feet, which will help boat passage between the island and peninsula. Foth Infrastructure and Environment engineers working on the project estimate there will be 134,500 cubic yards of dredged material.
A History of the Washington Island Ferry
At the Wisconsin Coastal Ports Association meeting on Friday, Sept. 13, Hoyt Purinton of the Washington Island Ferry Line gave a brief history of the ferry’s history.
The first ferry service was started in the 1920s and ’30s by Bill Jepsen, and in the 1930s Carl and Arni Richter began taking fish from Washington Island to the mainland. In 1937 the federal navigation channel was dredged between Northport and Detroit Harbor on Washington Island.
The Washington Island Ferry Line had two wooden ferries until 1946 when they added a steel-hulled ferry that could carry eight cars and make winter trips, which began in 1948.
The Washington Island Ferry Line now has four ferries, which carries people, mail, fuel and supplies to and from the island. It makes up to 25 round trips a day during the peak of tourist season, and two round trips per day in the winter.