2016-11-10 / Life in Leelanau

Marinas make a Splash

Busy summer brings boatload of success to county marinas
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


THE LELAND HARBOR is mostly deserted in November, but was going full tilt from June through August, as were all four of the county’s municipal marinas. THE LELAND HARBOR is mostly deserted in November, but was going full tilt from June through August, as were all four of the county’s municipal marinas. Good weather, a good economy and low gas prices combined this past summer to launch what one local harbormaster is calling a banner year.

“Most weekends we were full on our transient slips,” said Peter Moon, harbormaster at the Elmwood Township Marina. “Of course our boat launch was very busy this summer.”

On Labor Day, he said, cars were lined up along M-22 to use the launch, which is the largest on Grand Traverse Bay and at $5 per launch, likely the least expensive. And Moon said the cost will stay at $5 for the 2017 season.

“It’s everyman access to some of the best waters in the country,” he said. “Boating is very popular and we accommodate everything up to 40 feet.”

The waiting list for a permanent slip also increased this year to 145 names — or about 15 percent, Moon said. That means a wait of two to five years before a slip becomes available, he said.

From January through September the Elmwood Marina took in revenues of $545,500 before expenses, Moon said.

At the G. Marsten Dame Marina in Northport a total of $638,000 in gross revenues was taken in from March until the end of October. That’s about normal, though sales of transient slips were up, said Barb Von Voigtlander, administrative coordinator for Northport Village.

“It was a great summer,” Von Voigtlander said. “The weather was terrific.”

The Northport marina has a fund balance of $273,805 and is looking at adding a fire pit and doing something with a plain concrete wall at the east end of the parking lot. The marina was renovated in 2012 with most of the work paid for with grants, she said.

The Suttons Bay Marina has 171 slips, of which 36 are transient. The marina opened in April and very quickly was booked up for every weekend, said Wally Delamater, village manager.

“We were busy,” Delamater said. “We were full almost all summer.”

The marina brought in gross revenues of $444,000 over the season — about $20,000 more than last year, Delamater said.

The marina currently has about $500,000 in its fund balance, but is taking out a wooden pathway and replacing it with crushed limestone, upgrading the electrical system on the north pier and is adding fall-hazard railings to some areas of dock.

The marina is “paying as we go,” Delamater said, and by the end of 2017 expects to have about $300,000 in its savings account.

In addition to low fuel prices, high water levels were credited for the good summer, especially for the Leland Harbor, which needs to be dredged on a nearly annual basis.

“Leland had a good summer in spite of the fact that we had depth problems in the channel,” said Tony Borden, the Leland Township Board representative to the Harbor Commission. “Fuel prices make a difference for the recreational boater, and they were exceptionally low.”

From April 1 to Sept. 27, the Leland Harbor took in gross revenues of $523,325. Of that, $309,350 was fuel sales and $206,494 was dockage fees.

And while this was a good year, Borden said, the number of boats that visited the harbor was down about 10 percent, from 1,528 in 2015 to 1,373 this year.

That translated to fewer dollars, with the harbor taking in $583,793 in 2015 and $595,878 in 2014.

“We think that difference is attributed to the fact that a lot of the bigger boats couldn’t get in,” Borden said. “We are convinced that is because we only had 6 1/2 feet of channel.”

The harbor currently has $309,897 in its fund balance. It also has an annual payment of $35,000 for renovations done in 2012, a project that will be paid off in 2020, Borden said.

“The good news is we’re in the black,” Borden said. “But we’ve got this dredging problem.”

Earlier this year the state had offered the harbor a matching grant of $100,000 for dredging. The township got a bid for $159,000, but the dredging company that gave the bid was booked up and couldn’t get to Leland until August.

“We decided not to dredge at that point because it was so late and the peak had passed,” Borden said.

Borden said the harbor has already been told that there will be no federal money available for dredging in the spring, and the state doesn’t yet know if it will have funds to help out.

In Elmwood Township the marina fund balance is up to about $1.3 million.

That may seem like a lot, Moon said, but the docks and parking lot are past their life expectancy and will get some repairs this spring. The marina has three docks, each of which would cost about $800,000 to replace, Moon said.

There are two launch docks that also need replacing, Moon said. Plans are in the works to redesign and remodel the marina, though those plans are at least two years out, he said.

Moon was the assistant harbormaster at the Elmwood Marina from 2005 to 2011. This was his first year back.

“I had to learn some things on the fly, but it was a great season,” he said.

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