2017-01-12 / Front Page

Leland quickly raises $109,000 for dredge

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

If a dredge can’t come to the mountain — of sand, that is — then Leland will buy its own.

That’s the conclusion reached by the Leland Township Harbor Commission, but it’s a solution that will cost $500,000.

While raising money for such a venture might be a mountain of a problem in some communities, more than $109,000 has already been raised on Fundly.com, a crowdfunding site.

The $500,000 cost covers purchasing a dredge and the various pipes and other equipment needed to pull the sand out of the mouth of the harbor, as well as training for those who will operate it.

The township Harbor Committee plans to kick in $300,000 from its dredging, maintenance and improvement fund.

The rest, $200,000, is being raised on Fundly, a website similar to the popular GoFundMe. A search for ‘Dig deep for Leland’ will get potential donors to the right page.

As of Wednesday, $109,625 had been raised on Fundly by 110 donors — getting it more than halfway to the group’s goal.

Kate Vilter, former president of the Leland Chamber of Commerce, started the Fundly campaign after being asked to spearhead fundraising for the dredge.

“Fundly makes it easy for people to donate in whatever denomination they’d like,” Vilter said.

Donors also get instant gratification, she said, as they can share their donation on social media giant Facebook, or they can choose to donate anonymously.

Historically, dredging of the Leland “harbor of refuge,” as it is designated, has been paid with federal money. But in recent years the state and local sources have kicked in as federal monies earmarked for such projects dried up.

A federal solution looked bleaker than ever, said township Trustee Tony Borden, who also sits on the Harbor Commission.

But dredging of the harbor, which is needed almost every year, has not been done in a couple of years. With shoals now reducing depths at the mouth of the harbor to just six feet, income at the harbor has been lost.

“The dredge is the best alternative that we’ve got, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Borden said.

The Fundly site charges 4.9 percent in a platform fee, another 2.9 percent credit card processing fee, plus a 30-cent charge per transaction.

Vilter said she chose Fundly because GoFundMe was being used too often and she wanted to try a different platform. The site also didn’t require the donee to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit in order to receive donations.

The campaign was started at the end of December and Vilter said the money needs to be secured by the end of February so the dredging boat can be ordered. The boat should be in Leland by early April so training of those who will operate it can start. The schedule calls for dredging to take place at the end of April.

Vilter said the fundraising group was hoping to hit the halfway mark by Jan. 20.

“And we have it by Jan. 9,” she said.

The largest donation came from Richard and Stacie Stephenson, who gave $50,000 this week after pledging to match donations. Richard Stephenson is the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. The couple is building a 37,700-square-foot home on north Lake Leelanau.

“Their generosity is incredible, and it’s provided the push on getting this effort started,” Borden said.

Several local business owners have chipped in, and Vilter said she received verbal pledges for more donations that are expected to come in this week.

Several larger donations have been made directly to the township, including one person who gave $5,000 in stocks.

As of Tuesday that total amount was $19,300, according to township Clerk Jane Keen.

The Wolverine Class hull pump dredge is being purchased from DSC Dredge in Greenbush. The company will train workers to use it and will be on site while it’s being used the first time.

Vilter said the township would like to have four people trained. Several have already expressed interest in getting trained, including Geoff Niessink and Jim Munoz, who are both on the Harbor Commission. Niessink is a captain on the Leland Township Fire and Rescue Department; Munoz is co-owner of Manitou Island Transit located in Fishtown.

The harbor dredging, maintenance and improvement fund currently has $220,839. Keen said the rest of the money needed for the dredge will likely be transferred over from a credit income account that is typically used for start-up costs in the spring. That account currently has a balance of $274,500, Keen said.

The harbor also has $5,264 in a checking account that is used for operational expenses.

Last year the state offered to give the township $100,000 for dredging, but by the time the offer came in dredging companies were all booked up. Dredging needs to before a fish-spawning blackout from May 15 to July 15.

The cost in 2016 was estimated at about $160,000.

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