The County Board of Commissioners recently offered its support to a plan to allow certain river barges on the Great Lakes.
“This initially started with local farmers and the Michigan Agri-Business Association,” County Planning Director Mark Knudsen said. “They’re looking at more cost-effective ways of transportation.”
Last year, the U.S. Coast Guard received letters from Hamilton-based Brink Farms and the Agri-Business Association, which requested a conditional load line exemption for river barges be established along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, including the ports of Grand Haven and Holland.
“When you get on the Great Lakes, you typically have a load line that prevents you from doing certain things,” Knudsen explained.
An exemption would be for an area between Chicago’s Calumet Harbor and Muskegon.
An exemption already exists on the western shore of Lake Michigan, between Chicago and Milwaukee.
Thomas Jordan, who works for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Design and Engineering Standards, said the purpose of load lines on the Great Lakes is safety. They’re required for most commercial vessels 79 feet and longer. They are not required on rivers, smaller lakes, bays and sounds.
“Load lines are assigned to a vessel to assure they are robust enough to make sure they are seaworthy to enter offshore waters,” Jordan said. “River barges — because they only operate on rivers — they’re not built to the same robust standards. Normally, they’re not able to go in offshore waters.”
If the Coast Guard decides to move forward with the plan, they’ll do a risk assessment and safety study of a planned route, determine appropriate operating restrictions, and conduct a cost/benefit study and environmental assessment.
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