Michigan's Front Door
Port Collaborative Connects and Protects Michigan’s Ports
BY Felicia Fairchild
The mission of the Michigan Port Collaborative is to elevate the recognition and economic vitality of our port communities while protecting and promoting our Great Lakes and developing our coast as “Michigan’s Front Door.”
Through a statewide grass roots effort, 50 key Michigan ports joined forces to form the Michigan Port Collaborative (MPC), an organization designed to address a variety of issues facing Michigan’s commercial and recreational harbors. The organization is comprised of locally elected municipal officials, convention & visitors bureau officials, tourism advocates, private sector leaders within maritime commerce, ferry operators, marina and harbor operators, museum representatives, lighthouses and underwater preserve leaders, economic development and tribal officials, consultants, and educators representing Michigan’s Great Lakes communities.
What Is a Port City?
Michigan’s coastal communities that host one or more port functions form the core of the Collaborative. Port functions include cargo shipping, ferry services, recreational harbors funded by the Michigan Waterways Commission, and commercial maritime services, such as charters, commercial fishing, marine vessel construction, maintenance and repair, marine salvage, dredging and towing, as well as the land-based support operations affiliated with these. The following criteria classify a city as a port city:
commercial activity (historic/modern);
located on the coast or have a direct coastal connection;
accessible to deep draft vessels or tall ships; and
provide waterfront access to the public.
In September 2010, over 200 MPC representatives convened in Muskegon to establish priorities for the organization’s current board of directors whose officers include John Kerr, port of Detroit; Fred Stonehouse, port of Marquette; Lisa Shanley, port of South Haven; and Felicia Fairchild port of Saugatuck-Douglas. As a result of the Muskegon gathering, support for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Act emerged as the top legislative priority for
the group, while repositioning Michigan’s national image became the organization’s top economic development priority. Don Gilmet, city of Alpena building official and harbor master, strongly supports both objectives, saying “the MPC acts to elevate the recognition and economic viability of Michigan ports by repositioning Michigan’s coastal image as Michigan’s Front Door.” Kenneth Pott, executive director of The Heritage Museum and
Cultural Center in St. Joseph, agrees, “Michigan needs to shed its undeserved and outdated rust belt image and step into a more appropriate role as the most prominent maritime state in the U.S.”
What Are We Fighting For?
Last year the organization pledged its full support of Senate Bill 3213, the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2010, which was co-sponsored by Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. If passed, the bill would have ensured that all revenue collected by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which currently contains approximately 5.2 billion dollars, would be used for its intended purpose of maintaining and dredging U.S. domestic ports, including Michigan ports and harbors. The bill was not passed in 2010, but is being reintroduced in 2011. According to John Kerr, director of the port of Detroit and chairman of the Michigan Port collaborative,
“In recent years, transportation specialists have been struggling to discern new ways to move people and goods more efficiently. Highways are congested, gasoline prices are volatile, and rail capacity is limited.” He added, “Our network of maritime assets could play a vital role by off-loading cargo onto feeder ships through our maritime corridors.” The Harbor Maintenance Tax has served as a disincentive to these short-sea shipping efforts, at the same time, many Michigan ports and channels are not benefiting from the taxes collected. They face severe maintenance issues which have restricted growth in recreational and tourism traffic—particularly in these bad economic times.
Recently, Congressman Pat Tiberi (R-OH) reintroduced legislation from the last Congress which would create an exemption from the Harbor Maintenance Tax for short sea shipping services. The exemption applies to nonbulk shipments between any two U.S. ports and any Canadian or U.S. port on the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Seaway.
On December 8, 2010, statewide representatives of the Collaborative met with legislators in Lansing to discuss the
organization’s key initiatives and solicit support from state and federal representatives as well as key state and federal agencies including the U.S. DOT, U.S. Customs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and MDOT. The group met again in Sault Ste. Marie in May to expand the organizations objectives for 2011 and explore the maritime assets of the Sault.
Port Cities Speaking With One Voice
The collaborative recognizes that Michigan’s coastal assets are critical to future efforts to revitalize Michigan’s
economy and has united port communities in an effort to develop the coastline as Michigan’s Front Door. “The opportunity to speak with one powerful voice on the myriad of issues affecting Michigan’s ports is vital, especially for Marquette with its strong combination of commercial bulk shipping, commercial and sport fishing, and recreational boating,” said Fred Stonehouse, city commissioner from the city of Marquette. The group is dedicated to growing a robust waterfront economy statewide by integrating marine passenger and freight transportation,
commercial maritime operations, recreation, tourism, and maritime history while protecting the Great Lakes.
Michigan Port Collaborative Goals
1. Make Michigan a world leader in water-focused learning and education.
2. Utilize cutting-edge technology to promote port cities programs and assets.
3. Preserve the integrity of the Pure Michigan brand by collaborating to establish green tourism in port cities.
4. Summarize and disseminate information related to Great Lakes water resources issues to ensure protection, restoration, and wise use of water resources.
5. Establish a long-term development process to develop new maritime products.
6. Organize existing products for target marketing.
7. Develop transportation systems between and within port cities.
8. Establish a statewide wayfinding system for port cities.
Felicia Fairchild is the director of the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Michigan Port Collaborative board member. You may contact her at 269-857-1701 or fvfairchild@co