How and why would someone do it? What we know

A Michigan man faces federal charges for allegedly dredging a river inside a federal park along Lake Michigan.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten announced charges against Andrew Blair Howard, 62, of Frankfort, Michigan. Federal officials say Howard dredged the Platte River inside Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Howard is charged with one count of tampering and one count of vandalism at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on August 15, 2022. These charges carry a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail, up to $5,000 in ‘ fine, up to 5 years ‘ probation and mandatory restitution.

—> Feds charge Michigan man with dredging river inside Sleeping Bear Dunes

There are several questions surrounding this story – we saw some good ones in the comments of our initial report. Here is what we can answer:

What’s wrong with the Platte River?

The Platte River originates at Long Lake in Traverse City and flows through Platte Bay, a small bay in Lake Michigan.

The dredging (or lack thereof) of the Platte River has been a hot topic in northern Michigan since officials announced the river would no longer be dredged in 2017, a decision made by the National Parks Service.

“By not dredging the mouth of the Platte. It lets nature be nature, so it allows the mouth of the Platte to meander as it historically has for thousands of years, and it allows natural resources to be on their own terms, in a meaning,” Scott Tucker, superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, told 9&10 News.

Lake Township Supervisor Anna Grobe sent letters of concern to state and national lawmakers about the NPS decision.

“If there was an incident, whether it was a canoe, a kayak, a child on a float or a fisherman and the rescue vessel should have gone out. They couldn’t have gotten out of the mouth of the Platte River. They should have come from Frankfurt,” Grobe said, adding that there have been two water deaths in the area in recent years. “Time is running out and I was worried it was a recovery, not a rescue,” Grobe said.

Why would anyone flirt with him?

We don’t know specifically why Howard would have done it — federal investigators haven’t released their findings outside of the charges. We don’t even know how he succeeded, or at what level. But when the change in flow was noticed in April, he launched an extensive investigation.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Scott Tucker said it was upsetting and had unintended ecological consequences. He said the increased flow has lowered the level of the Platte River by a foot, draining untold amounts of water from wetlands upstream and depositing debris and sand in the lake. He also said whoever did it may have been looking to improve boat access to a nearby boat launch.

What is dredging?

Dredging (verb) means “the process of removing sediment that has accumulated on the bottom or on the banks of bodies of water, including rivers, lakes or streams”, according to GeoForm International. People have been dredging canals in one way or another since primitive peoples began irrigating crops, according to USACE.

Dredges (noun) are specialized equipment that creates a vacuum to suck up and pump out unwanted sediment and debris.

“Sedimentation is a natural process where silt, sand and other debris build up at the bottom of rivers, lakes, canals or streams over time. Excessive sediment buildup can cause a range of problems.

According to NOAA, dredging is often focused on maintaining or increasing the depth of shipping channels, anchorages or berthing areas to ensure the safe passage of boats and ships. Ships need a certain amount of water to float and not hit the bottom. This water depth continues to increase over time as larger and larger vessels are deployed.

According to NOAA, dredging is also done to reduce exposure of fish, wildlife, and people to contaminants and to prevent the spread of contaminants to other areas of the body of water. This environmental dredging is often necessary because sediments in and around cities and industrial areas are frequently contaminated with a variety of pollutants.

In Michigan, dredging actions required permits, usually state and federal permits.

How does someone dredge a river?

Ultimately, it’s incredibly complicated, and the more you read about it, the more you’ll be shocked that anyone could do this on their own, or without being immediately caught.

It’s heavy equipment.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, there are three main types of dredges: mechanical dredges, hydraulic dredges, and air transport dredges.

Hydraulic dredges work by sucking up a mixture of dredged material and water from the bottom of the channel.

Hopper dredges are vessels with large containment areas or “hoppers” inside. Equipped with powerful pumps, the dredges suck material from the bottom of the channel through long intake pipes called drag arms and store it in the hoppers.

A pipeline dredge sucks in dredged material through one end, the “intake pipe”, then pushes it out of the “discharge pipe” at the other end directly into the disposal site.

Mechanical dredges remove materials by scooping them up from the bottom and then placing them on a waiting barge or in a disposal area. Tipper dredges and clamshell dredges, named for the scoop buckets they use, are the two most common types.

(Read more here from US Army Corps of Engineers)

Dredging process (GeoForm International)

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