Rep. VanderWall supports funding for Little Manistee River Weir

Project to improve Michigan’s viability in crucial industry

The Manistee Weir is where the chinook salmon egg harvest takes place.

The Manistee Weir is where the chinook salmon egg harvest takes place. (News Advocate File Photo)

MANISTEE COUNTY — State Rep. Curt VanderWall (R-101st) voted on Wednesday in favor of funding, which will provide long-awaited upgrades to the Little Manistee River Weir.

Thompson State Fish Hatchery in Manistique, one of the destinations for eggs coming from the weir, is also slated to receive improvements through the project. The total cost of the project, as presented by the Department of Natural Resources, is estimated to be $12.2 million.

In January, renovation support for the project was proposed through Michigan Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder in the fiscal year 2017-18 budget.

In a press release, VanderWall describes the upgrades as “an integral part of Manistee County” will

Workers at the Little Manistee River Weir work at processing salmon eggs during the annual harvest. The fish will be available to purchase at several locations in Manistee County. (Courtesy photo)

Workers at the Little Manistee River Weir work at processing salmon eggs during the annual harvest. The fish will be available to purchase at several locations in Manistee County. (Courtesy photo)

improve the facility structurally, provide more prosperous fish egg yields and add aesthetic benefits for tourism.

“Fishing is a big economic driver for our state and our area,” said VanderWall, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “We have world-class offerings for sport fishing, but some of those offerings rely heavily on stocked fish that facilities like the Little Manistee River Weir help produce.

“Our state’s hatcheries and fish-raising facilities have not seen significant investment in over 40 years. We need to protect this industry through these important updates and I’m pleased we have gotten the ball rolling.”

Scott Heintzelman, Central Lake Michigan Management unit manager, said the proposed upgrades will modernize the facility significantly.

“For our area in Manistee, it falls around $2 million that’s going to be spent improving and fixing the infrastructure —that’s pretty much about 50 years old now,” said Heintzelman.

A 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report estimated the economic impact of sport fishing in Michigan at $2.5 billion while directly supporting 38,000 jobs.

The weir blocks and diverts fish on the river to control spawning; harvested eggs are transported to hatcheries across Michigan and other states for raising.

The current demand for stocked fish – like steelhead salmon and coolwater species, such as walleye and muskellunge – exceed the DNR’s capacity for production. Fertile fishing grounds would see diminished value without additional stocking.

Plans for the Little Manistee River Weir includes electrical, water supply and pump improvements and new holding ponds, energy efficient lighting systems and an emergency generator.

“What you will see the construction of new ponds, new mechanical, equipment to move fish around, lighting and a new backup generator system,” said Heintzelman. “(The generator) will give us a little more insurance that if bad weather happens, we will still be able to keep the pumps running, which need to run to keep the fish alive.”

Increased steelhead and walleye production, along with an uptick in the health and quality of the fish due to better facilities, would provide an additional $8.2 million in economic value for the state each year, according to DNR data.

DNR staff has already begun the process of selecting a design and engineering firm. Design work will take up to a year, with another 12 to 18 months for construction.

Construction should be started by 2019, said Heintzelman.

Residents from across Michigan and the Midwest visit the Little Manistee River Weir each year. New flooring and perimeter fencing as part of the DNR project will increase the facility’s appeal from a tourism perspective.

“This is a process that’s really cool to see and learn about in person,” VanderWall said. “In the fall when eggs are taken, you can see the colors of Northern Michigan around the river and the property.

“It paints a beautiful portrait and shows the true meaning of ‘Pure Michigan.’ These updates will make this a great attraction for visitors and outdoorsmen for years to come.”

The funding project, within House Bill 4320, moves to the governor for review.

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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