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High lake levels cause problems at Port Clinton dock

Ferry service continues to run
Port Clinton dock.jpg
Posted at 5:03 PM, May 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-16 19:16:21-04

PORT CLINTON, Ohio — Near-record water levels continue to cause problems along Lake Erie’s coast in Northeast Ohio, including in Port Clinton.

Miller Boat Line takes passengers by ferry each day to and from Put-in-Bay, Middle Bass Island and other locations. While it’s continuing to transport passengers even with the high water levels, only shutting down for high winds, the company’s vice president of resources said it has had to make modifications to keep people safe and dry.

“We’ve added concrete to the dock to try to bring the level of the dock up, so it’s easier for cars to get on and off the ferry, as well as passengers,” Jacob Market said. “We are working on putting an elevated walkway in so that our foot passengers can stay dry and safer and away from the debris that washes up with the high water.”

Raising the level of the entire dock, Market said, would take much more concrete.

“We’re trying to find ways to adapt as quickly as possible to keep things safe,” Market said.

With Memorial Day weekend approaching and summer not far behind, Miller Boat Line is trying to finish its elevated wooden walkway to make sure customers don’t have to walk through puddles, as high water flows onto the dock through drains meant to send it back out into the lake. The problem gets worse when it’s windy, Market said.

“We’re trying to find the best ways to prepare for the season, so that the large amount of travelers that travel with us in the summer can be safe and comfortable,” Market said. “It’s not just about safety. You want people to be able to enjoy themselves, and if they have to walk through any water at all, it’s not good for us and it’s not good for them. Nobody wants to have soggy shoes.”

Market said Miller Boat Line also has to keep in mind that water levels could eventually be low again and that the company might have to remove some of the modifications it’s made.

"We can’t control Mother Nature, so we’re having to be flexible and our customers have been very helpful and they’ve been flexible with us,” Market said. “So it’s working. It’s just not as easy as it was a couple years ago."

Sandy Ridge, who lives in Port Clinton, has been going to Middle Bass Island for about 20 years and said this year has been the worst she’s seen on the island when it comes to high water.

“Probably a third of the island is flooded, and it’s been flooded for about three weeks now,” Ridge said. “And it’s just not drying out, cause the water level’s so high, even with the roads, so it’s going to be a long time before it clears up.”

She brought boots with her to protect her feet from water at the dock in Port Clinton.

“When we come down to the ferry dock, it’s usually flooded if we got a nor’easter,” Ridge said. “So we bring boots so we can walk and get on the ferry without getting our feet soaking wet.”

Dontavius Bishop, who is heading to Put-in-Bay to work for the summer, said he was prepared, too.

“I brought boots this time, brought waterproof boots,” Bishop said. “They’re almost to my knees. And then a few rain jackets.”

Market said although water levels have been rising for a few years, the lake was at the highest level he’d seen it on a consistent basis. He said the last few months have not been easy.

“Between all the storms we’ve had and the slower spring due to weather, it’s been rough,” Market said. “And we’ve had to make some expenditures to keep up with the high water.”

But stopping service isn’t an option.

“We have to keep running. We’re the lifeline to the island,” Market said. “We haul over all of the produce and the vendors and the contractors that fix air-conditioners. Anything that that island consumes, we have to haul, and we’re happy to do it, but we can’t just stop, so we have to overcome the challenges that the high water brings.”

Market said Miller Boat Line updates its website and Facebook page when there are service delays due to weather or high winds.