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Man who shoveled new channel into Lake Michigan convicted

A man accused of diverting a national park river to ease boat access to Lake Michigan has been convicted of two misdemeanors.

Andrew Howard of Frankfort, Michigan, was found guilty of tampering and vandalism Wednesday during a brief trial in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Ray Kent.

In August 2022, a National Park Service ranger witnessed Howard digging with a shovel so the Platte River in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore would be diverted into one of the Great Lakes, prosecutors said in a court filing.

/ Credit: U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan

“Within days, the natural power of the water and the constructed dam caused the river to divert and created a new channel to Lake Michigan that grew to approximately 200 feet wide,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Biksacky said.

“It stayed approximately that wide for the summer and fall season,” she added. “There was then an influx in the number of fishermen that came to Platte River boat launch to take advantage of the favorable conditions of access created by the new channel.”

The Associated Press left a voicemail and email seeking comment from Howard’s attorney Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Mark Totten said Howard had a policy dispute with the National Park Service and “took matters into his own hands.”

The Park Service no longer dredges the Platte River. As a result, sediment and sand build up, reducing the ability to get boats to Lake Michigan.

When the diversion first occurred, some state and local officials, businesses owners and angler groups expressed support for the increased boat access and argued that it actually benefitted the river, local news site Mlive.com reported. Township officials have called for the river mouth dredged, arguing that its shallowness is a safety hazard that impedes access to Platte Bay for rescue boats.

According to Mlive.com, since dredging stopped in 2016, two people have died in the bay —a teenager from Holt drowned swimming and a 21-year-old died when his kayak capsized.

“it would be nice for a rescue boat to be able to get out there in a timely fashion,” Kyle Orr, owner of Riverside Canoe Trips, told Mlive.com.

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