Man Convicted for Diverting River, Despite Being Exactly What Rescue Boats Needed

Craig Sterken /
Craig Sterken /

When around a body of water, it’s pretty much a must that some sort of rescue is available, right? Yet, when a man created just that for a river in Michigan, he was convicted on federal charges.

Introducing Andrew Blair Howard, a 63-year-old man and avid fisherman.

In August of 2022, Howard created a small dam from rocks and hand-dug a small channel in the Platte River near Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. And for this, he’s been convicted on charges of tampering and vandalism at the state park, according to a news release from the US Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Michigan.

So why all the fuss?

Well, Howard’s small bit of work changed the natural flow of the Platte River, diverting it to now flow into Platte Bay through Platte Point, which is apparently a very popular beaching area for tourists.

As you can tell from the before pictures, a dune and beach area runs along the Platte River, dividing it from Platte Bay, a section of Lake Michigan. Now, this isn’t exactly natural, either. Or at least it used to not exist.

You see, up until 2017, park managers dredged the mouth of Platte River every year, ensuring that it remained deep enough for boats to get in and out easily. Since that 50-year practice has been stopped, sand and such as been allowed to build up in the area, creating larger beach areas along the river.

Now, tourists and beachgoers love the new, sandy areas. But boaters and fishermen do not, as these new areas have quite literally cut off all access to the bay from the river. And as the Department of Natural Resources reports, it’s also put quite a damper on how emergency vessels access the area.

Now, the problem has been solved.

As the news release states, Howard’s “diversion created unauthorized access for large boats to enter Platte Bay. Within days, the natural power of the water and the dam caused the new channel to reach approximately 200 feet wide.”

According to US Attorney Mark Totten, Howard vandalized and destroyed a “Michigan jewel.”

However, officials at the Michigan DNR don’t agree – at least not entirely.

Apparently, by digging the small channel, Howard has actually helped to lower water levels further upstream. And as I mentioned before, it’s also finally created a way for rescue boats to access the area quickly.

As MLive reported, the department has been struggling for years to find a way to get boats and rescue vessels into Platte Bay and the mouth of the Platte River easier and quicker. Up until Howard’s action, they had come up with no legal solution.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

At one point, they proposed building a new launch site to address boater and swimmer safety in the area. But park authorities refused it.


Well, because it might interfere with the habitat of a native bird, the piping plover. In fact, one of the main reasons the park stopped dredging the river mouth in 2017 was for the same reason, to facilitate the growth of natural piping plover habitats.

The park ended up spending about $328,500 in tax money to excavate all the dredging remnants and make the area more suitable for the small birds.

And Howard just ruined all that…

So, in creating a safe environment for all humans involved, he’s being convicted on federal charges for “possibly” threatening the habitat of birds.

Yeah, that sounds about right. (Insert palm to forehead.)