Keweenaw County Board Commissioner: County can’t afford to operate lodge

EAGLE RIVER — Don Piche explained in plain terms that Keweenaw County can no longer afford to finance the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. With declining revenues, due in part to the increasing amount of taxable land leaving tax rolls because of conservancies, the county is finding itself increasingly in dire straits, and the mountain lodge is further draining resources.

Sandra Gayk, board member, also addressed the issue of the lodge at the monthly lodge board meeting Wednesday night.

“I came on to the board thinking ‘I want to save this lodge, I want to do what I can to save this is a historic place,” Gayk said. “I’m doing a complete turn around, because of the money that we’re putting into the lodge and it just doesn’t seem right.”

Gayk listed four points that led to her change of heart regarding the lodge.

Her first point was the winterization and expansion project that was done “with no one at the helm watching what was going on,” the cost of which was in excess of $5 million. She said the county has made only one payment on the loan.

“I was appalled to learn that (Department of Agriculture) Rural Development loan funds were used to make the payment,” Gayk said.

The second point she discussed was the amount of money the county board has transferred to the lodge in the past, and the transfers continue.

“We’ve transferred approximately $1 million in county general fund and (Economic Development Corporation) money to support the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge operation. In November (2016), the board, at a public hearing, authorized $150,000 loan to the mountain lodge to keep it going and manager is within that parameter now.”

The third point, she said, is very little money has been expended on maintenance of the lodge. One developer who received a tour of the facility told the board the lodge required a minimum maintenance input of $2 million, which the county simply does not have.

The fourth point she brought up was the number of Keweenaw County residents actually employed the lodge — four. Due to actions of previous boards, she said, issues have been mounting at the lodge to bring it to its present problems.

“And I believe we’re at that tipping point. We need to make decisions on how to move forward on this mountain lodge,” Gayk said. “It has not shown a profit in the last 10 years. I don’t care what anybody says out there. No profit in 10 years.”