Ontonagon residents take opportunity to speak up

Skip Schulz/For the Gazette Ontonagon homeowner, Karen Parige led a heated discussion as to her thoughts about the lack of improvements in the village of Ontonagon and the poor location for the Rose Island kayak landing.

ONTONAGON — Five people spoke up during the public comment period at last Monday night’s Ontonagon Village Council meeting. Each of them had one concern in common, that was the importance of tourism and recreation in the community.

Karen Parige stated that in early 2000, she and her husband rode through Ontonagon on motorcycles and liked what they saw.

“We thought this would be a great place to retire,” she said.

She said that four years ago they bought a home and remodeled it.

“Where I came from, things got done,” she said. “Now I drive down River Street and I see buildings falling apart with auction signs on them. I see a restaurant with an auction sign on it. You have fire hazards here. Some say things are getting done.”

Parige then went on to say that she was not at the meeting looking for answers, “but I will be back in two weeks for answers. I will want to hear what’s been done.”

One of the topics that Parige, and Tom Hamilton brought up was the kayak landing, a project that received a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant in 2014. It has been a controversial project since its conception in 2016. The kayak landing sits on Rose Island and was built in the slough.

“I have a disability and I love to kayak,” Hamilton said. “Getting in and out of the kayak is almost impossible. It was put in a swamp. Who is going to risk falling into that muck? The only thing this town has is tourism, and you’re watching it all go kaput.”

At past council meetings, people have questioned where the state grants for different projects have gone. Parige talked about projects that have not been completed.

“That is money that has been thrown away,” she said. “It’s been four years that I have seen this town fall apart and not do a darn thing.”

She received applause from those attending the meeting.

When Village President Gerard Waldrop asked for comments from the council on Parige’s comments, no one responded.

A landowner on Rose Island where the kayak landing is located, Hamilton opened up his comments by being blunt.

“I want this on the record,” he said. “The Rose Island paddle-craft landing is a joke. People know that, but they don’t know what’s behind it. I’ve got three years of investigation into that, not just with the village but with the state.”

Hamilton stated that the (kayak) paddle-craft landing should have been put at the marina.

It was in June, 2016, that the council argued that the landing could not be put in at the marina due to boat traffic on the river, and the mile-long distance that paddle crafters would have to walk to access the downtown Ontonagon area.

One of the proponents of building the kayak landing on Rose Island back then was Village Manager Joe Erickson. His reasoning was that it would be one step in trying to build a better connection between the downtown and the waterfront.

At the time of the engineering and plans for the landing, handicap access was also required.

Hamilton stated that the problems with the landing go back to when the permits were originally filed. He questioned why the residents on Rose Island were never notified of the project.

He questioned how many kayakers use the landing and stated that those that have, “will not come back, and they tell others (about the landing). You don’t want to go there, you can’t even go down the ramp. There’s four feet of muck. The water is polluted. There’s storm sewers running in.”

Hamilton concluded by hoping that speaking out will help.

“I hope this gets in the news media,” he said. “It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Ontonagon resident Marlene Young commended the Village Office dtaff and the Department of Public Works employees. Her concern was the safety of the public to walk on any sidewalk.

“Too often vehicles, campers, picnic tables, sports equipment, and even signs are continuously kept on sidewalks,” she said.

This prompted a legal question to Waldrop and Erickson as to who owns the sidewalk. Erickson stated the cost of repairing sidewalks and the ownership of the sidewalks. Waldrop stated that the village needs to find out who is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the sidewalks.

A resident asked if the sidewalks are owned by the village. Waldrop stated, “No.” This prompted Bob Hope to ask a followup question.

“Then can a private property owner remove that sidewalk?” he asked.

Another resident stated that the ownership of the sidewalk, according to him, would depend upon the classification of the road that the sidewalk was next too.

“What are we going to do about it?” Council member Junior Marks asked.

This was in reference as to Young’s concerns about private property being located on the sidewalks.

Council member Mike Mogen stated that the sidewalks have been neglected for years.

Jasic Olszewski asked what the village is going to do to replace or repair the volleyball courts that used to be located at the park next to the marina.

“Maybe they can be re-located, maybe they can be more like beach volleyball,” he said. “Can we expect anything happening this year?”