Transportation chairman visits

(Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette) From left, Houghton County Road Engineer Kevin Harju, State Rep. Greg Markkanen and State Rep. Jack O’Malley survey the damage to Old Mill Hill Road during O’malley’s visit Saturday. O’Malley, chair of the House Transportation Committee, said he would work to get state funding for the county to fix roads still impassable after 2018 flooding.

STANTON TOWNSHIP — Of the $40 million in damage Houghton County suffered to its roads during the Father’s Day Flood, half still needs to be repaired.

State Rep. Greg Markkanen, R-Hancock, brought Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, to the Copper Country Saturday to survey some of the sites still in need of fixes. To give O’Malley a sense of the scale of destruction and the work still ahead, they looked at Old Mill Hill Road, Cole’s Creek Road and Paradise Road.

“I think it’s important to have the chairman of the Transportation Committee here to see so he can help me fight down in Lansing for this additional funding,” Markkanen said.

Markkanen is seeking about $6 million in state funding for repairs, which would come in a supplemental budget, he said.

Markkanen said he is also approaching the governor’s office and the state Department of Transportation to get the necessary funds.

“This was a disaster of unprecedented levels,” Markkanen said. “And there’s no reason the state can’t help Houghton County.”

The county is having cash flow issues with the work because of $4.5 million in matching funds it needs for repairs on the federal highway system, said County Road Engineer Kevin Harju. So far, FEMA has only reimbursed the county for about $1.5 million of more than $5.5 million in FEMA-eligible repairs.

“That alone is using up all of our SIB (State Infrastructure Bank) loan,” he said.

On-site visits can mobilize action in a way getting a report doesn’t, O’Malley said.

“You can look at a picture, but when you see it here and you look at it, you go, ‘Oh my God,'” he said. “This isn’t just like a little washout on a county road. This is a road that was annihilated.”

The visit also allows O’Malley to meet the crews involved in fixing it, and see how hard they’ve worked, he said.

The $6 million Old Mill Hill Road project, done through Federal Highway Administration money, will be bid out this winter, with construction to start in the spring, Harju said. Completing repairs will likely take the entire summer, he said.

Harju hopes to have a majority of the remaining projects done by next summer. Depending on revenue, that might stretch an additional year.

“We need the cash so we’re able to pay the contractors and buy the materials that we need,” he said.

The path to getting funding approved is still up in the air, O’Malley said. But he is optimistic.

“I think having somebody else advocating other than just the county road commission and Rep. Markkanen will be a plus,” he said. “It’s the squeaky wheel theory, and I’m going to add to that squeak.”