Olsen motivated to serve county
Three candidates are vying for the Republican nomination the the Baraga County Commissioner seat being vacated by Bill Menge at the end of his current term.
“I’m just your average guy,” said Lyle Olsen, one of the candidates.
Olsen was born and raised in L’Anse, but moved downstate to work for a long time before returning to the area, first to work “in the forest” and now for the Village of L’Anse Department of Public Works. He’s also the chief of the Aura Fire Department, president of the L’Anse Fire Department and works with the groups who run the Lake Trout Festival and snowmobile trail grooming. Olsen said that in the short time that leaves him free, he likes to hunt, fish and ride the trails.
The controversy surrounding the proposed Summit Lake Wind Farm first drew Olsen the the possibility of political involvement.
“I never really was a very political person but I see that if a person doesn’t stand up for what they believe in then you might as well just lay down,” he said. “If you’re going to be the voice of change you’ve got to stand up and raise your voice.”
Olsen’s background working in road construction downstate, forestry and the DPW has given him a solid knowledge base that he thinks will serve him well as a commissioner.
“I’ve got good common sense when it comes to a lot of things and I can see both sides of an issue,” he said. “I want to see both sides of an issue before I make any decision.”
Lack of funding is the county’s biggest issue according to Olsen, and he thinks turning to federal grants and appealing to the state for a better part of their budget is they way forward.
“We’re pretty well-taxed on what we have here now,” he said. “You don’t really want to force the minority of the people to pay taxes for the majority of people…”
He admitted there might be room to work on how commercial forest is taxed, but emphasized the importance of the industry to region and the jobs provided by it. He’s interested in drawing more industries to the area, too, but also recognizes the value of the environment and small size of the community.
“There’s obviously a balance between our natural resources and the environment and trying not to destroy what we have just to gain a dollar,” he said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Olsen thought the county could rely more heavily on tourism, but in the current situation that does not seem as feasible.
“We need some more diversification,” Olsen said. “We can’t just put all our eggs in one basket.”
Olsen does not have any projects to launch on Day One if he is elected.
“I don’t have an agenda at all,” he said.
He said he is not always in complete agreement with the Republican viewpoint, but is sticking with his party.
“I’m standing as a Republican,” he said.
To him, two important issues are the representation of the Upper Peninsula in Lansing, and the need for road funding. The county and village have many roads in disrepair, but few sources of funding for replacing them.
“Unfortunately it all has a shelf-life,” he said.
Olsen has seen grant applications to the state consistently turned down, he thinks that it’s in large part because of the low population of the area.
“How do you get population if you don’t have good infrastructure?” he asked. “I love driving the gravel roads personally, but you’re not going to attract new business…”