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Sourcing materials: Houghton continues negotiations on pier project

HOUGHTON — With steel prices continuing to rise, the city of Houghton and the state are still working on ways to make the city’s pier project happen.

When bids for the project were opened earlier this month, the cost of the steel pilings came in at $3 million, more than twice what was budgeted.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) approved funding in 2019 before redirecting it last spring to COVID relief.

MEDC’s grant this year was for $2,780,400, with the city slated to contribute $951,600.

Initial word from MEDC is that the city could receive more funds, which would also require more of a match from Houghton, City Manager Eric Waara said. Preliminary discussions included another $1 million in funding, with $750,000 from MEDC and a 25% match from the city.

“Realistically, we could come up with those match dollars, but I don’t have any firm confirmation from MEDC as to what they’re willing to do,” he said.

The city may be able to add as much as $100,000 to the bonded amount, Waara said. Up to $107,000 could also be coming in reimbursement money for work on flood repairs. About $40,000 could also be transferred from the local street fund, Waara said.

Waara told the council he may ask for a special meeting once a proposal is finalized so the city can lock in a price.

“We’re closing in on construction season … the biggest issue we had were steel prices, and those are going up by the day,” he said.

Waara said he has been working with the original low bidder on ways to maintain the spirit of the original proposal while cutting back in spots. The ongoing increase in costs complicates that, he said.

Cruise ships slated to come to the area did not make their stops contingent on having the dock, Waara said. Viking Cruises reached out to the city this week with a berthing proposal, but would be too big for the pier, Waara said. The city will work on an alternate plan.

The project would include a series of improvements in Mattila Square downtown, most notably a large pier near the Portage Lake District Library.

During public comment, resident Patty Vilmann asked if the city could use repurposed material for the pilings.

The steel that would be used in the pilings has probably been recycled, Waara said. Substituting other materials would mean going back to the drawing board for design and permitting, he said.

“To change the design to use other material I don’t think is at all practical, to be perfectly honest, because the design, the permitting, all the structural engineering that went into it … you change that, you’re going back to square one again,” he said.

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