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Downstate lawmakers visit still unrepaired flood damage

HOUGHTON — Local and downstate lawmakers visited sites damaged in the 2018 floods last month as part of an effort to encourage the Department of Natural Resources and the state legislature to provide more funds to restore trails.

State Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, and Rep. Greg Markkanen, R-Hancock, organized the event.

“I thank Chairman Ed McBroom and Rep. Markkanen for bringing some pretty heavy hitters up to take a look at the properties we have here that unfortunately we still have not addressed,” Commissioner Glenn Anderson said.

Also in attendance were state Sens. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, and Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, both members of the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee. From the House sides were state Reps. John Damoose, R-Harbor Springs and Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain.

“These are some ranking senators downstate,” Tikkanen said. “They carry quite a bit of political clout … we have this overwhelming deluge of visitors that want to come use these trails, and it’s high time that things got accomplished.”

The DNR began a nearly $500,000 repair project this week on one of the damaged trails, which links Houghton and Chassell. It has been closed since June 2018. Six sites are being repaired — five culverts and a bridge over the Pilgrim River.

Twenty-eight locations along the trail were damaged in all, the DNR said. The Houghton-to-Chassell trail will remain closed until at least August 2022.

Local officials also talked with the state lawmakers about the issues facing Houghton County law enforcement regarding mental health transports. Two officers are required to transport mental health patients downstate. Houghton County Sheriff Brian Mclean had told Tikkanen of one instance where Houghton County deputies had to make a mental health transport to Detroit suburb Auburn Hills.

Governors of Michigan and Wisconsin have been unable to reach an agreement that would allow U.P. agencies to transport patients to northern Wisconsin facilities, which are as close as two hours away, Tikkanen said.

“It’s not fair to you the taxpayer for people to be transported downstate,” he said. “They have no clue what we have to go through, because everything’s within a couple hours of where they’re located.”

Tikkanen called on the public to encourage legislators to allow facilities to be opened locally, to certify local health providers to treat patients here, or to be able to transport them across state lines.

Patrol cars log over 200,000 miles, much of which comes from those mental health transports, Chair Al Koskela said.

“We pay the deputies overtime and we’re wearing out our patrol cars, and there’s absolutely no reimbursement,” he said.

Tikkanen also discussed bills that would levy assessments from Airbnb properties which would be given to local emergency service providers. The number of visitors to the area has resulted in emergency services being stretched thin without reimbursement, Tikkanen said.

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