Houghton County applies for state grant for flooding

HOUGHTON — Houghton County is requesting a state grant to assist in recovery from this year’s heavy spring snow melt flooding.

The Houghton County Board approved a request for the governor to authorize a grant from the State Disaster Contingency Fund to go towards more than $18 million in damages.

In April, rapid snow melt caused abandoned railroad grades acting as earthen dams to fail, the county said in its resolution. The melt waters then overwhelmed stormwater and storm sewer systems, washing out roads and closing some by depositing up to a foot of silt on the roadways.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency in eight U.P. counties last spring, including Baraga, Houghton and Ontonagon counties.

The declaration enabled the state to seek disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the counties’ behalf. FEMA denied the request. That is being appealed.

“Should that appeal be successful, then this money would be applied towards the 25% match,” said Emergency Management Coordinator Chris VanArsdale. “Not that we won’t try and get the state to assist us with that 25% match anyway, but this would be part of that.”

The board in Baraga County, where the FEMA request was also denied, approved a similar resolution Monday night.

The resolution will allow the county road commission to apply for reimbursement of up to $500,000. The road commission can only cover 50% of the cost of road repair in townships, VanArsdale said. Three other townships will be seeking reimbursement for their half of the cost, said Vice Chair Roy Britz: $183,000 in Portage Township, $140,000 in Calumet Township, and $22,000 in Franklin Township.

The county is also working with the Army Corps of Engineers on a grant project to create a watershed management plan for the area, what projects can be done, and ways to fund that construction.

“This is actually a pilot project, but there could be potential for some money that doesn’t require a match,” VanArsdale said.

“That’s an opportunity perhaps to get things set in motion where we have repairs done, but we can also maintain things so we can hopefully eliminate that spring flooding that occurs annually in your district,” said Chair Tom Tikkanen.

In other action, the board:

• Held a public hearing on the closeout of a $70,000 Community Development Block Grant for Quincy Manufacturing through the county’s revolving loan fund. The $70,000 loan created approximately three jobs, said Sam Stonelake, business retention specialist for the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance.

• Heard from Commissioner Gretchen Janssen recycling tonnage for August at the Houghton County Transfer Station had been 4.8 tons, versus 3.24 tons the previous year.

• Heard from Tikkanen, he had attended a meeting Monday with officials from the architecture and planning firm Beckett & Raeder, which is working on a redevelopment concept for the fire site on the 100 block of Fifth Street in Calumet. They plan to host a community event to display their ideas for the site, which is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 30 in the Calumet Theatre ballroom.

• Heard from Tikkanen, the Department of Natural Resources plans to reopen the snowmobile trail between Lake Linden and Dollar Bay by Dec. 1. The trail was heavily damaged in 2018’s Father’s Day Flood. The DNR also hopes to host a community forum in late October on improvements to the Houghton-Douglass Falls.

• Heard from Sheriff Joshua Saaranen, the county jail had averaged 20 inmates per day, and was up to 1,940 calls for the year.

• Heard from Building Director Todd LaRoux, the county had issued 340 building permits this year, up 30 from last year’s pace.

• Heard from Clerk Jennifer Kelly, she had applied for a state grant for $85,000 for the nine-day early voting center, which would cover equipment for one to three voting centers. For the presidential primary her plan is to use four tabulators at one center, which will be located at the Houghton City Center. Other centers could potentially be opened in Calumet and toward the southern end of the county.

• Approved a one-year contract with Tri-County Public Defenders for indigent criminal defense.

• Approved a state 2024 County Veteran Service Fund grant. The one-year agreement will fund up to $70,239 of costs.

• Appointed Michael Erickson and Steve Aho to the Houghton County Planning Commission by 3-2 votes. Erickson, who will be the environmental representative, is an environmental engineer who is senior vice president at Arcadis. Aho, facilities manager for Moyle Real Estate & Development, will represent tourism and economic development.

• Reappointed Joan Antila and Sharon Foix to the county Board of Canvassers. Antila is one of two Democrats on the board, while Foix is one of two Republicans.

• Approved Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress (CAP) dues of $1,100 for 2024.

• Scheduled a public hearing for the Fiscal Year 2024 budget for noon Sept. 21.


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