The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Eagles force Saxon Harbor campground move



Hurley — The discovery of an active eagle’s nest in a tree on the planned site means Saxon Harbor’s campground will need to be moved somewhere else, Iron County Forestry and Parks Administrator Eric Peterson told the county’s forestry committee Tuesday.

“So now we’re not quite back to square one, but what we are doing is we are evaluating other options and alternatives,” Peterson said. “Essentially, what we are going to do is, we’re going to work our way through these other options.”

According to Peterson, members of the engineering firm hired to design the rebuilt harbor after it was destroyed in flooding in July discovered the nest while walking the property Friday.

“Essentially, what the active eagle’s nest does is it completely kills our east campground location. Federal regulations ... for bald eagles (say) you have to stay a minimum of 330 feet away from the nest, which would wipe out probably one third of the area we were going to put the campground in,” Peterson said. “But because this is an active nest, with actual fledglings in it; and there is no construction currently there, and we would be doing new construction; we have to stay a minimum of 660 feet away from the nest.”

Given the news, Peterson said the county was once again exploring all options for campground locations, not only the other location proposed east of the harbor but also several brought up in meetings with various stakeholder groups last week.

While the county is looking at every option, Peterson wasn’t optimistic there was an easy alternative.

“I’m not honestly holding a ton of hope out right now of having the campground back down (near the marina),” Peterson said. “I’m not saying it won’t happen, we’re going to go through and we’re going to check them off the list, but we don’t have a good spot to put one out there.”

The campground can’t be rebuilt in its old location due to a state law requiring an advanced warning system be in place for any campground built in a flood plain — something not feasible given the campground’s proximity to Oronto Creek.

In addition to the discovery of the eagle’s nest, Friday’s property walkthrough also highlighted the degree to which wetlands would have to be dealt with when rebuilding the campground.

While the problem of wetlands can be overcome, according to Peterson, most of the land at and around Saxon Harbor is likely considered wetlands — due in part to Department of Natural Resources regulations listing wetlands as anywhere with certain types of vegetation.

“Wetlands are going to be an issue no matter where we are at Saxon Harbor; because if it has a piece of swamp grass growing there, it is a wetland — even if it is (a) pure upland growing site. If it has wetland species, it is considered a wetland,” Peterson said. “For us to disturb that, we need to mitigate it — which costs money.”

To demonstrate the pervasiveness of what was now considered wetlands; Peterson cited the town of Saxon’s Erickson Road that leads to the planned campground site, telling the committee the only part of the road that wasn’t considered a wetland is the “two track that goes down the middle of it.”

The presence of wetlands on a piece of land doesn’t necessarily prevent the county from developing it, according to Peterson, just it would have to perform wetland mitigation — which generally consists of creating a larger amount of wetlands in a different location to compensate for the wetlands being destroyed.

With the proposed campground site unavailable and the purchase no longer necessary, Peterson asked whether the county should continue its effort to acquire the parcel of land to the east of the harbor. Part of the proposed campground’s footprint was on the 115-acre property, currently owned by the Forestland Group. The county has an option on the property through July.

Peterson said he was very confident the county would receive a Knowles-Nelson Stewardship grant to fund half the purchase price. The grant still needs to be approved by the state joint finance committee — which will likely happen once the DNR completes an appraisal of the property.

The county had planned on adding 520 acres to the county forest and using money provided by a non-profit as the required local match for the remainder of the purchase.

If the county decided against adding the land to the forest now, instead waiting to use it as a match for a future project, Peterson said the county could approach the non-profit about contributing additional money for the rest of the match.

“Phone calls could be made to some other interested parties that I know are going to be very, very disappointed if we don’t purchase that,” Peterson said.

Even without locating the campground on the property, Peterson said the county could build trails on the property or use it for some other lower-impact activities.

“With these wetland areas; you could do hiking trails, or ski trails and things like that,” Peterson said. “Because they’re narrow, their footprint is narrow.”

Given the complications, the committee verbally authorized Peterson to extend the deadline for the first phase of the engineering work by 30 days because the change leaves too many questions unanswered to allow the company to complete its work — such as pricing out the cost to design a campground — in the time originally allotted for the work.

During his update on the harbor building process, Peterson also discussed the dredging of the marina.

Peterson said the Army Corps of Engineers had basically developed its plan to dredge the portion of the marina it is responsible for. The marina was filled with sediment during the July storm.

“The Army Corps has their project written, they just need money,” Peterson said, adding there was hope funding would become available through the recent budget extension agreement passed in Congress.

Peterson explained the Corps sets aside 1 percent for “emergency funding” towards projects such as Saxon Harbor.

The Corps got $6 billion in the agreement, according to Peterson, which means $60 million would be available for qualifying projects nationwide. While the harbor is one of the top projects for the Detroit district, Peterson said, it’s unclear how much the of the available funds will be sent to the district.

Peterson said if the money didn’t come through emergency funding, he wasn’t sure when it would be available. There has been flooding near St. Louis in recent weeks that could require funding, and a single major project — such as a dam repair — could consume a large portion of the available funds.

Given the urgency, he urged people to contact their national representatives and senators to urge support for funding the harbor’s dredging.

He said the latest cost estimates for the Corp’s dredging is $1.3 million.

Even if the work is funded, Peterson said the work would likely begin next spring so it could be done in a single season.

In other action:

— The committee declined to take action on a request from the town of Saxon for assistance repairing Freburg Road. Peterson said the town had asked various entities responsible for heavy use of the road — including the county and several gravel pits in the area — to help repair the gravel road, and that road limits might be posted to a certain weight limit of trucks on the road if they didn’t help. Peterson said the forestry department also had a gravel pit on the road, which is the planned destination of the material removed from Saxon Harbor during the dredging work. While there was some understanding of the town’s position, Peterson and the committee worried the county helping with a town road would set a precedent and lead to the other towns demanded help in the future. Several at the meeting also felt the town’s use of the forestry department’s pit on the road was also a form of assistance.

—The committee approved extending 18 timber sales that haven’t been completely logged yet. There is no price increase for any sales that have made a 50 percent down payment. Those sales that haven’t paid the deposit can either pay it or the price will be increased 5 percent.

—The committee approved a resolution granting a road-use permit to David and Jane Villeneuve for property they own near Bass Lake Road and County G in Mercer.


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