The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

County board chooses Saxon Harbor design


November 8, 2017

Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

JASON STANGLAND, with Smithgroup JJR, presents the design team's recommendation for the rebuilding of Saxon Harbor to the Iron County Forestry and Parks Committee Tuesday.


Hurley - The engineering team designing the reconstruction of Saxon Harbor now has a direction to move in after the Iron County Board of Supervisors approved a general design plan for the harbor Tuesday.

The board voted 12 to 2 to follow the recommendations of the design team and the county's forestry and parks committee on the general design of the campground and marina.

"I think you're giving us our best product right now. Somewhere down the line (if) we're sitting on millions of dollars and we want to do other stuff, we can. But I don't think we're in that position right now. I think this is a really well-thought-out, good compromise," county board member Brad Matson said, regarding the approved design. "It's no-one's dream, but it's everyone's reality."

Fellow board members Karl Krall and Larry Youngs voted against the plan. Jack Prospero was absent from the meeting.

Krall and Youngs, along with some in the audience, favored a slightly different design that would create two smaller campgrounds. The campground can't be rebuilt in its former location due to a state law that prohibits a campground from being built in a floodplain without an advance warning system.

Earlier Monday, representatives of the design team responsible for the rebuilding of the harbor after it was destroyed during the rain and flooding of the July 11, 2016, storm met with the county's forestry and parks committee to give their recommendations for the design of the harbor's marina and campground.

The approved design is similar to one of the designs put forth at a public information session in October at the Hurley K-12 School.

The plan calls for a 26-site campground to be located along County A, across from the Harbor Lights bar and 83 boat slips in the marina - around 50 percent of which will be for boats 32-feet and longer. These are down from 33 camp sites and 91 boat slips before the storm. However, Jason Stangland, with the firm Smithgroup JJR, argued while the number of slips in the marina is down, the new slips allow for larger boats and the more efficient use of the marina's space. He said this not only is a reflection of the larger purchasing trend on the lake of increasing boat sizes, it also reflects the harbor's user group.

Other notable features of the design include a wider swath of green space at the harbor's northern end by the lake shoreline, two boat launches - one near the east side of the marina's entrance across from the main marina and another on the west side of the marina's northern basin. This launch was primarily moved to allow for greater protection from waves off the lake, so boats could safely be put on trailers during a storm. The design also puts this launch near a lot for boat trailer parking.

The largest sticking point for those who didn't like the proposed design was the campground location, with some advocating for a design that called for the campground to be split into two smaller locations - one with 14 sites across County A from Harbor Lights and another with 16 sites near the confluence of Oronto and Parker creeks, where the current rustic camping sites are.

While most people at both meetings agreed this was a beautiful location for a campground with a great view of the lake, there were multiple obstacles to building there. These included additional wetlands that would have to be mitigated and more work to the banks around the site to prevent them from eroding and collapsing. Not only could this option cost an additional $850,000 to $1 million more than the single campground location - which the Federal Emergency Management Agency may not contribute toward - Stangland was unsure if the state would even approve permits to build there. Stangland said if the permit to build the two-campground plan was rejected, the county would have to resubmit the single location and would likely face delays to the original construction timeline that calls for the harbor to be reopened in 2019.

Additionally, opponents of the plan argued the design would still only give the county a total of 30 sites, making the work to create the four extra sites not a cost-effective solution.

FEMA is expected to reimburse 75 percent of the costs of the harbor, with the state of Wisconsin and Iron County each paying 12.5 percent.

Some board members also expressed concern about the two-campground plan, as FEMA could decide it was an improved project and cap the amount it contributes - leaving Iron County on the hook for the rest.

"If I knew we were going to get funded for 87.5, I'd be spending $125,000 (the county's portion of $1 million) right now to get the rest of it," board member Scott Erickson said. "But we don't know. ... It's such a crapshoot it's going to be allowed."

Clerk Michael Saari also raised other costs the county has in the future, including the interest on the $10 million loan the county has already secured to pay for the harbor's reconstruction until it gets reimbursed and the increasing cost of emergency placements from the county's Department of Human Services.

"We don't have any idea how much interest we're going to pay on $10 million, because we don't have idea how long it's going to take FEMA to pay it back," Saari said. "That's an unknown, our (court-ordered DHS) placements that are coming, are like a snowball - that's an unknown. You have to think how much you really want to take a chance on spending, because we have no idea what is coming in about three different areas - and that scares me."


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