The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

State officials tour Saxon Harbor


June 12, 2018

Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

IRON COUNTY'S state representatives, state Sen. Janet Bewley, left, and state Rep. Beth Meyers tour Saxon Harbor with the Iron County forestry and parks administrator, Eric Peterson Friday to see how the rebuilding effort was going after the harbor was destroyed in the July 2016 storm.


SAXON, Wis. - Surprise and delight seemed to be the dominant emotions Friday, as Iron County's state representatives saw firsthand how much progress had been made rebuilding Saxon Harbor since it was destroyed in the July 2016 storm.

"It's really wonderful to come down here and finally see that the hard work of all of the people from the county, and the state and the federal government - we're really seeing results," said state Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland). "And we can really see what our new harbor is going to look like, it's going to be a better harbor. For all of the hard work, for all of the pain and the suffering we went through; we are going to end up with a fabulous harbor that everybody will be able to enjoy."

Bewley and state Rep. Beth Meyers (D-Bayfield) - with Iron County Board Chairman Joe Pinardi and Iron County Clerk Mike Saari - toured the harbor with Iron County Forestry and Parks Administrator Eric Peterson.

"It's been two years since the flood and it's great to be back in Saxon Harbor to see the improvements that have been put into place. It's great to see the harbor is going to come back," Meyers said. "It's a lot of money that is being spent and it could've went the other way, it could have been, 'Nope, there just isn't money to do this.'

"But Iron County is a small county in northern Wisconsin and this is an economic agent for Iron County. It not only brings people to the county who get to see the great beauty of the area, but it brings some money into the local coffers and that's important - not only to the county but to the businesses here, the restaurants and gas stations," Meyers said. "So I'm thrilled to be here, I'm thrilled to see the progress taking place and I'm looking forward to the ribbon-cutting."

While most of the work hasn't been finished yet, the county's portion of the restoration of Oronto and Parkers creeks - running from the marina's boat lift to the where Parker flows into the lake - is virtually complete.

"They have to make sure all the grass comes up and things like that, but otherwise it's done," Peterson told the Daily Globe Monday.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation continues to work on its section of the Oronto Creek project, according to Peterson, but the new floodplain has been built and the creek returned to its former channel.

With the creek back in its channel, and the sediment and debris removed, Peterson said the creek was reopened May 29.

The DOT is restoring the section of creek as part of its project rebuilding the County A bridge over Oronto Creek.

Peterson said the old bridge has been reopened for use by vehicles rebuilding the other parts of the harbor and Merrill Gravel and Construction, the company contracted to build the new County A bridge, is scheduled to arrive at the harbor at the end of the week.

Work on the new bridge - located west of the existing bridge, rerouting County A through the site of the former campground, roughly following the route of the current temporary bridge - should take about six weeks.

While Roen Salvage has been working on its $993,000 contact to dredge the portion of the marina the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for, Peterson said he is still waiting for Federal Emergency Management Agency approval before the company can start dredging the county's portion of the marina - something he hopes to get "any day now."

Along with the dredging, Peterson said the contract includes repairs to the retaining wall around the basin, constructing the new boat landing, rebuilding the east boat launches, replacing the wood bumpers along the east wall of the marina and work on the marina's center peninsula.

While work on the marina has been bid out and underway, Peterson said the county's engineering firm is finishing up a draft of the environmental assessment needed to get FEMA to sign off on the harbor's campground project.

The environmental assessment demonstrates there wasn't an alternative to putting the campground along County A, across from the Harbor Lights bar.

"We need to show them why we couldn't put it back where it was and provide the documentation," Peterson said. "We looked at the alternative to the east, and that wasn't selected because of the eagle's nest and too many wetlands. We looked at the two-lobed campground option, but the two-lobed option disturbed too much wetlands and would have been way expensive to put a road back there. So that's why we're at where we're at."

He hopes to bid the campground project in September.

Both the Army Corps and Iron County dredging projects are scheduled to be completed by mid-August, according to Peterson, with the DOT's County A project to be complete by late August.

These timelines would only leave the marina's out-of-water work - such as its sidewalks, bathroom, shower building and parking lot - as well as the campground as the parts of Saxon Harbor unfinished this fall.

Iron County isn't expected to be responsible for most of the cost of rebuilding Saxon Harbor, as FEMA will cover 75 percent of the price tag for eligible work and the state will contribute an additional 12.5 percent of the costs.

Bewely praised the county for its efforts to acquire grants to offset its costs, which Peterson said is roughly $1.2 million to $1.3 million.

"They have worked so hard to get sources of funds from every single nook and cranny that they possible can and we've ended up with a project that is going to end up with a better Saxon Harbor than ever," Bewley said. "At this moment, it looks like - and again, the number is always going down - but it looks like we are at a point where the county might have to find $1.2 million after all is said and done."

"There is no way we could have built a harbor of the quality we're going to have, with the amenities that it will have, with $1.2 million," she continued. "So in a way; this awful disaster plus the hard work of all of the people from the county and the town, everybody, we're going to end up in better place. And it's just wonderful to see."


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