The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Iron County reroutes Saxon Harbor road, awaits Army Corps' decision


Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

THE IRON County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to reroute County A at Saxon Harbor through the old campground. According to information presented at the meeting, the road is expected to cross Oronto Creek parallel to the temporary bridge currently in place, seen here in an Oct. 19 Daily Globe file photo.


Hurley - While the plan to rebuild Saxon Harbor following its destruction in the rain and flooding during the July 11 storm continues to take shape - with the Iron County Board of Supervisors voting to reroute County A through the old campground Tuesday - several items remain on hold while the county awaits decisions from various parts of the federal government.

The county board voted in December to rebuild Saxon Harbor's marina and campground to the way it was before the storm, however, Forestry and Parks Administrator Eric Peterson informed the board Tuesday that the campground can no longer be located where it originally was.

There had been hope that using fill dirt to elevate the campground above the flood plain would allow the county to work around a state law prohibiting locating campgrounds in a floodplain unless 72-hour warning can be issued prior to flooding.

Peterson's update Tuesday explained state's administrative code also requires a number of changes before work could begin, and the project still wouldn't be feasible due to the contours of the site.

"We would have to change flood plain zoning, we would have to move through the coastal flood plain district - the shallow depth flooding - all of that would have to be done first, with approval from the state through their processes," Peterson said. "Then, after all that was done, any fill that is put in the flood plain would have to be brought up to outside of the flood plain level. And we can't just fill an island up in the middle, we have to tie it into something that is outside the flood plain.

"And given the topography of Saxon Harbor and all the drainages and everything that comes down from the west there, we can't fill in a drainage to get above flood plain - therefore we can't put the campground back to where it was ... we can't get around (state law and the terrain)."

Once it became clear the board's original plan of putting the campground back to where it was wouldn't work, it reconsidered the proposal to route County A through the former campground.

Peterson explained County A is a Wisconsin Department of Transportation project, and isn't connected to the projects getting Federal Emergency Management Agency funding. This not only allows the project to be completed faster, it also allows the county to change the project without getting the funding capped.

The DOT has budgeted $1.5 million for rebuilding County A and the bridge over Oronto Creek, regardless of the route.

Peterson said if the county decides to keep the road running where it ran before the storm, the DOT could decide the existing bridge was still useable and simply rebuild the road. This would mean the county would have to get the creek to return to its path under the bridge, the way it had been before the storm.

However, if the county decided to reroute the road, Peterson said the officials he talked to indicated they would have no issue simply building a new bridge.

With the decision to reroute the road, County A is expected to cross Oronto Creek parallel and to the north of the temporary bridge currently in place.

The county will contribute 20 percent of the project's cost, regardless of price and design.

Not only would the rebuilt bridge be newer, but Peterson said it would also be wider and higher.

While the old bridge had roughly a 40-foot span and a clearance of 9.5 feet, the new bridge will have a 70-foot clear span and a clearance in excess of 10 feet.

Along with the decision to reroute the bridge, Peterson said the county is waiting to see if there will be Army Corps of Engineering funding for the necessary dredging at the harbor. In December, Army Corps of Engineering has received $1 billion nationwide for flood-related disaster cleanup.

"Now the big thing is to assure some of that ends up for the Saxon Harbor project," Peterson said. "We only need a million of the billion."

Each region of the country is prioritizing its projects, Peterson has explained at previous meetings, and the money starts at the top and trickles down until it runs out.

The Corps' estimated project needs at the harbor include dredging approximately 14,000 cubic yards of material, a new access road and structure repair - which Peterson said likely referred to work on the west end of the marina's north basin.

After the meeting, Peterson told the Daily Globe he was also exploring whether the marina's center peninsula could be used as the access road, meaning the Corps would pay for some of the work done on it.

While the county has yet to hear from the Corps whether funding will be available this year, Peterson said the county's various national representatives are being contacted to see what assistance they can provide.

If the Corps does approve funding, the county hopes it would be able to piggyback onto the project to get the dredging it needs to complete at the harbor done for a cheaper price.

Peterson said he hopes to hear the Corps' funding allotment soon.

There is no word on FEMA's determination regarding assistance in rebuilding the campground, Peterson said.

He said his understanding of the delay is that it's partially caused by higher-ups in the regional FEMA office who are wondering why the campground was ever located in its old location if it can't legally be rebuilt there. He said the county is providing documentation to show camping has always been there without issue.

"We've been providing multiple historical documents to show that there's been camping at Saxon Harbor since forever," Peterson said.

As FEMA hasn't determined how to fund the campground portion of the harbor rebuild, it is still unknown whether the aid for that portion will be capped based on estimated costs or reflect the actual project costs.

The county is also continuing to negotiate over the purchase of property near the harbor that is being considered as the campground's new location, but no purchase agreements have been signed.

If the sale goes through, tax implications for the seller would mean the closing period for the purchase would roughly be in November 2017, Peterson said.

Negotiations are also continuing with the county's insurance company, Peterson said. The county's policy had a $1.2 million cap on water-related damages, while the cost estimate the county calculated to repair the eligible parts of the harbor is closer to $1.8 million. He said he hopes to have the insurance process completed by the end of February.

The county is also working to rebid the engineering contract for the rebuilding project. The original bid had to be redone after it was discovered the county hadn't followed all the federal procurement requirements when soliciting bids.

In other action:

-The board rescinded the county's Uniformed Dwelling Code Ordinance. The former building inspector informed the county he would no longer be able to service it, and the rescinding of the ordinance is a necessary step to allow the state to take over the work. The county had sought bids to replace the inspector, but Pinardi said it received no applications.

-The board also passed a resolution to cancel any outstanding checks more than one year old.

-The board approved the 2016 Fair Board's annual report.

-It was reported Gerry Nasi has been hired as the county's assistant zoning administrator, he will start Feb. 13.


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