The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

County board approves moving Saxon Harbor campground



Hurley — The rebuilt campground at Saxon Harbor will be located on elevated land east of the harbor, after the Iron County Board of Supervisors voted 10-3 Tuesday to approve the new location.

Board members Paul Mullard, Larry Youngs and Karl Krall voted against the measure; Jack Prospero abstained and Ken Saari wasn’t present.

“We’ve got a chance to build a recreational area here. Not just a campground, but a recreational area,” Scott Erickson said in defense of the site, referring to the county property surrounding the campground site.

The chosen site, roughly 3.8 acres of land, was the preferred location of the two looked at by the county’s forestry committee as the new site for the campground after the old site was destroyed in the flooding of the July 11 storm.

County Forestry and Parks Administrator Eric Peterson laid out the two potential sites at the committee’s March 14 meeting.

“Location one is approximately 3.3 acres and is directly east of the harbor on top of the hill. Location two is about 3.8 acres and it’s the next ravine — or hill-top — to the east,” Peterson said. “The views are similar — I mean you’re looking out over the lake … you can see the (harbor’s) break walls out of both of them.”

The committee chose the 3.8 acre site farther from the harbor, in part due to concerns the narrow layout of the closer site would limit the development options.

The sites uses part of an 115-acre parcel directly east of the harbor owned by the Forestland Group. While the county hasn’t officially acquired the land, it has finalized a purchase option for the property that is contingent on the county receiving a Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Grant to finance the purchase.

The county has tentatively been awarded the grant, but it still needs to pass the state’s Joint Finance Committee, which Peterson said wasn’t expected to be a problem.

In the debate preceding the vote, Youngs argued the board should consider a third site — on land the county already owned near the harbor.

“I just think we’re putting something where the people didn’t want it. We had a survey; people want it the way it was, we can’t have it the way it was — but what we’re going to vote on is the farthest thing from what the people wanted.”

Jim Kichak argued the survey also showed many people wanted more recreational opportunities at the campground and had problems with the amount of noise and partying at the campground, both of which could potentially be found on the recommended site.

Youngs also argued the need to extend the road and basic utilities to the site were too costly, regardless of whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Wisconsin Emergency Management were covering a combined 87.5 percent of the costs.

“Everybody keeps saying FEMA is going to pay; well for every dollar we spend, the county is paying 12 cents of it. The dollars are going to add up,” Youngs said.

He urged the board to table the issue until an engineering firm could look at an option closer to the harbor.

Several board members argued there simply isn’t room to put the number of sites in the old campground in the spot Youngs was advocating, and ways to make the space — such as removing one of the clay cliffs to open more room — were unlikely to get DNR permission. While Youngs argued the county could at least have an engineer look at the site, it was argued the county would have to bear the full costs as FEMA doesn’t cover exploratory work.

There had been some question whether FEMA would fully fund the campground on a different site, as the agency only issues funds to return disaster-hit areas to the state they were in the day prior to the disaster. Approval to allow work on a different site was ultimately given after a state law prohibiting the construction of a campground in a floodplain without a sufficient warning system prevented the county from rebuilding the campground in the same location.

Outside agencies covering the majority of the costs to extend the utilities could save the county money in the long run, as they will be in place if the county wants to build additional camping closer to the marina.

“What I think we’ve been trying to do is maximize the FEMA assistance the best way we can, to get back the most we can,” Brad Matson said. “We’ve always thought that in the future we can (make more improvements) … I think we need to take the FEMA money (and) put in the 26 sites. They’re really doing above and beyond by helping with this road and putting power and water all the way back in there.

“There will be the new campground, additional camp sites and camp spots in the future we can look at if the need is there and the desire is there. I think we have to maximize what we’re getting from FEMA.”

In other action:

—The board approved adding recently acquired land around Caroline Lake to the county forest.

—The board passed a resolution simplifying the process the county’s Land and Water Conservation Department follows to apply for grants.

—The board also accepted the health department’s annual report.

—The board approved changes to the employee handbook clarifying policies regarding call-out pay.


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