The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

State county road association recognizes Pionk for storm response


March 7, 2018

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GOGEBIC COUNTY Road Commission Engineering Manager Darren Pionk was recently named the County Road Association of Michigan's 2017 Rural Engineer of the Year, in large part due to his efforts in the July 11 storm's aftermath.


Bessemer - Any summer work plans the Gogebic County Road Commission had in 2016 were thrown out the window that July after the July 11 storm brought rain and flooding to the Little Girl's Point area and left numerous road washouts and some residents stranded.

The work to reopen and repair the roads around Little Girl's Point was recently recognized, as road commission engineering manager Darren Pionk was named the County Road Associations of Michigan's 2017 Rural Engineer of the Year for his efforts during the rebuilding process.

"Darren was immediately all over this crisis. He was working around the clock, put his own safety at risk in terms of responding that evening trying to figure out what was going on," Denise Donohue, director of the County Road Association of Michigan, told the Daily Globe.

The storm had approximately 12 inches of rain fall on the Point, washing out 18 culverts in a roughly six-mile stretch of Lake Road.

Given the amount of work and the quickly approaching end of the construction season; the county fixed 10 of the washouts that season, temporarily repairing the rest so Lake Road was drivable for residents during the winter. The remaining eight culverts were repaired in 2017, along with the patching work over the previous year's repairs.

Donohue praised Pionk's focus on preparing for winter once the safety of the residents was taken care of.

"Second most in his mind was ... his awareness that winter comes early in the western Upper Peninsula and knowing the clock was literally ticking to reconnect those families before the onset of winter when you really can't do much in the way of road construction," she said. "He really pushed for, and was an advocate for, getting cooperation at all levels of government - local, state and the federal highway agency."

The repairs to Lake Road were funded through a State Infrastructure Bank Loan initially, but the Federal Highway Adminstration will reimburse the county for 80 percent of the costs. The road commission also secured grants to fund repairs elsewhere at the Point.

Pionk's "easy-going demeanor" helped secure the buy-in from the various agencies involved in the funding of the repairs, Donohue said, which was crucial to moving the project forward.

The repair project's speed was praised by those elsewhere in the U.P. as well.

"The things he achieved in such a short span before winter set in was really remarkable," said Jody Norman, the managing director of the Delta County Road Commission and one of the people who nominated Pionk for the award.

"He is a highly respected engineer; very intelligent, very ambitious - the key word here is dedicated. He put countless hours in when that disaster went through, and I mean he went days and days on end - during the week, weekends, whatever it took to get that county back in shape," Superintendent of Operations for the Dickinson County Road Commission Jim Harris said. "We just very much respect him for all he does for the road commission. U.P.-wide we've got dedication and commitment at these road commissions and he really exemplifies that and proved it (after the storm)."

Harris, who also nominated Pionk, said Pionk was a highly respected engineer but down to earth as well.

"Just the dedication I think was the main thing that drove us to want to get him that award," Harris said. "He's just totally committed to the road commission and the citizens. That speaks volumes to us - to see someone so committed to getting things opened up for the citizens of that county and for the motoring public was just phenomenal. We had to nominate him, we were just so impressed"

For his part, Pionk said he was humbled to be recognized by his peers.

"It was a complete surprise, receiving the award. This was voted on by the members of our county road association of Michigan - other engineer-managers - and I think they just saw the work that was put into our projects the last two years with the flood disaster as well as our bridge projects and I was fortunate enough to receive the award," Pionk said.

He also credited everyone else involved in the process of rebuilding after the storm.

"... It's really not just for me. The projects were such a team event; with the crew, consultants, contractors - everybody involved," Pionk said. "Again, I steered it together; but it took a big commitment from everybody."

Pionk has managed the road commission since 2009.


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