The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Saxon Harbor campground plan in jeopardy


August 29, 2018


MERCER, Wis. — Once again, Iron County’s plan for rebuilding the campground at Saxon Harbor has encountered serious problems — and this time, the county may be out of options.

“It looks like our campground project at the harbor is going to soon be dead in the water. It’s not dead yet, but it’s on life support,” Iron County Forestry and Parks Administrator Eric Peterson told the Iron County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, saying he was informed of the news in an email earlier Tuesday.

Peterson said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was taking issue with the proposed cost of the latest design. After the meeting, he clarified there was no issue with the actual design to rebuild the campground after it was destroyed in the July 2016 storm, just the amount FEMA considered eligible for reimbursement.

Peterson told the county board FEMA said it needed to, “Ensure the relocation project is cost effective, so that the benefits derived from relocating the facility are greater than the cost of the relocation.”

While he said it was too premature to talk specific numbers, basically FEMA was estimating the original campground was worth $658,000 and the new cost of $3.8 million project is too expensive.

The news means FEMA is apparently indicating it will view the campground project as an improved project, Peterson said, which caps the amount eligible for reimbursement and leaves the county responsible for paying for the rest of the cost.

While the county could still choose to proceed with the planned design, Peterson said its portion would likely be more than it could afford.

“The plan of 26 sites directly across from Harbor Lights is probably not going to happen, unless the county is willing to kick in probably $3 million,” Peterson said. “And I guess I don’t see that happening.”

This is the third time the county has found out there were problems with the planned location of the campground.

Initially, the county wanted to rebuild the campground where it was located prior to the July 2016 storm. However, that site was ruled out due to a state law requiring an advanced warning system for any campground constructed in a flood plain — something Saxon Harbor’s proximity to Oronto Creek made impossible.

In March 2016, the county board voted to move the campground to land the county acquired east of the harbor. However, the shape of the property and discovery of an active eagle’s nest on the land meant it wasn’t a feasible location as federal law prohibits building within a certain proximity of a nest. Following this news, the board eventually decided to locate the campground along County A, across from the Harbor Lights bar.

Peterson told the board he expected to have a conference call with FEMA officials Thursday, and would hopefully have additional answers and information afterwards.

“I don’t want to say we’re going back to (the) starting point, but I don’t see us having a campground at Saxon Harbor based on this information,” he said, clarifying that was just his opinion and the project’s status will hopefully be clearer after the expected conference call.

FEMA was objecting to many of the project’s more expensive line items, according to Peterson, such as the slope stabilization and related work.

“The slope stabilization was for the bank immediately east of the proposed campground and that’s a $400,000 estimated price tag,” Peterson said.

The campground’s location would require the stabilization of the bank to prevent erosion or a landslide, but there may be ways to do the work for a lower price.

He said there were still a lot of questions that needed to be answered and promised to continue updating the board as he received additional information.

While the campground’s future is uncertain, Peterson said rebuilding Saxon Harbor’s marina — which was also destroyed in the July 2016 storm — remains on track for an opening some time in late spring/early summer of 2019.

In fact, among the other items the county board dealt with Tuesday was approving to seek bids for the third phase of the marina’s reconstruction. With FEMA signing off on the planned contract Tuesday, according to Peterson, the county can now seek a company to complete the remaining work to finish the marina. The work is expected to cost roughly $2.5 million — approximately $1.26 million of which is expected to be reimbursable expenses, another $1.28 million is expected to be covered by the county’s insurance. Peterson said the county hopes to award the contract at the board’s September meeting, with work starting before winter.

In other action:

—Following a closed-session to meet with the county’s attorney, Tim Dean, the board voted to follow Dean’s recommendation and accept a settlement with Andy Tijan for $50,000. Dean said the $50,000 is secured by a mortgage on Tijan’s Kimball property. The settlement relates to Mary Peterson Tijan’s embezzlement while she was working for the Iron County Human Services Department. In June, the county entered into a stipulated judgement with her, that agreement will have her pay $206,510 — the over $185,000 she stole and the cost of the subsequent audit.

—The board declined to proceed with a request to remove a plot of land south of Pine Lake in the town of Mercer from the county forest for the purpose of building a cell tower. The board members felt the Department of Natural Resources was unlikely to grant the request as the company asking to use the land hadn’t explored other options and it would be better to let a private property owner in the area benefit from leasing land to the company.

—A motion to pass John Sendra’s resolution requesting the state reimburse the county for overages in the amount of placement costs the county has had in 2017 failed due to the lack of a second. Placement costs cover a variety of expenses, such as placing residents in mental health or treatement facilities. Several board members felt the resolution was too antagonistic, which Sendra said was designed to get Madison’s attention. Rather than bill the state for the extra costs, the board supported efforts to work with other counties dealing with cost overages in an effort to bring pressure to bear on the state.

—The board approved a 4-year transportation plan for the county.

—The board passed a proclamation marking the week of Sept. 9-15 as National Suicide Prevention Week.


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