Casperson speaks on legislative session, grants

 

December 29, 2018



After 14 years in the Michigan legislature, six in the House and eight in the Senate, Tom Casperso, R-Escanaba, is moving on due to term limits.

His time in the Senate ended with a string of appropriations for western Upper Peninsula projects, including $10 million for Copper Peak and Pine Mountain, $2 million for Gogebic Community College, $1.5 million to assist Waupaca Foundry and $1 million for Michigan DNR jobs for the area.

In a sense, the main catalyst to be able to get new development and investment in the area was the Michigan Department of Corrections decision to close the Ojibway Correctional Facility near Marenisco. Casperson said he battled with the department to keep the facility open through three earlier prison closings, but this time it became obvious DOC was looking at two prisons in the U.P. He called the process ‘difficult and frustrating.’ The best area legislators were able to do was to prepare for the possibility. Area groups looking for funding were encouraged to put together their proposals even before the prison closure was announced.


The prison closing and the outcry from the area did show the need for the state to help the area. ‘Up here in the U.P., it’s harder to get the attention’ of the legislature, he said, but because of the prison closure, ‘there was no denying the need.’ As a result, Casperson and other legislators in the area were able to ‘open every door possible’ to look for state assistance.

Waupaca Foundry was an early opportunity that came to the table through work by Marenisco Township and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

There was a push from them to help right away and ‘do it now’ to give every opportunity to keep talented workers in the area. While keeping a ‘low- key approach,’ the MEDC made it part of its plan in the state budget. While Waupaca ended up expanding to Ironwood and not Marenisco, Casperson felt ‘half a loaf was better than none’ and he was glad to see them locate in the western U.P.

The senator was also enthusiastic about funding for Copper Peak. He feels rejuvenation of the venue can make ‘a heck of an imprint for Michigan.’

He compares the impact of the site to that of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. He said it is a draw for outside money, estimating visitors to be 60-70 percent foreigners.

Copper Peak, he feels, can draw people in similar ways, but ‘in a bigger way.’

Gogebic Community College, he said, ‘made a good pitch for retraining people’ and was able to secure funding for skilled trades instruction.

The Michigan DNR was very interested in helping the area and was also aggressive in seeking funding to put officers on the ground in the western UP.

Other U.P groups seeking grants also were able to make their cases.

Casperson said both Michigan Tech, in Houghton, and Northern Michigan University, in Marquette, were seeking grants to upgrade ‘clearly antiquated and outdated facilities’ and while both had waited patiently, there was a sense that ‘it was their turn.’


 
 

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