ESCANABA - The public is invited to a meeting this Tuesday to express their concerns over the possible relocation of a stretch of County Road 497. A public meeting will be held June 19 at 6 p.m. in the Delta County Circuit Courtroom, following the County Board of Commissioners regular board meeting.
The U.S. Forest Service is proposing moving part of County Road 497 for approximately one-half mile, as it is being approached by the Sturgeon River along a meander bend. The road runs on Hiawatha National Forest land from U.S. 2, near Mac's Bar, down to the village of Nahma.
According to the forest service, action is needed to continue providing safe access for the public along the road, while maintaining the "outstandingly remarkable" values and characteristics of the Sturgeon River. A decision is also needed to comply with the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which was established to protect the last of the nation's remaining wild rivers.
Jason Raiche | Daily Press
Hiawatha National Forest District Ranger David Silvieus, right, overlooks an area of the Sturgeon River approaching County Road 497 at a meander bend. The road runs from U.S. 2, near Mac’s Bar, to the village of Nahma.
"The action is needed because the Sturgeon River, through its natural geomorphic processes, is shifting closer to the road," said Hiawatha National Forest District Ranger David Silvieus. "It's likely to undercut the road banks and jeopardize safe usage of the road within a few years."
If relocated, approximately 2,700 feet of the road would be moved to the west approximately 120 feet. The relocation would utilize an existing former railroad grade and power line corridor and would include all necessary clearing, shoulder and ditch work and paving. The railroad grade and power line clearing currently is approximately 40 feet wide, but an additional 13 feet on each side would be cleared with the electrical line buried. The forest service is estimating this would cost between $450,000 to $500,000, which includes the cost of burying the power line.
Another alternative would be a modified relocation, which is the same as the proposed action but would follow a preliminary design provided by the Delta County Road Commission. This alternative would connect the tangents of two curves to the north and south of the river oxbow and would not require the relocation of the power line. The estimated cost for this option would be $400,000 to $450,000.
The forest service is also exploring other alternatives such as cutting a new channel with an excavator where the river would likely make its own cutoff, or stabilizing the bank with living plant material on erosive slopes instead of using man-made materials or rock riprap. The forest service estimates these options would cost approximately $430,000 and $406,000, respectively.
Silvieus said the forest service received public comments back in December, and hopes a decision will be made on the issue by the end of September. The forest service would then seek funding for the project.
"Since our funds come year to year, we don't have the funds for fiscal year 2012," explained Silvieus. "We'll be seeking the funds for fiscal year 2013, which actually starts Oct. 1."
He said if the forest service receives the appropriation in fiscal year 2013, they could start working on whatever project is decided upon in summer 2013. However, Silvieus thinks the funding would more realistically be secured in 2013, with work beginning in 2014.
Rory Mattson, executive director of the Delta Conservation District and member of the Delta County Road Commission, said the county and road commission are not in favor of relocating the road, and favor the other two alternatives.
"Mostly, it's the cost," said Mattson. "It's ridiculous to move a brand-new road."
He said the road, which was built in 2008 at the cost of $1.5 million used federal money to be implemented. At that time, he said when meeting officials from the forest service and other agencies, no one had any issues regarding the road's close proximity to the river.
Mattson also said the approximate $450,000 cost estimate to relocate the road is an old figure, and that this total would now be closer to $800,000 or more. He asserted that cost estimates by the forest service for the other options are also much higher than what they should cost.
"We definitely want the public to know that we are not in favor of spending people's money in this way," said Mattson.
"If they tear it up, not only are they spending $800,000 plus, but giving up the taxpayers' money for the original road," he said.
Silvieus said the county has been good to work with, but acknowledged the alternatives the county favors are also costly.
"It's going to be expensive to do the work in the river, and I think in the long run, the river is better protected by moving the road," said Silvieus, who added the forest service has been closely looking over the costs of the project and are listening to suggestions from the county and the public.
"The process that we're using is an interdisciplinary process," he said. "There's a team involved ... trying to come up with these alternatives and the best solution. I'm hopeful by the end of September we will have a decision and we'll be moving forward with trying to get the money to implement that decision."