ESCANABA - The Delta County Board of Commissioners and Delta County Road Commission approved sending a joint letter to the U.S. Forest Service's regional and Washington offices regarding their opposition of relocating County Road 497. The action was taken at a special joint meeting Tuesday regarding the issue.
During the meeting, citizens and members of the boards were able to voice their concerns about relocating a portion of the road, which runs from U.S. 2 to the Village of Nahma, and is being approached by the Sturgeon River at a meander bend. The county road runs on Hiawatha National Forest land.
Hiawatha National Forest District Ranger Dave Silvieus said it's unfortunate the river is encroaching the road, but is hopeful the forest service and county can work toward a solution.
"We are in the process of working through an Environmental Analysis and evaluating alternatives for dealing with this problem," he said. "Right now we're evaluating four alternatives, and it's an open, public process."
He said no decision has been made, but the forest service's position on the issue is to relocate the road for approximately one-half mile by utilizing an existing former railroad grade and power line corridor - which the service estimates would cost between $450,000 to $500,000.
"The other two solutions involve in-stream work in the Sturgeon River," said Silvieus, which would include either stabilizing the bank or cutting through the meander bend to relocate a section of the river.
However, whatever option is decided must comply with the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, which was established to protect the last of the nation's remaining wild rivers.
"Though we have some cost estimates, we're still refining those estimates," he explained. "We're finding that the cost for altering the river, cutting through that meander bend are almost as expensive as relocating the road."
Previously the forest service estimated the meander cutoff and bank stabilization alternatives would cost approximately $430,000 and $406,000 respectively.
However, Delta Conservation District Executive Director Rory Mattson, who also serves on the county road commission, disagreed.
"Through the conservation district, I also did cost assessments," he said. "The road commission has done cost assessments. The minimum cost to move this road would be about $530,000." He said the total amount for relocating the road could end up costing $800,000 to $1 million total by the end of this project when factoring in final costs.
However, he said the conservation district estimates stabilizing the bank with rock riprap would cost much less - an estimated $50,000 to $60,000.
"I've got to look at this as common sense. Even if the road gets relocated, the Delta County Road Commission is probably going to do the work. We want to make sure ... that the public knows that we are not in favor of this, and not in favor of spending public money at this cost," he said.
Mattson expressed his frustration that when meeting with representatives when the road was built in 2008, no one mentioned encountering this problem. He said the issue should have been addressed then.
During public comment, concerned citizen Bob Gifford questioned whether moving the road was essential, especially during a time when the country is experiencing a growing $15 trillion debt each day.
Many in attendance expressed their concerns that the forest service had already made its mind up, and the road relocation was a done deal, but Silvieus assured that no decision has been made.
Commissioner Mary Harrington said a local issue like this should not be solved by Washington.
"To not allow local people to take care of local problems, it just infuriates me," she said. "We should have that ability as citizens and taxpayers of this area."
County Board commissioner Dave Moyle said using money to relocate the road is a misuse of tax money.
"I'm not blaming the forest service or anybody like that, but I think we need to demand accountability from our government," said Moyle.
Nahma residents and business owners Charlie MacIntosh and Christine Groleau were also not in favor of relocating the road.
"Economically it doesn't make any sense to move the road. I believe if the county goes in there and does a $50,000 to $60,000 riprap, let's keep it basic and let's get back to some common sense here," said MacIntosh.
Groleau said spending money to reroute part of the road would be a "gross misuse" of taxpayers' money. She said this could be better spent on fixing up Federal Forest Highway 13, which is in poor condition. She also had concerns of disrupting wildlife by relocating the road.
"I believe there is extreme historic value in keeping the present railroad grade in place as it was originally built by the Bay de Noc Lumber Company in the late 1800s, and in keeping the road from Nahma Junction to the village as it also was originally built," she said. "I believe this road should continue to follow the path that the road commission chose, which is the original road bed."
Silvieus said the concerns brought up were beneficial and will be taken into account when finalizing a decision.
The county board and road commissions agreed to send a joint letter in opposition to relocating the road, along with officials from Nahma Township.