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Forest fuels heated county meeting

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Delta Conservation District Executive Director Rory Mattson, left, and Delta County Sheriff Ed Oswald debate a claim that local law enforcement has been denied keys to the Delta County Forest during a meeting of the Delta County Board of Commissioners Monday.

ESCANABA — Delta Conservation District (DCD) Executive Director Rory Mattson and local residents faced off on topics related to the Delta County Forest Monday. The heated discussion took place during a meeting of the Delta County Board of Commissioners.

During the board’s Nov. 5 meeting, commissioners heard complaints about Mattson and the Delta County Forest from residents in the area. The subject was placed on the agenda for Monday’s meeting.

At the start of a presentation he gave to the board regarding the complaints, Mattson shared policies and regulations for the Delta County Forest, as well as a map detailing the ownership of the forest and surrounding parcels.

Later, Mattson showed a map of the county forest’s roads and walkways in response to concerns about access to the property. Roads marked in red on the map, he said, are open year-round.

“The conservation district could not shut those down if we wanted to. The county could not shut those down if they wanted to,” he said.

Other roads included on the map were gated walking trails and seasonal roads.

“Those gates will be shut every spring during break-up so they’re not torn up, ’cause gravel’s very expensive,” Mattson said of the seasonal roads.

Mattson went on to show board members photos of damage done to signage and gates on the county forest land, as well as deer blinds that were left on the property in violation of forest policy. Among these was a blind Mattson said was pulled over trees by a motorized vehicle in the fall of 2018.

According to Mattson, he contacted the blind’s owner to let him know he would have to remove the blind by Jan. 2, 2019. After January, Mattson said he and other DCD officials visited the property and found the blind was still present. A few days later, the blind was removed and taken to Pioneer Trail Park and the owner was notified.

“I can’t remember if it was that night or the next night, but Duane Bordeau — his father — called me, chewed my fanny and was going to call the sheriff’s department and sheriff because we stole the blind. And I told him ‘go right ahead,'” Mattson said.

During his presentation, Mattson also addressed a petition created by a Cornell resident.

“Ed Fleury started this petition — it’s great to me, ’cause now I can see who signed it. And a lot of these people, I’ve never had a confrontation with — never even seen them out there — so it’s very interesting, but that’s fine,” Mattson said.

The petition calls for the state attorney to investigate the DCD for what it describes as “possible fraud and misuse of state funds and equipment,” among other complaints. It also states multiple attempts to obtain records on how park funds are being allocated have been blocked.

“Nobody has ever contacted our office and asked for financial stuff,” Mattson said.

Fleury’s petition goes on to claim local law enforcement has been denied keys to the county forest. Mattson said he had spoken with Delta County Sheriff Ed Oswald about this.

“When an officer’s responding, like he told me, they’ll cut the chain. They’re not going to go through a set of keys all day long, so I offered keys a long time ago and if he wants them, they can always have them,” he said.

However, Oswald disputed Mattson’s account.

“I’ve asked for keys numerous times — I’ve been denied keys,” he said.

After Mattson’s presentation, community members at the meeting had a chance to share their thoughts. Escanaba resident Kristen Bordeau expressed doubt that Mattson was acting honestly.

“If Rory Mattson can lie about the sheriff getting a key, what else can he lie about?,” she said.

Kristen also shared a voicemail Duane — her husband — received from DCD Chairman Jack Herrick. In the voicemail, Herrick explains how Duane can get on the agenda for a DCD meeting; after he believes the phone has been hung up, Herrick’s wife can be heard asking “You’re gonna tear them a new *******, aren’t ya?” In response, he can be heard saying “Especially this Duane guy.”

“These are the kind of people who are working for us, and you’re going to let that ***t — that stuff happen?,” Duane said after the voicemail was played.

Duane went on to say “pretty much half” of Mattson’s statements were untrue.

Herrick addressed the voicemail during public comment. He said that, as he does not know how to use the phone, his wife answers the phone and hangs it up.

“She’s the one that said that, I didn’t say it. You heard me talking, you heard another voice — that was her. That’s her problem; she’s been a tough woman from Rock, she don’t take no crap from anybody, especially me,” he said.

Gunner Bordeau of Escanaba spoke about an incident in which he said Mattson called the police on him and a group of other people he was riding four-wheelers with, including his uncle.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to do or what you’re trying to do to us, but you’re making my camp not fun for me anymore. You make it pretty ****** for me now,” a visibly emotional Gunner said.

After the meeting, Mattson claimed another group of adults riding four-wheelers about three-quarters of a mile behind the group he believed Gunner was in had verbally threatened him. He said he called 911 to report that group.

Fleury spoke about his petition during the meeting.

“I have not heard yet from the state’s attorney, but the matter is not closed, I’m here to guarantee you,” he said.

Members of the board discussed the situation once public comment on it was finished. Commissioner David Moyle said that — while he sympathized with people who shared comments during the meeting — his first priority is to protect Delta County from potential liabilities. He also said Mattson has done good work for the county over the years.

“Our parks have gone from a sow’s ear to a silk purse, and I’m hoping over time that this situation on the forest can be resolved, too,” he said.

Board Chair Patrick Johnson said a key fob system could be used to ensure law enforcement officials can access the county forest.

“There’s a possibility that with an electronic lock — assuming nobody blows it off with a shotgun or whatever — we’d be able to possibly work something out like that,” he said.

Discussion related to Mattson will continue early next year.

“We’ll look to have this back on the agenda the second week (in January), and we’ll see how things are going,” Johnson said.

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