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County to permit seasonal campers

ESCANABA — The Delta County Board of Commissioners narrowly voted to allow seasonal campers from northern Michigan to return to county campgrounds later this week. The vote was taken during a socially-distanced board meeting, which was held at the Delta County Service Center Tuesday.

In a special meeting that began on Thursday, May 14 and resumed on Friday, May 15, the board voted to allow people with no permanent residence to camp at county campgrounds for the purpose of sheltering in place. At the time, all other camping at county campgrounds was prohibited.

“We all came to a conclusion on Friday night that the parks would be open to what we call ‘second homes,’ but, at that time, second homes were deemed those who live basically in their trailers,” Delta Conservation District Executive Director Rory Mattson said.

Although bars and restaurants in the Upper Peninsula and parts of the northern Lower Peninsula will be allowed to re-open in a limited capacity Friday, Mattson said the board’s decision last week excluded seasonal campers from the area who stay at county campgrounds for four to five months.

“The people are very frustrated that other people who maybe have an address in another state … could actually come in and the locals can’t,” he said.

In response to these complaints, Mattson said he read through 92 executive orders Monday night. He found that some restrictions were relaxed in late April, allowing Michigan residents to travel from primary residences to second homes and vacation properties.

However, Mattson said the term “second home” is not actually defined in the executive orders. Based on what he was able to find, the term generally refers to a residence people intend to occupy in addition to their primary residence for part of the year, a vacation home or property they wish to visit on a regular basis, or a place where people spend weekends and vacations.

With this in mind, Mattson returned to the board Tuesday to request that seasonal campers from Districts Six and Eight be allowed to stay at county campgrounds since these campgrounds serve as “second homes” for them. He noted that, if the board authorized this change, seasonal campers would be required to comply with safety restrictions that are already in place.

As was the case for previous board discussions on county campgrounds, commissioners were split on Mattson’s proposal. Vice Chair David Rivard encouraged board members to avoid any potential violations of the executive orders.

“We’re playing picky with the law, I think,” he said.

On the other hand, Board Chair Patrick Johnson said he believed letting seasonal campers stay at the campgrounds was not in violation of executive orders, especially considering the changes that will take effect locally this week.

“I feel that we’re actually safer than what a bar or restaurant could ever offer,” he said of the campgrounds.

After some discussion on how its motion should be worded, the board voted on a motion to allow people from Districts Six and Eight considered to have a second home at a county campground to start camping at these facilities Thursday morning. Johnson and Commissioners Gerard Tatrow and David Moyle voted in favor of the motion; Rivard and Commissioner Theresa Nelson voted against it.

In other business, the board:

– discussed the possibility of reducing County Administrator Emily DeSalvo’s pay.

“I met with the finance committee. They had a recommendation to bump me down to my base salary that’s in my contract, so it would be taking away the one step that I received and then not issuing the step in July,” DeSalvo said.

Johnson clarified this would only be done as a last resort. Eventually, the board decided to table its decision on the matter until a later date.

– granted Johnson authority to sign a CARES Act grant agreement in support of the Delta County Airport.

– heard an update from local law enforcement officials about their plans related to COVID-19 and the enforcement of executive orders.

– heard a public apology from Johnson. At an earlier meeting, Johnson had misidentified a member of the public who made a derogatory comment about another commissioner; after realizing his mistake, he apologized to the person he wrongly accused of having made this comment.

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