CRYSTAL FALLS--County commissioners agreed unanimously to sign grant documents supporting the Iron County Heritage Trail non-motorized path expansion project, providing the county is not held financially responsible for more than its agreed contribution.
Following lengthy discussion at the Iron County Board of Commissioners’ Dec. 27 meeting, a motion was made and passed authorizing Board Chairman Wayne Wales to execute the grant documents, with several stipulations including recognizing a hard cap of $1.6 million for the project, which is the total amount of the two grants.
One is from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, and the second is from the Scenic Byways program of the Michigan Department of Transportation. Without this cap, the commission was concerned that the match amount would increase, adding to the $39,000 contribution offered by the county.
The risk to the county, said Wales, is of additional expenses and project overruns. The county does not want to be responsible if the bids come in higher.
Commissioner Fran Wills said he, too, was concerned about spending taxpayers’ dollars without knowing the final costs.
Wales said he would like to see letters from the DNR and MDOT guaranteeing there would be no overruns.
Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Powell said the grants were awarded based on estimated costs, and actual engineering work can’t get going until the agreements are signed.
“I believe this is a project that benefits our entire county,” she said. “If we can’t get past this $40,000, I believe the program will be scrapped.”
Others attending the meeting also told the commissioners of their support.
Economic Developer Julie Melchiori said the EDC had committed funds to the project and requested the county to contribute the matching fund balance.
Robert Rafferty, a member of the Heritage Trail group, said one segment of the county’s population, the disabled who cannot drive, benefit from the bicycle trail in getting to and from work.
Mark Stauber, manager of Northeastern Products, which is located off the trail in Caspian said he, too recognizes the value of the bike trail, both for his employees who use it, and those who use it just for walking and recreation.
Stambaugh Township Superintendent Gene Pellizzaro said a number of visitors at Pentoga Park enjoy biking but don’t feel safe on County Road 424. The trail will provide a safe route for campers, he said. It would be an economic boost to the county.
Wales said another of the county’s concerns was with the agreements made with the municipalities through which the trail will pass, including their in-kind and financial commitment to construction and maintenance.
“You have agreements from these units,” Melchiori said.
It was discussed that if the costs came in over the grants, the scope of the project could be scaled back. Powell said she believed this has been permitted with other projects,
The county has options to raise the money through the public, as well, Melchiori said, or it could do it as a loan.
“No matter what, this is the last stop,” she said. “We can’t get any further without the county’s approval.”
Civil Counsel Steve Tinti suggested a motion be made to sign the grant documents with the hard-cap provision, letters of agreement from participating municipalities, some form of guarantee against overruns and a commitment of $39,000. The motion was passed.
--The board also approved a 3 percent wage increase for elected and appointed department heads, adopted the 2012 county budget, general appropriations act and millage, and approved an agreement with Union Pacific for the ORV connector corridor near Scott Lake.
--The board accepted a letter from John Archocosky to remove his name from the appointment interest on the EDC board, and appointed Jim Quayle to another term.
--Clerk Joan Luhtanen presented ballot proposals that will appear on the Feb. 28 election. These include a recall proposal on Wales in Iron River Township, Stambaugh Township and Gaastra, and a millage request for the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department of .42 mills for a period of four years.
Luhtanen explained that, in this election, three ballots will be available: Republican, Democratic or a separate ballot with no party preference.
--The organizational meeting of the County Board will be held Jan. 3 at 1 p.m. in the commissioners board room.