U.P. lawmakers look at winter weather damage

The city of Ishpeming has already had more water main breaks in 2014 than it would normally have in an entire year, and it’s not alone.

Severe winter weather is damaging communities across the Upper Peninsula. ABC 10 senior reporter Mike Hoey met with U.P. state lawmakers as they gathered this morning to see the problem for themselves.

With two water main breaks since Friday, the city of Ishpeming is now up to 13 for the calendar year so far. Public Works director Jon Kangas told U.P. lawmakers the normal figure for a whole year is 10 to 12. The city has already spent $300,000 on the issue that it didn’t budget for and it could easily spend another half-million as the ground thaws.

“The problem is a lot bigger than what we’ve been hearing,” State Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba said. “When you look at homes being frozen, or the water going into homes, that’s a major problem, but it’s main lines. It’s under streets. It’s whole blocks. And this is one little area. We’ve got an entire Upper Peninsula dealing with this. This is a big problem.”

Marquette County Board Chair Gerry Corkin reminded the lawmakers that the county declared a local state of emergency in February. Governor Rick Snyder denied their request for a state declaration several days ago. He directed the Michigan State Police to help, but lawmakers say that assistance may not be enough.

“It’s devastation, water lines busted, basements are full of water, the streets are coming up,” State Rep. Scott Dianda of Calumet said. “It’s beyond, more than, just a financial issue now. It’s where we need help to keep these people in their homes and businesses.”

The state lawmakers in attendance got a look at several locations in the city of Ishpeming with water damage, including a house on Tamarack Street where the basement has been flooded by a leaking water main.

“We’re going to try and use the committees I chair any way I can to get the word out downstate (of) just how bad this is,” Casperson said. “We’re going to work with the U.P. delegation to make one loud voice down in Lansing that we need some help up in the U.P. It’s not just money. We need bodies. We need some people with equipment.”

“We’ve got a National Guard armory that’s not more than ten miles from where we’re at today,” Dianda said. “We’ve got to get those people engaged and help us with welders and some other equipment and manpower.”

Casperson says he’d like to convene Senate committee hearings on the problem before the end of next week.

Dianda and fellow State Representatives John Kivela and Ed McBroom are also asking residents to contact the governor’s office. The phone number for constituent services at Governor Snyder’s office is (517) 335-7858. His office also has information about other methods on his website.