State should help U.P. communities

When a hurricane hits the mainland, emergency officials fall over each other to survey the damage and promise truck-loads of assistance.

When the coldest winter on record damages thousands of water and sewer lines throughout the Upper Peninsula, officials are silent.

There’s something wrong with this picture. Winter conditions have severely impacted municipal budgets throughout the Upper Peninsula.

There is hope, however.

State Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, invited State Reps. Ed McBroom, R-Norway; John Kivela, D-Marquette; and Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, to participate in a Senate Transportation Committee hearing this week in Lansing.

The hearing was held to assess the ongoing damage caused by the harsh winter conditions.

Officials from throughout the Upper Peninsula were able to participate through video conferencing locations at Bay College, Ironwood, Houghton, Escanaba, Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie.

Local officials are seeking emergency funding to help with frozen water and sewer lines, water main breaks, and wasted water from let-runs to keep lines from freezing.

Marquette County Chairman Gerald Corkin attended the hearing in Lansing, describing the winter-related problems in communities as “severe issues” that will get worse as the frost breaks up and more mains break.

“You’re going to have to get the National Guard to haul in water in precarious situations if fires occur,” Corkin said in story in The Escanaba Daily Press.

“You have a real need for help… in northern Michigan,” he added. “We’re asking for emergency funds. We’re asking for some help. We really need it.”

Casperson said the statewide winter problems can be compared to other natural disasters, such as a hurricane, where there’s a crisis at hand that’s going to get worse.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about, a lot underground with the frost,” he said. “The problem is we can report only what we see but every day the problem is getting bigger.”

Jack Dueweke, emergency management coordinator for Houghton and Keweenaw counties, agreed. He said frozen water pipes to date are “just the tip of the iceberg” compared to what he foresees the frost will bring in the coming weeks.

Besides water and sewer line freeze ups, temporary hookups, let-runs, water main breaks, and overtime pay, there are extra water and wastewater treatment costs.

“The hearing was very helpful to paint a realistic picture for the Committee of what is taking place throughout the Upper Peninsula,” said Casperson. “They surely opened eyes throughout the state and showed how profound the conditions are and how urgent the need is for immediate assistance.”

State assistance for these type of situations is not unusual.

Earlier this winter, Gov. Rick Snyder issued an executive order declaring a State of Energy Emergency in Michigan due to temporary shortages of propane in areas of the Upper Peninsula.

And, according to Bob Berbohm, emergency management coordinator for Delta and Schoolcraft counties, state aid was approved when there were similar hardships during a severe winter some 20 years ago.

The evidence is there. The precedent is there.

Officials in Lansing ought to approve emergency funding to help U.P. communities battling these winter conditions.