2014-01-02 / Front Page

Counting down: Top stories of 2013

A look back through the issues and progress that caught readers’ attention last year

The Yorktown cruise ship makes its second visit to the Manistique area in August. 
Pioneer Tribune photo The Yorktown cruise ship makes its second visit to the Manistique area in August. Pioneer Tribune photo MANISTIQUE – The year of 2013 was laden with plenty of controversy and drama, with some good news thrown in. Here is a countdown of the top ten news stories of 2013:

10. The “Yorktown” visits Manistique

The Yorktown made its way into Manistique last August, dazzling spectators as it drifted offshore near the marina. The ship, part of the Great Lakes Cruise Company fleet, made two stops to the area last year, and plans to visit four more times this year.

The massive cruise ship anchored near the lighthouse and used two of its own boats to carry approximately 120 passengers into Manistique. Next year, the cruise ship will be able to dock in the marina, giving passengers more direct access to the downtown area. The visits are expected to boost tourism to the area.

The new owner of the East Breakwater Lighthouse, Bill Collins, commissioned Carl Behrend, above, to paint the neglected structure last fall. 
Pioneer Tribune photo The new owner of the East Breakwater Lighthouse, Bill Collins, commissioned Carl Behrend, above, to paint the neglected structure last fall. Pioneer Tribune photo 9. The multi-million infrastructure project comes to an end

Final payments were made to the vendors involved in the $8.2 million USDA Rural Development grant-funded infrastructure project this past summer after the completion of Park Avenue.

Elmer’s Crane and Dozer, Inc., of Traverse City, handled construction on the east side of town, while Hebert Construction Company, of Iron River, tackled the west side. The project, the bulk of which was completed over the summer and fall of 2012, included water, sewer and storm sewer line upgrades in various locations on both sides of the city.

8. FutureMark – Manistique celebrates its one-year anniversary

The former CEO of Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital, George Montgomery, center, is shown cutting the ribbon at the facility’s open house in April. 
Pioneer Tribune photo The former CEO of Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital, George Montgomery, center, is shown cutting the ribbon at the facility’s open house in April. Pioneer Tribune photo FutureMark – Manistique celebrated its anniversary in May, boasting 24 new hires, new maintenance programs and new production equipment, with plans for additional capital investment, just one year after FutureMark Paper Group purchased the mill.

As a result of the improvements made, the FutureMark – Manistique facility has added 60 new customers over the course of the year, and reached a 5-year high in total tonnage of recycled paper manufactured per day.

7. The DDA receives project approval, extension

After a long battle, the DDA won permission from the Manistique City Council to amend its original TIF plan. The organization sought the amendment after learning in 2012 that it had been approved for a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Waterways Commission, which will cover 50 percent of an approximately $4.2 million marina renovation project. The ongoing project includes: construction of new broadside docking, replacing binwalls, constructing new floating piers, installing pumpout stations and a fuel station, constructing a new harbormaster’s house and public restrooms, constructing parking lot improvements and installing playground equipment.

In light of the amount the DDA would need to pay its match, the authority sought to amend the original 1988 TIF plan. Along with a list of new goals and projects of the DDA, the amendment to the TIF plan also included an extension of the authority, which was set to expire in 2018. The extension will allow for financing the grant match over the course of approximately 20 years.

6. Work begins to clean-up Manistique River

The Manistique River was designated as an Area of Concern by the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s, following tests that showed contamination from wastewater treatment issues, as well as the presence of PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl).

The PCBs were the result of a past process performed by Manistique Papers, Inc, now FutureMark – Manistique, which used solvents to ‘deink’ paper. These solvents leeched PCBs into a lagoon on their property, and, eventually, into the river. While the mill has since walled and filled in the lagoon, preventing any further leeching into the river, PCBs remain in the sediment of the river – continuing its AOC designation.

This past summer, representatives EPA, Department of Environmental Quality, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geologic Survey, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited the area to conduct testing to design a remediation plan. The project, slated for fall 2014, could run anywhere from $10-20 million, with funds coming from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. No matching funds are required from either the city or the county.

5. The city receives the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation award

Manistique was announced as one of six inaugural winners of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health Prize. As part of the honor, Manistique received a cash prize of $25,000 in recognition of its efforts during a Feb. 20 event held at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J.

The city of Manistique was recognized for its innovative strategies to improve health, including: partnering with the Sault Tribe Strategic Alliance for Health Project, developing the Manistique Farmers’ Market, working to create easier access for non-motorized modes of transportation, and partnering with Manistique Area Schools to create access to healthy choices throughout the school day.

4. The East Breakwater Lighthouse is sold

The East Breakwater light was originally tagged for “disposal” by the GSA in mid-2012 and listed on its Real Property Utilization and Disposal website. Under the stipulations of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, those eligible to obtain ownership of the light, without any up front cost, included the city, which officially turned down the opportunity in November 2012.

In July, Newbury, Ohio resident Bill Collins placed the winning bid on the lighthouse and became its new owner. Collins came forward to reveal his identity shortly after in an attempt to ease concerns from residents about any alterations to the light. He did make one change to the light, however. In September the structure received a fresh coat of paint.

3. The new Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital opens

After years in development and construction, the new Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital opened its doors in April. The state-of-theart facility on U.S. 2 replaces the original hospital, built in 1950 on Main Street in Manistique.

On August, 19 2011, hospital officials hosted a ground-breaking ceremony at the site of the approximately $24 million facility. The 62,130 square-foot hospital was funded through a combination of a $19 million USDA Rural Development loan, approximately $3 million in bank loans, and $2 million of the hospital’s own funds. Featuring 12 private inpatient rooms; a large, multi-room emergency department; energyefficient design; and two state-ofthe art operating suites, the new hospital was officially opened to the public on April 22, 2013.

2. Schoolcraft County Medical Care Facility encounters financial trouble

In July, the administration of SCMCF approached the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners, seeking assistance for what was soon deemed a “grave” financial situation. The then-administrator, Jerry Hubbard, explained the facility had run into trouble with expenditures consistently higher than revenues. He also pointed out that the facility had a declining census, and having a problem obtaining reimbursements for Medicaid and Medicare bills

While exact figures about the extent of the facility’s financial situation fluctuated, the county’s finance committee estimated the facility was losing approximately $50,000-75,000 per month.

Following the resignation of Hubbard and the exit of several other administrative employees, a report from an outside financial consultant revealed Hubbard had known about the seriousness of the facility’s situation, but failed to reveal this to the SCMCF board and even took steps to keep certain areas of the facility’s finances from its members.

After an increase in the facility’s census, and pay cuts to the staff, the facility was able to survive without financial assistance from the county board, but still sought and obtained a up to 1.5 mils from county residents in the November election.

The facility continues to focus on the goal of strengthening its finances and morale after the resignation and term expiration of two board members, resignation of part-time, temporary Director of Administration and Finance Michael Stephenson, of Atlanta, Mich., and implementation of two new board members.

1. Millages pass to save the SCMCF and sustain and expand Schoolcraft County Public Transit

Tension and uncertainty was high heading into the November 2013 election, but Schoolcraft County voters overwhelmingly approved two millages from SCMCF and the SCPT. For the medical care facility, a millage request of up to 1.5 mills for operations was approved 1,575 “yes” votes to 545 “no” votes. A total of 2,120 votes were cast.

On the other side of the aisle, voters also approved the SCPT proposal with 1,431 in favor of the .587 mill request, which will support operations and expanded hours. Residents cast 684 “no” votes.

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