Funding needed to address widespread frost problems

The prolonged frigid temperatures that have smothered the area this winter have everybody hoping for early arriving springlike weather.

Most hopeful for a shift out of the cold and into spring are undoubtedly members of public works crews, who have been battling an extreme winter of water line problems.

Just about every community in the region has had its public works crews taxed to the max, with several spending much more money for water line and water main thawing and repairs than budgeted.

For example, in the city of Marquette alone, the number of service freeze-ups as of Wednesday had surpassed 400, according to City Manager Bill Vajda, when in an average year, there are about half a dozen.

Plus more than 1,300 residents are on let runs, Vajda said, with the city receiving two or three reports of freeze-ups some days but on others, more than two dozen calls will come in from around the community.

Many other areas are in the same sinking boat.

The culprit in the disaster is extremely deep frost, sinking down as far as 90 inches below the surface in some areas. Aging infrastructure simply can’t withstand frost that deep.

Many communities in the area are finding it difficult to even keep up with the emergency situation, let alone pay for the work needed to keep water systems functioning properly.

In an effort to get some help for these communities, the Marquette County Board is taking steps to get some state and perhaps federal funding assistance.

On Tuesday, the county requested Gov. Rick Snyder’s office declare a state of emergency for the county because of the problems associated with the extended period of sub-freezing temperatures.

On Feb. 22, county officials declared a countywide state of emergency, which is required before seeking assistance at the state or federal level.

There’s no set timetable on when to expect a response from the governor, but we hope it won’t be too long in coming – and it’s a response local units of government want to hear.

Adding urgency to the situation is that the National Weather Service is predicting a gradual melting of snow and ice and a slow withdrawal of the frost from the ground. These conditions will worsen the situation, and put even more stress on public works budgets – and employees – already stretched extremely thin.