County to again seek emergency declaration

MARQUETTE – With costs continuing to rise and the results of winter freeze-ups expected to worsen, Marquette County officials plan to submit a new request for a state emergency or disaster declaration from Gov. Rick Snyder this week.

The action comes after a recent Senate committee hearing in Lansing, where a local delegation testified about the growing problems associated with this winter’s persistent severe cold temperatures.

“They are encouraging us to resubmit,” county board Chairman Gerald Corkin said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “We’ll see if we can get some traction this time.”

On Feb. 22, Marquette County officials declared a countywide state of emergency, one of the initial steps to take before requesting relief from higher levels of government. A declaration request was then made of the governor on March 4.

At that time, about $300,000 in freeze-related costs had been incurred throughout the county. Those costs have risen to $1.6 million as of Tuesday and $5.6 million across the entire Upper Peninsula, according to Marquette County Emergency Management Coordinator Teresa Schwalbach.

The new declaration request awaits a review by Corkin and Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch, once finalized by Schwalbach.

“We are going to update it and are probably going to be submitting it within the next day or so,” Schwalbach said.

Six of the U.P.’s 15 counties have now declared county emergencies. Within Marquette County, Ishpeming and Negaunee are among the areas hit worst.

Meanwhile, the county board unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday from the Michigan Association of Counties, which asks Snyder to make a declaration of emergency or disaster for the U.P. and the northern Lower Peninsula.

At the Senate hearing, the county’s efforts were also supported by the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association.

Don Brown, of the Michigan State Police Emergency and Homeland Security Division, said disaster or emergency requests are made via his division, which reports to the governor the nature, scope and magnitude of the situation.

A state of “emergency” request is for state resources to aid with local emergency response and recovery efforts. A “state of disaster” asks the state to manage emergency response and recovery efforts.

Brown said to qualify for either declaration under the Michigan Emergency Management Act, a community has to demonstrate that the incident is resulting in or causing an imminent threat to lives, health and safety and widespread damage to property.

Local emergency management officials have to make sure local disaster response efforts are used to the maximum extent possible.

Marquette County’s request last month was denied. Instead, Gov. Snyder directed the state police to help access additional resources to help with local freeze-up problems. A request was put out to other municipal agencies across the state for use of equipment and manpower.

The city of Lansing and the Lansing Board of Light and Power agreed to send arc welders and other equipment to Marquette County. However, the county denied the aid because local communities could not afford to pay for it.

County Commissioner Deborah Pellow said Tuesday the water departments of Ishpeming and Negaunee haven’t got the money to finance those offers and have already overspent budgets to deal with the winter problems.

Meanwhile, the costs continue to climb and the problems are expected to worsen as the ground thaws.

“It seems to me it’s a Catch-22 snowballing,” Pellow said.

Schwalbach said other communities could potentially agree to donate their equipment and services.

To meet a federal threshold for relief, Michigan would have to have a total of at least $13.7 million in costs. What happens over the next few weeks will determine how extensive problems ultimately become. Some downstate counties were also struggling with similar issues.

Brown said there is no limit to the number of times the county could seek a declaration from the governor, as the conditions change.

Corkin said county officials will continue to fight.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to get some help for these communities,” he said.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.