Town hall meeting

MARQUETTE – Addressing changing energy needs and challenging education and transportation issues in the state are among the top concerns of four state legislators from the Upper Peninsula who visited the area Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, and Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, hosted a town hall meeting at the Marquette Township Hall, one of six such events scheduled in the U.P. beginning this week.

Kivela said energy is what they and Gov. Rick Snyder view as the single most important issue facing the Upper Peninsula.

“Presque Isle Power Plant is going away,” Kivela said. “It’s going away, period.”

That makes the U.P. dependent on either finding generation or transmission, and transmission is the wrong answer, he said, due to high costs and relying on Wisconsin for energy.

According to Kivela, the four legislators have been looking at two possible smaller natural gas-fired plants, which would entail upsizing a gas line that is already planned, to have the capability to not only run generation but also expand natural gas usage in the U.P.

“We don’t have enough gas supplied to the Upper Peninsula,” he said.

Kivela said the Rural Development Fund is a possible funding source.

“The good news is that all parties involved know how dire it is, and know that we need a ‘win’ here, so we’re lining up potential prospective owners,” Kivela said.

Kivela said it is hoped that an announcement on the issue will be made within two to four weeks.

McBroom said he is working on increasing the amount of compensation for people generating their own electricity.

“I think that’s an important small piece of the larger energy puzzle,” McBroom said.

Dianda said biomass is another important facet of the energy issue, which involves taking waste products and creating energy.

The legislators also talked about the state of education in Michigan.

McBroom said it’s not possible for the state of Michigan to make a one-size-fits-all test or curriculum, and some people are pushing for more local control on that issue, “but it’s not easy because, honestly, right now it’s bipartisan movement towards this statewide assessment and statewide teacher assessment.”

Parents also need to be involved and attention paid to student’s backgrounds, Casperson said.

“The schools can’t fix some of this,” he said.

Regarding transportation, Casperson said state general fund money has been dedicated toward roads, but a long-term fix is needed.

“It’s a tough issue,” he said. “It’s a very tough issue.”

Dianda said he has problems with people saying the I-75 or I-94 corridor need to be fixed, which he noted “sucks up the bulk of the money” that should be shared at the city, township and county levels.

“It just can’t go to west Michigan,” he said. “I think that’s the big part of how we’re going to make some No. 1 structural changes throughout the state.”

Earlier this week, Kivela applauded the investment of $6.7 million into his district, the 109th, through the Michigan Department of Transportation Priority Roads Investment Program Project. The 109th district received the fifth-largest investment out of the 110 statewide districts. However, he too stressed the state has to solve the long-term transportation problem.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.