INTRO: After a century of pounding waves and severe storms, a breakwall in a Lake Superior town will get rebuilt. It will provide shelter for boats and a reason for tourists to come and keep the town alive. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus has this two part series.
For half a century, Grand Marais had a long, deep harbor where boats could be safe from Lake Superior. A breakwall was built in1896 to protect it. But wind and the currents have toppled the breakwall.
“Failure is not option here. Having that harbor fill in with sand is not an option. Dammit it ain’t gonna happen. I ain’t gonna let it happen.”
That was township supervisor Jack Hubbard 4 years ago. Much of the harbor has filled in. This 70 foot boat has to dock here outside the harbor where big waves can still bang against its sides. Any boat big enough to handle rough waters can’t enter the harbor because it would get stuck in the sand. Sometimes even the harbor isn’t safe. Rough weather bangs up boats there too.
The dozen ladies on the Grand Marais harbor committee are happy these days. In June, the state agreed to send $5 million. Pat Munger explains.
“While the old breakwall to repair was $40 million we wanted $5 million.. And when that got straightened out down there in Lansing that helped us a lot knowing that we were really going for the cheapest thing that will save us.”
The town’s economy depends on the harbor. Now they can pay for a new 1,400 foot break wall. The old one was 5 times longer. It protected a lot more beach and deep water. But the committee is satisfied.
“It wasn’t democrats against republicans or anything like that,”
Says Janie Dowe.
“It’s just that we’re a little town. Nobody wanted to help us.”
“We don’t have the political clout here.”
Says Wendy Lowe.
“It should not have been an issue that we’re even fighting for. This is a harbor of refuge. It’s all about saving lives. It’s about people’s needs. It so important to our economy. It should have been done without us having to fight so hard for it.”
The ladies of the committee wrote hundreds of letters, made hundreds of calls and sent thousands of emails around the country. In February, Readers Digest held a sweepstakes called “We Hear You America.” One-third of all American towns posted reasons why one or another is great and what the prize money would be used money for. Grand Marais beat everybody. It got 1 million votes online. But they’ve not received the $40,000. Reader’s Digest is barely emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Tourism brings in most of the money. Many tourists came to fish. The fish habitat right inside the harbor used to be ideal. Then there is the piping plover bird. It’s endangered and makes rare nests along the beach. Tim Matson is one of the few native Americans here still doing commercial fishing. He thinks the process took too long because outsiders had the wrong priorities.
“We got more people around here that eat fish than there is people eatin’ birds eh. I’m not saying that we kill birds for the simple fact of killing birds. But we do kill fish for the simple fact of eatin’ ‘em.”
The harbor committee ladies praised their state senator and township supervisor who found the money for the project.
“Tom Casperson has been one helluva guy. Jack Hubbard has been monumental. He is one helluva guy. We absolutely love him.”
After cheers from the ladies, Hubbard went to a different bar where the bartender bought him a drink. Hubbard says he’s almost disappointed because he’s gonna have to find a new mission.
“When I went to bed at night it was the last thing I thought of and when I got up in the morning it was the first thing I thought of.”
Jack Hubbard has walked with pain in his hip for years. It comes from an old logging injury. Since last year, he’s put off surgery because he wanted to stay in the fight for the break wall. Now he’s agreed to it, August 9th at the hospital in Petoskey.GrandMaraisBreakwall2011