Angling for answers

Republic Sportsman’s Club rallies through setbacks, looks to future

MARQUETTE — The Republic Sportsman’s Club has set the date for its 28th Annual Fishing Derby in July 2018 in hopes that it will catch a few breaks along the way.

The derby, which brings hundreds of participants into Republic every year, is a yearly boon to the small town’s economy, according to club-member Jim Brennan.

“We get 350 to 450 adults and kids registered every year,” Brennan said. “But it brings more people to town than that. It’s very important here.”

Problems began for the club in November 2016, with a case of embezzlement that left the normally solvent club with less than $500 in its bank account.

According to court documents, the club’s former treasurer, Lynn Koski pled guilty to one count of embezzlement — $1,000 to under $20,000 from a non-profit or charity organization on July 7, and was ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution to the club as part of her sentence.

Koski was also ordered to pay $1,332 in court costs and a $240 supervision fee to the Michigan Department of Corrections and serve 24 months of probation.

The restitution and court costs were to be paid in monthly installments of $75 beginning in August, the documents state.

According to the Marquette County Clerk’s office, no payment has been received from Koski since she paid $300 in September.

Sportsman’s club CEO Arvo Lyyski said club members were devastated when they found that the money was missing.

In response to their dire financial situation, RSC members set to work organizing fundraisers immediately, after performing an internal audit, to ensure that the fishing derby would go forward in 2017, Lyyski said.

“Without the very hard work of a lot of people, it would never have happened,” Lyyski said. “A lot of club members — oh my God — there was just so much work that was done by them to pull this off. By the time we had our fishing derby this year we had $16,000.”

With enough money in the club coffers to hold the derby, Lyyski said, the club breathed a grateful sigh of relief, but an issue with the dam that feeds the Michigamme River Basin became a second obstacle.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality withheld an operating permit citing unauthorized activities according to a July 15 email from DEQ Upper Peninsula District Water Resources Division senior environmental quality analyst Ryan McCone to Township Treasurer Tina Lyyski.

The dam was originally used as part of Cleveland Cliffs operations at the Republic Mine. The company turned the Republic Mine’s tailing ponds into wetlands between 1997 and 2000.

The land was purchased by Republic Mountain Lake, LLC in 2007, and the inconsistent water level in the Michigamme River Basin has been a source of concern since around that time.

Republic Township leased the dam from Republic Mountain Lake, LLC until 2016, with the township taking responsibility for monitoring the structure and water levels. The township, along with the MRA made several attempts to purchase the dam from RML, but a deal could not be reached.

DEQ permits, however, had not really been an issue until this year, Lyyski said.

On July 19, Governor Rick Snyder overrode the DEQ temporarily by allowing the sportsman’s club to close the dam gates for four days.

As of right now, Lyyski said, the dam gates are open — but the question remains — will the RSC be permitted to operate the dam and close the gates for next season’s fishing derby?

Lyyski said he is confused by the focus on wetlands after years of inaction regarding dam operation since 1981.

“No one can — or will — answer the question who, if anyone, was responsible for maintaining and repairing the dam as it stood then,” Lyyski said. “If there were dam inspections that were done, who did them, and if they did, why was the dam left in such disrepair? That’s why we were sitting in the place we are at.”

Brennan said a meeting has been scheduled with the DEQ next week to determine how to get an operating permit for the dam in going forward.

Lyyski said a plan is in motion to change RSC’s official designation to a 501-C4 non-profit, in part to make the organization eligible to apply for state and federal grants for the possible purchase and repair of the dam.

“We got all our paperwork in to the attorney’s here they beginning of November and we are hoping the something is going to happen with relative speed here.” Lyyski said. “We found out that our status as a non-profit was never solidified to get ourselves bonafide as a 501-C4. Without that we have been kind of flying by the seat of our pants and not even knowing about it.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.