MARQUETTE - The Marquette County Board voted this week to pay more than $15,000 in fines levied by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration for roughly 60 violations discovered earlier this year at the Marquette County Courthouse in Marquette and the wastewater treatment plant at K.I. Sawyer.
The violations were discovered during inspections which occurred between May 19 and June 26.
"This was an unfortunate situation that we intend to turn into a valuable learning situation," said county administrator Scott Erbisch. "The administration, county board of commissioners and the staff are committed to insuring that all county facilities and work places will be safe places to visit and work."
In response to the citations, county staff worked quickly to remedy the violations.
"Considering the circumstances, this has turned out well," Erbisch said. "We now have a different focus on how we're doing some of our safety work and we have a safety committee in place that's been meeting already regularly, we'll be expanding that, and again staff have really pulled together hard on a broad base within the county to respond to these issues and get them resolved and hopefully move ahead so they don't have this in the future."
County civil counsel Stephen Adamini was able to negotiate a 60 percent reduction of the fines.
"With the number of items that they cited us for, I believe it was something like 61, and the range of penalties on each range up to, for the first round, $7,000, we were all kind of shocked and almost had our breath taken away thinking that potentially we could be facing $400,000 in penalties and fines here for what they discovered," Adamini said.
State officials told the county MIOSHA intended to impose fines totaling $37,600.
"I have to give a whole lot of credit to the new risk manager Jim Kent and (county facilities manager) Aaron Karlstrom," Adamini said. "They recognized the problem that was there. They recognized that some of the findings were in fact justified. I think one of the reasons the state was so willing to come down from that peak they could have given us, down to the $15,040 was as a direct result of what those two gentlemen did.
"Every complaint was abated and promptly, well before the deadlines that the state had set," Adamini said. "They got in place, or rejuvenated, a safety committee that has now been meeting regularly. I believe this was an eye-opener and an important eye-opener because if as a result of this we save a finger or an arm or a leg or a life, it is an experience and an important lesson that we've learned here and fortunately, the fine is at the absolute lowest level that it could be, rather than up near the maximum."
Commissioner Michael Quayle said the violations cited ranged from not having a guard around a ceiling fan and needing an enclosed ladder on the outside of a building to ground fault interrupters not working and an eye wash station not working properly, nor tested.
Quayle said he thought more minor violations were ticketed than serious violations and most were from the wastewater treatment facility.
County finance manager Sue Vercoe said the money for the fines will be paid from the wastewater and general funds and will be part of budget amendments brought before the board in November.
"Anything pertaining to the courthouse facility, and there were some of the violations that were here, would be charged to the general fund and anything pertaining to the (K.I. Sawyer) wastewater plant would be charged to that," Vercoe said.
Commissioner Nick Joseph made the motion the fines be paid, it was supported by Quayle. The vote was unanimous, with commissioners Charles Bergdahl, Bill Nordeen and Paul Arsenault absent from Tuesday's meeting.
"It's not a good situation that we have to pay fines, but I think our staff and Aaron and Jim, the important thing to me is they set up this safety committee and taken care of things so hopefully we won't have these problems in the future," said Commissioner Bruce Heikkila.
Commissioner Gerald Corkin said, "It's disappointing that they (MIOSHA) are going to push the fines when we've agreed to correct everything, which is the important thing to get done. So I guess, you know, I'm disappointed in that."
County board Chairwoman Deborah Pellow said, "You'll never get rid of the fines once they find it. But to have it reduced by 60 percent, I think staff did a great job. But getting rid of the fines once they're here, that ain't going to happen."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is email@example.com.