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Next step in Sugarloaf parking expansion project approved

Johnny Depetro, commissioner, Marquette County Board

MARQUETTE — Sugarloaf Mountain is a must-do for every Marquette visitor and the most popular destination for locals looking to catch a sunset or get outside on a nice day. Last year, over 60,000 people took the short trip to its stunning summit.

As the number of visitors to the mountain continues to grow, so does the need for additional parking. The Marquette County Board of Commissioners approved the next step in a Sugarloaf parking expansion project at its regular Tuesday board meeting.

In a unanimous vote, the board approved a bid from A. Lindberg & Sons inc. in the amount of $331,400 for parking lot improvements and a bypass lane at Sugarloaf Mountain Natural Area.

“A growing number of visitors at the Sugarloaf Mountain Natural Area has resulted in unsafe parking conditions along County Road 550,” the bid recommendation from manager of the Marquette County Planning Division Thyra Karlstrom states. “Recognizing a risk to public safety, a parking master plan identifying options for increasing the amount of parking was developed and capital funds have been allocated for this project. In March of this year, the county board of commissioners made the decision to proceed with a parking expansion project.”

The inclusion of deceleration and bypass lanes to the new lot were recommended by the project advisory committee, the document states.

A. Lindberg & Sons inc. was the lowest of five bidders.

“The intent for the new parking lot is to construct it and design it to minimize sight clearing and maximize the number of parking spaces,” Karlstrom said during the meeting. “We definitely want to keep it with a natural aesthetic and I think with the matching land we have in place and the proposal we have received we can do that.”

Board Chairman Gerald Corkin and Commissioner Johnny Depetro said additional parking would reduce the present safety risk at the mountain as many visitors must park across CR 550.

“Starting in 2018, Sugarloaf became a Pure Michigan popular tourist attraction. They averaged around 10,000 visitors in the past through the 60s, 70s, 80s but once this became a very popular tourist attraction, 2018 saw 47,620 visitors just in that year and in 2019 saw over 60,000 visitors, so that just shows you where our parking lot has filled up so quickly during the day,” Depetro said.

There are a number of factors that present a risk to public safety in the area such as industrial trucking traffic, commercial traffic, the curvature of the road causing blind spots, etc., he noted.

At a previous board meeting, the commissioners discussed delaying capital projects deemed non essential due to the economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis, but the board voted to move forward with the parking lot improvement project.

This is a “high priority” project that could not be pushed off to a later date due to the safety concern to tourists, residents and children, Depetro said.

The cost of the bid will come from the county forestry fund, Corkin said.

The fund “is basically put aside for our recreation and parks issues and has $800,000 in it, so it’s funding that’s used for this kind of purpose. We have it in there and it would be a wise use of it,” Corkin said. “I don’t think many people realize that there’s 60,000 visitors to Sugarloaf each year, it’s a lot of people in Marquette County.”

During the meeting, the board also approved a revised travel policy for county employees.

In response to COVID-19, a travel policy was created in late March which required employees returning from air travel to remain off-site for 14 days to limit exposure to the workforce. The policy was specific to air travel only.

The revised policy approved by the board states that in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within the county “unnecessary travel to areas outside of Marquette County is discouraged. Employees who choose to ignore state travel restrictions and travel out of the area may require a 14-day isolation period upon return at the employee’s own expense (ie., through use of paid leave.”

Employees are also required to contact their supervisors and Human Resources in advance of travel pans in an effort to keep the workplace safe, the policy states.

The board also voted to:

≤ Approve a five-year lease extension for Sawyer International Airport building 727 to Argonics Inc. as well as a separate lease with Argonics for a portion of airport building 725 as the company continues to grow its operations.

≤ Pass a resolution to temporarily reduce the minimum number of hours worked to qualify for monthly service credit in the Municipal Employees Retirement System defined benefit plan of Marquette County.

≤ Approve bid from Crane Engineering in the amount of $153,330 for a Sawyer WasteWater Treatment Plant clarifier rebuild project.

≤ Appoint Anthony Misale to the Citizen At-Large position of the Marquette County Community Corrections Advisory Board.

Trinity Carey can be reached at tcarey@miningjournal.net.

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