By Sterling McGinn

Approximately 12 citizens attended the February meeting of the McMillan Township Board to express concerns regarding a recent board decision to hire a lobbyist to secure funds for the 410/407 road paving project.

The meeting took place in the basement of the Community Building on Monday, February 27 at 4:30 p.m.

Those in attendance expressed disapproval about taxpayer money being used to pay for a lobbyist, which the township recently hired to help secure a state budget line-item appropriation for proposed roadwork.

Plans to improve and pave portions of Luce County Roads 410 and 407, which will ultimately make a connecting route to Grand Marais in Alger County, hit a funding snag that may delay the project.

At their last regular session, the McMillan Township Board voted to consult with Dusty Fancher, a veteran lobbyist from the Midwest Strategy Group of Michigan, for up to eight months. The consulting contract will cost the township between $5,000 and $20,000, and there is more than a 50 percent chance of securing the appropriation.

The township will pay $2,500 per month, including expenses.

“The appropriation of money didn’t get on for this year and we are trying to get it back on,” said Trustee Tom Rahilly. “We are trying a different method to get on for this year and basically save two years of time for the appropriation.”

“Many of us would not like to see that money happen,” said Kristi Jackson, who owns the Deer Park Lodge. “I would not like my tax dollars to go to a lobbyist, when I don’t want to see [the road paving] happen.”

Newberry resident Geri Minard also shared concerns to the board, asking if the money used to hire a lobbyist would be replaced if the lobbyist was unsuccessful.

“No, that is a risk we will have to take,” Rahilly said.

“If this was a worthy project, it should be able to stand on its own, and it shouldn’t have to have lobbyist,” Minard said.

Deer Park resident James Brettner questioned what the project could bring to the area.

“I am a taxpayer of McMillan Township and a citizen of Luce County, and I have a serious issue with taxpayer money going to a lobbyist at this point,” said Tasha Stielstra. “The other concern I have in using $20,000 that could be used for anything in our community is that the legislation right now is split. We are paying a lobbyist, but the likelihood of things getting passed in Lansing isn’t really good for both sides right now.”

Others echoed frustrations about not being asked for input before the lobbyist was hired.

The road improvement plan has long been a vision of Deer Park Resident John Waltman, who believes the improved road will benefit the county’s economy.

Though the project has been widely supported by many area residents and entities, such as the Newberry Area Chamber of Commerce and Newberry Area Tourism Association, concerns have been raised by residents who believe that the road will make visitors completely bypass Newberry.

Others have expressed concerns about increased speeds of motorists along 407.

A $6 million Michigan EDC grant was written by Waltman and will be used to fund portions of the earthwork and safety projects on the two roads, but more money is needed to finish Phase 1 of the project.

There is a three-year contract with the Michigan EDC, who is passing the money through pandemic funds, but they must be funded by a budget line-item.

An additional $5.5 million appropriation, however, is needed to finish the earthwork between the road intersections of 410 and 407, and at the fork where 407 and 410 splits.
If Fancher is successful, the earthwork will be finished in 2023, and the same process will be implemented for paving the road.

Waltman had indicated at the January board meeting that was considering approaching the McMillan Township Board about hiring a governmental consulting firm for the next phase of the project.
Waltman does not yet have an update on the lobbying, which was approved by the board last month.

The contract began February 1 and is cancelable by either party for any reason.

McMillan Township Supervisor Art Schultz and other members of the board thanked all in attendance for their comments that evening.