By Sterling McGinn

This summer saw the beginning of earthwork on Luce County Roads 410/407, which is being funded by a $6 million Michigan EDC grant that was secured by Deer Park resident John Waltman.

This first phase will improve the roadbed and realign portions of the road, allowing it to be paved if funds allow in the future.

Waltman, who has been spearheading a road paving and improvement project, feels a connecting route to Grand Marais will economically benefit the Newberry area.

After Waltman’s $6 million grant was awarded from the Michigan EDC, the funds were used to begin the groundwork and for safety projects along the two roads. A total of 6 ½ miles of County Road 407 from the Alger/Luce County line to the Blind Sucker River Bridge will receive an improved gravel surface.

The tree clearing portion of the road alignment on County Road 407 is nearly complete, according to Luce County Road Commission Engineer and Manager Stuart McTiver.

“The actual gravel and dirt work on 407 is now under way and taking place,” he said. “They have started at the Alger County line and are working east.”

Once this portion of the earthwork is completed the road will be able to drain better and won’t need to be graded as often.

Payne and Dolan is the primary earthwork contractor and WJZ logging was hired to cut and clear trees.

This project is estimated to be completed in November. The project got to a late start due to a delay with securing an easement from the DNR.

However, an additional $5.5 million is needed to finish the earthwork between the intersections at 410 and 407 and the fork where 407 and 410 splits. The funds already received do not include money to pave the road.

To help secure additional funding through the state, the McMillan Township Board voted to sign an eight-month contract with Midwest Strategy Group  back in January to assist in getting a budget line-item funding appropriation from the legislative and executive branches.

For eight months, McMillan Township paid the consulting lobbyist $2,500 a month plus expenses, which totaled $20,000. Additional funds were not secured this year.

This contract was recently terminated, though the board said they may revisit the idea of a lobbyist for the project in the future.

The original plan was to pave a 12-mile stretch of County Road 407 to Alger County, but due to highwater at Muskallonge Lake, significant wetlands, and buildings in the right-of-way, the project was significantly altered. The new plan would pave County Road 410, linking to 407.

The roadwork this year has caused motorists to detour back to M-123—through Newberry, turning west on M-28 to Seney. The detour then takes motorists up M-77 into Grand Marais.

Matt Perry, who owns a cabin on 407, shared his frustration with the road closure to the McMillan Township Board at their last meeting.

“They are not working on the weekends—it seems to me that we should be able to get across there,” he said. “I can’t get to Grand Marais… I live at my cabin during hunting season—I get my gas there, go to church there. They could make it passable for a four-wheel drive at least by the first part of October.”

“The concern is going to be the safety of both the people working out there and the traveling public,” said McTiver. “To put it into a safe condition, to make it passable even with a four-wheel drive on a weekend when no one is there, it is going to slow the project down if they have to open it up and close it down. I understand that it is going to be difficult this year, but it is going to be beneficial in the long run.”

There are also number of residents who feel the paved road would be detrimental to Newberry and Deer Park and many have placed yard signs stating they are against the project.

“I am not in favor of the potential paved ‘Newberry/Deer Park bypass,’” said Geri Minard. Minard feels the road will allow travelers to completely bypass Newberry and Deer Park. “Those few businesses that will benefit are blinded by the thought of seeing more dollar signs for them,” she said.

The road, if paved in the future, would only be seasonal.

“At this point, there is nothing in the works to pave the roads other than the approach at Perch Lake, which will keep the gravel from coming out onto the road,” McTiver said.