By Sterling McGinn

In the ongoing effort to improve and pave Luce County Roads 410 and 407, the McMillan Township Board voted to fund a lobbyist to secure a budget line-item funding appropriation from the legislative and executive branches for the anticipated road improvements.

The decision was made at the township’s monthly meeting held Monday, January 30 at 4:30 p.m. in the Community Building.

The request for support from the township came from Deer Park resident John Waltman, who has been spearheading the road paving project for more than three years. He attended the meeting to request funds for the purpose of consulting a lobbyist as the roads are located within McMillan Township.

After a lengthy discussion, the board unanimously approved the consulting of a lobbyist at a cost of $2,500 a month plus expenses, for a maximum of eight months.

“My feeling is, if this didn’t get funded this year, and somebody doesn’t [secure] the funding for $20,000, we look really bad,” said Trustee Tom Rahilly.

Trustee Ted Nutkins initially said he’d rather see the $20,000 spent on a tangible item, but eventually voted in favor.

The paving project has earned wide-spread support and sparked concerns from many residents who would like to keep the road the way it is.

Some residents believe the paving of the road would make it easier for visitors to bypass Newberry, and others are concerned that motorists will be traveling at high speeds along 407.

Waltman strongly feels that the proposed road paving plan would benefit Luce County’s economy.

Waltman feels that a lobbyist approach is a faster initiation of benefits due to a short timeline. Dusty Fancher of the Midwest Strategy Group of Michigan will be the primary contact for the representation.

“Fancher is a veteran lobbyist—she knows the legislative process and scheduling, and how Lansing works,” Waltman said. “She knows the budget and the supplemental appropriation process.”

A $6 million Michigan EDC grant was written by Waltman and was previously awarded for the project. The existing grant funding will be used for part of the groundwork and safety projects on the two roads. Although paving will not commence at this time, the groundwork will make the project easier moving forward if paving does take place later.

“We have a three-year contract with the Michigan EDC, and they are passing money through pandemic funds to us,” explained Waltman. “But that funding has to be funded by a budget line-item, and we have to make that happen.”

However, an addition $5.5 million appropriation is needed to finish the earthwork between the intersection at 410 and 407 and the fork where 407 and 410 splits. This is where the consulting lobbyist will work to help obtain additional funding.

Midwest Strategy drafted a month-to-month contract with the township, which was reviewed by the board members. The contract will start on February 1 and is cancelable by either party for any reason.

Waltman said Fancher has already been working on this task without charge. “She thinks it will take between two months and eight months to get through the supplemental appropriations process,” he said.

If the $5.5 million is secured, the earthwork will be finished in 2023, and the same process for funding will be used for the next step, which would be paving the road. Waltman said he may approach the township for additional funds for governmental consulting services when the next phase begins, and that he’d keep the board informed about Midwest Strategy’s work.

The Luce County Road Commission Board has advertised for bids to begin the earthwork of portions of the two roads. The bid is for Phase 1 of the project, which consists of clearing, grading, signing, traffic control and the placement of an aggregate base.