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Flood-damaged Saxon Harbor gets help

Flooding caused major damage at Saxon Harbor on the shore of Lake Superior north of Hurley last July. (Photo courtesy of the Iron County Sheriff's Office)

More than $1 million earmarked for dredging and repairing flood-damaged Saxon Harbor will bring the harbor to a "usable depth," the forest administrator for Iron County, Wis., said on Monday.

The project, expected to take place next year, "(will) allow larger boats to access Lake Superior and get off of Lake Superior in the event of a storm," Eric J. Peterson said.

The funding, which totals $1.375 million, is included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work plan for fiscal year 2017, according to an announcement on Monday from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

The harbor's marina and campground were destroyed and nearby roads washed out when 10 inches or more of rain fell in Northwestern Wisconsin during July 11-12 storms last year. Oronto Creek, which empties into the harbor, overflowed. Nineteen boats were beached and others sank or were set adrift. Mitch Koski, a firefighter and the former mayor of Montreal, Wis., died when his vehicle was swept away while he was responding to a call for help.

All of the roads are back in service, Peterson said, although the bridge over Oronto Creek at Saxon Harbor is a temporary structure.

The harbor now has limited use, he said, with one boat launch instead of three and the ability to handle boats that are 24 feet or less. Before the flood, boats longer than 40 feet entered and left the harbor.

Because it's part of the plan for the current fiscal year, the Army Corps is required to have the project bid out by Sept. 30, Peterson said. But that means actual work won't take place until 2018.

In response to the flooding, President Barack Obama declared Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Florence, Iron, Sawyer and Washburn counties, as well as the Bad River Reservation, a federal disaster area last August, making local governments eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

But the Army Corps funding is a separate matter, Peterson said.

"Saxon Harbor is a designated harbor of refuge on Lake Superior," he said. "With that comes the responsibility for Army Corps to maintain the channel entering to the marina and the channel down the north basin of the marina."

Efforts to convince the Army Corps to make the project a priority began in late September, when Baldwin sent the agency a letter on behalf of Iron County, Peterson said.

In a statement released Monday, Baldwin referred to the damage the flooding caused.

"Last year, I saw firsthand how flooding devastated our Lake Superior coastline, and I spoke with Wisconsinites who were concerned we would not have the resources needed to repair and rebuild after those severe storms," she said. "Today, I'm happy to announce a critical investment in Saxon Harbor so it can come back stronger than ever."

Meanwhile, engineering for a rebuilt campground and marina is under way, Peterson said. The current timetable is to get the project bid out by the end of this year or early next year, with construction to take place in 2018 and a targeted reopening date of spring 2019.

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