There wasn't an empty seat at Saturday's town hall meeting in Burt Township, but only a few knew just how special a surprise announcement would be.
Five million dollars in state funding has been secured to restore the Grand Marais breakwall and harbor--four million as a one-time appropriation from the general fund signed by Governor Snyder and one million from the state Waterways Commission. A total of seven million dollars now has been raised between federal funding, Readers' Digest 'We Hear You America" contest winnings, and fund-raising dollars. That's enough to fund the project.
"At the end of the day, it's a done deal," says Senator Tom Casperson.
"We all just started crying. It's amazing that this is finally going to get done," says Harbor Committee member Aleta Hubbard. "We've been disappointed so many times, so this is just awesome."
Grand Marais' old breakwall eroded, and the harbor has filled up with sediment. Some say the harbor has become so dangerous it's caused five deaths on Lake Superior in the last four years. They say it's also critically threatening the economic future of the community.
Now, they plan to begin work on the project this fall.
It's a goal the town of about 300 residents has pushed for 50 years, all to save a place they hold very close to their hearts.
"When I went to bed at night for four-and-a-half years, the last thing I thought about was that harbor, and when I woke up in the morning, that was the first thing," says Township Supervisor Jack Hubbard.
"The last four years have become that's what we're living for: fix this harbor, nobody else is going to die,'" said Aleta Hubbard
It's the beginning of the end of a longstanding struggle for Grand Marais residents.
In a surprise announcement from Senator Tom Casperson Saturday night, the community learned that Governor Rick Snyder had signed a one-time four million dollar 2011 budget dollar line item appropriation to fund the restoration of the breakwall and harbor.
Since the old breakwall eroded, the harbor has been filling up with sediment, making it a dangerous place for visitors. Five lives have been claimed in the last four years. It's also had a negative impact on the small community's economy.
But it appears that finally, after 50 years of work, the problem will be solved. Grand Marais has also been awarded $1,000,000 from the Michigan Waterways commission. That money, along with fundraising dollars, federal funding and the $40,000 award from their "We Hear You America" Readers' Digest competition adds up to $7,000,000, enough to fund the project.
The Burt Township community center overflowed with tears of joy and excitement after the announcement was made. Many community members told TV6 that the important thing is that their community, one that has been called "a safe harbor" by many, can now be just that.
"The last four years have become: that's what we're living for--fix this harbor, nobody else is going to die," says Aleta Hubbard, member of the Harbor Committee.
Those who played a large role in the project received plaques with a 'key to the city' to acknowledge their efforts.
The current plan to start construction on the project in Fall 2011.