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Dickinson renews virus emergency declaration

THE DICKINSON COUNTY BOARD will have a public hearing tonight at the county courthouse in Iron Mountain on the proposed $9.9 million general fund budget for 2021. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dickinson County will remain under a state of emergency for COVID-19, the county board decided Monday.

Although the rate of new cases is down from when the declaration was reinstated in late October, it should be kept in place, said Pete Schlitt, the county’s emergency services coordinator.

A key reason, he said, is to designate public works employees as “essential,” which gives officials flexibility in responding to storms and other disruptions. The declaration also allows the county to share pandemic resources with other agencies and governmental units, he said.

The county first declared a coronavirus emergency March 16, following suit with the federal and state governments, but rescinded it May 21 with the understanding it could be reinstated.

At that time, executive orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were in effect — measures later ruled unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan’s current restrictions are though orders by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The county board reinstated its emergency declaration Oct. 26, citing an explosive rise in infections as 444 active coronavirus cases were reported in the county. As of Monday, the number stood at 269, according to the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department.

To date, the department has reported 2,050 confirmed cases in Dickinson County and 67 deaths.

Because the county board has reorganized for a new term, the emergency declaration needs to be renewed, Schlitt said during Monday’s Zoom meeting. He also mentioned social media criticisms of Michigan virus restrictions, but said the county’s action is independent of that.

“Dickinson County doesn’t have the authority to lock anyone down,” he said.

Michigan’s “pause” on indoor dining, put in place Nov. 18, is set to expire Friday. In a press conference last week, Whitmer declined to say whether restrictions might be eased or extended.

As the health department continues a vaccination program, Schlitt reported that 98% of local police and fire personnel who wanted the shot have received one. Commissioner John Degenaer Jr. noted that staff and residents at Pinecrest Medical Care Facility in Powers were vaccinated Saturday.

In other action, the county board:

— Learned from Controller Brian Bousley that applications have been submitted for nearly $600,000 in reimbursement costs at Ford Airport through the CARES Act Airport Grant Program. The county was eligible for up to $1,085,245 in aid under a program President Donald Trump signed into law in March. Earlier, the county used part of the funding to pay off a bank debt for a hangar leased to CSA Air. In the new application, it seeks to pay a remaining debt of $239,000 for 10 T-hangars leased to individual aircraft owners and financed in 2014 through the airport’s Fontana Trust Fund. Reimbursement for $356,000 in airport payroll and operations is sought as well, which would leave $60,000 still unspent. Bousley said the grant might be closed out within the next two months as remaining expenses are paid.

— Received a report from Steve Smith, county mine inspector, on areas within the Fumee Lake Natural Area. The Cuff Mine is a concern, as the ground has sunk over two shafts and will need to be filled or fenced more securely, Smith said. A fence at the Illinois Mine has been badly damaged by a large tree.

— Heard Commissioner Barbara Kramer say a kayak launch is planned at Lake Antoine, aided by a Dickinson Area Community Foundation grant.

— Reappointed state Sen. Ed McBroom, R- Waucedah Township, to the U.P. State Fair Authority for a two-year term.

— Tentatively rescheduled its finance committee meeting to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, with no determination yet on whether it will be in-person or via Zoom.

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