By RICHARD JENKINS
SAXON, Wis. — For the first time since 2016, Iron County can say Saxon Harbor is fully open for the season this week, as the harbor’s campground opened for the remainder of the 2020 camping season Thursday.
“It will be nice to see a full facility again,” Iron County’s forestry and parks administrator, Eric Peterson, told the Daily Globe last week.
With the exception of those who took advantage of the first-come, first-served camping last weekend, Saxon Harbor’s campground hasn’t been open since the July 11, 2016 storm when heavy rains and flooding destroyed the harbor’s marina and campground and swept boats, wreckage and silt into Lake Superior.
At least 29 boats are believed to have floated out of the harbor during the storm, with 17 washing up on the nearby shoreline. Almost all the boats remaining in the harbor were damaged, some severely.
The biggest loss, however, was the death of Mitch Koski.
Koski, a former mayor of Montreal and county board member, was a caretaker at the county park, along with his wife, Kathy.
Koski’s truck was swept away in the flooded Oronto Creek at the harbor and recovered the following day. A sign at the new harbor remembers Mitch.
Although the Iron County Board of Supervisors voted in December 2016 to restore Saxon Harbor to its pre-storm state, they would be forced to make several changes to the design in the coming years.
When the initial plan of locating the campground west of the marina was no longer viable due to a state law that prohibits campgrounds from being built in a flood plain unless an early warning system was installed — something the proximity of Oronto Creek made impossible — the county board voted in March 2017 to move the campground to land the county acquired east of the harbor.
Iron County was forced to change its plans for the campground a second time in May 2017 when an active eagle’s nest was discovered on the new site, as federal law prohibits construction within a certain distance of a nest containing fledglings.
The discovery forced the county to locate the campground on land south of the marina, across County A from the Harbor Lights bar.
Campground construction hit another road block when the Federal Emergency Management Agency balked at the project’s price tag.
Although there was an initial fear this obstacle would prove insurmountable, the board approved a modified design with a smaller footprint in response to FEMA’s decision to cap the costs it will reimburse.
The campground now has two tiers, with a total of 26 RV sites and five tent sites.
The process of rebuilding the marina hasn’t faced nearly as many speed bumps.
Following the county board’s approval of the design in November 2017, work got underway the next year and the marina opened for boats in August 2019.
Although the 81 slips in the new marina is down from the 91 slips prior to the storm, this was largely designed to accommodate the trend of people purchasing bigger boats than those that were popular when the marina was first built.
Iron County has had help with the process of rebuilding Saxon Harbor — and paying for the work — as both the state of Wisconsin and federal government issued declarations of emergency in response to the storm.
The declarations not only provided additional manpower in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but it is enabling Iron County to get reimbursed for 87.5% of eligible costs with FEMA covering 75% of the reimbursable costs and Wisconsin Emergency Management paying for the remaining 12.5%.
Peterson previously told the Daily Globe the total project at the harbor is estimated at around $14 million, with the county’s share expected to be around $2 million.
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