Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Finlandia to celebrate Finnish Independence Day Dec. 6

HANCOCK -- The 90th anniversary of Finland ’s independence will be celebrated at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Finlandia University Finnish American Heritage Center on Quincy Street in Hancock.

The keynote speaker is Finlandia President Philip Johnson, who joins the celebration for the first time as president of the university.

A selection of Finnish music will be performed by local musicians Pasi Lautala, Oren Tikkanen, and David Bezotte; and a two-act play, The Boarding House, will be presented.

Pasi Lautala, left, and Hannu Leppanen appear as a trammer and a mine worker in a previous performance of The Boarding House, which will be presented on Dec. 6, Finnish Independence Day, at the Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock. (Photo courtesy Finlandia University)

The Boarding House is a drama written in the 1920s for the Finnish American cooperative and labor movement. It depicts an afternoon in the life of three miners as they cope with naturalization problems and try to find the perfect woman. The play will be performed in Finnish.

Tanja Aho, a German-Finnish national, translated the play. Aho, whose research interests are in Finnish-American literature, recently completed an internship with the Finlandia archives. She attends the Ernst-Mortiz-Arndt University in Greifswald, Germany .

Now a member of the European Union, Finland was part of the Swedish realm for some 600 years until 1809 when it became attached to the Russian empire. In 1906 Finland acquired its own national parliament; and on Dec. 6, 1917, a Russian revolution prompted Finland to declare herself independent. Russia’s Bolshevik government recognized Finnish independence on Dec. 31, 1917.

Traditionally, Finnish Independence Day is a solemn observance of those that made freedom possible for Finland. In recent decades, however, celebrations often include fireworks, parades and celebratory cakes decorated with the blue and white Finnish flag.

For more information about this year’s program, please contact James Kurtti, director of the Finnish American Heritage Center, at 906-487-7302.

Students' Reflection Gallery to host receptions Dec. 6

Preceding the Independence Day celebration, the student-run Reflection Gallery at Finlandia University’s Portage Campus will open an exhibit by studio arts senior Christine Sommerfeldt with a reception and artist’s talk at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6.

Sommerfeldt’s work will be exhibited through Dec. 21, 2007. Her show, “Sun Over Revolving Cycles,” is a series of four large oil paintings, each titled for one of the four seasons.

Also on Thursday afternoon, at 5 p.m., the Reflection Gallery will host a reception for the Bohemian Artist Coalition’s pre-holiday silent auction. The silent auction student art work is on display, and bids are being accepted until Dec. 14. At the reception, student ceramic works will be available for purchase, and a ceramics demonstration will take place. More than half the sales price will be donated to the Bohemian Artists’ Coalition. With the funds, the student club plans either to take a trip or to re-invest in Portage Campus facilities.

The Reflection Gallery is on the second level of Finlandia’s Portage Campus, Hancock. For additional information, please contact Yueh-mei Cheng, at 487-7375.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Updated (Dec. 6, 2007): Keweenaw Mountain Lodge unable to open this winter

By Michele Anderson

MOHAWK -- The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge in Copper Harbor, owned by Keweenaw County, will not remain open this winter as projected. Several setbacks, including needed water and sewer repairs and delay in the winterization of the motel and cabins, have obliged County officials to postpone the first winter opening of the Lodge until next year.

This photo, taken in late June 2007, shows one entrance to the new Conference Center addition to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge near Copper Harbor. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)

In its first season, the new Conference Center, which opened last spring, has been a success; and advance reservations for next year will continue to be taken during this winter, since two employees will remain on duty despite the closing -- Wendy Lampela, the bookkeeper, and Michele Olson, who takes reservations. Darlene Bjorn, former general manager of the Lodge, has expressed a wish to resign as general manager but to remain as manager of the Conference Center.

The Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners recently decided to seek independent professional management for the Lodge -- a decision that has met with considerable opposition from the County Parks and Recreation Commission and from some local business owners.

At their Nov. 7 meeting, the Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners voted three to two to pass a Resolution to contract independent professional management for the Lodge. For the last 18 months, the reponsibility for management oversight has been handled by the Keweenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, originally made up of 10 members. At the Nov. 7 meeting County Commissioner Joe Langdon, who represents the County Board on the Parks and Recreation Commission, voted against the Resolution along with County Commissioner Randy Eckloff.

Langdon expressed much opposition to the Resolution and challenged the Board Members who voted for it, County Board Chair Don Keith and Commissioners Frank Stubenrauch and Al Gunnari, on its legality. He complained he hadn't been told about it in advance of the Nov. 7 meeting and felt it was unfair to pass the Resolution in the absence of most of the members of the Parks and Recreation Commission. Langdon and Sam Raymond were the only Parks and Recreation commissioners present at the Nov. 7 meeting.

Keith defended the resolution, which removes the Parks and Recreation Commission from management oversight of the Lodge, saying he had received legal advice from County Prosecuting Attorney Donna Jaaskelainen before introducing it.

"Many of the reasons are very sensitive legal issues," Keith said. "For the last 18 months the Parks and Recreation Commission has never coalesced into a cohesive unit of management."

In addition, the $28,000 feasibility study done on the Lodge before the Conference Center was built contained a recommendation that the County hire professional management for the facility.

County Commissioner Frank Stubenrauch said the Resolution follows the suggestion of that feasibility study.

The Resolution also "directs and charges the parks and recreation commission to plan, acquire, and develop a county-wide system of trails for all forms of recreation" as their "number one priority for growth of tourism and public access."

Sam Raymond, the one Parks and Recreation member to attend both meetings, has been working on non-motorized trails in the area for several years. He said he would continue to work on trails and he realized motorized trails are necessary for tourism.*

Sam Raymond, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, who has been working on non-motorized trails near the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, speaks at the Nov. 7 meeting of the Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners. Raymond also spoke at the Nov. 21 County Board meeting, reading a letter expressing his opposition to the Resolution on the Mountain Lodge. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)

"I plan to continue to support the trails as I've done prior to to the establishment of the Parks and Recreation Commission," Raymond said. "I think the motorized trails are a necessity for the County, but we need a balance of both."

Members of the Parks and Recreation Commission attended the Nov. 21 County Board meeting and made extensive comments in opposition to the Resolution removing management oversight from their Commission. Several of the Parks and Recreation Commissioners asked the County Board to rescind the resolution. However, only the County Commissioners who voted for the Resolution would be permitted to make a motion to rescind it, and none of the three Commissioners who voted for it would agree to rescind it.**

Members of the Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners listen to public comments during their Nov. 21 meeting in the Mohawk School. Pictured, from left, are Al Gunnari, Don Keith (Chair), Joe Langdon, Frank Stubenrauch, Randy Eckloff, Marilyn Winquist (Clerk) and Pauline Johnson. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)

Langdon also expressed the only nay vote against a motion to make Board Chairman Don Keith responsible for signing any Board-approved contracts for the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. Keith and Stubenrauch both said they had legal advice confirming the legality of the County Board running the Lodge, which it has done in the past.

The Board unanimously approved transferring $90,000 from the Keweenaw County Economic Development Committee (EDC), as a loan to be repaid, to the general fund of the Mountain Lodge.

Keith has appointed an advisory search committee for recommending candidates for independent professional management of the Mountain Lodge. The committee includes County Commissioner Frank Stubenrauch; Phil Musser, executive director of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance (KEDA, formerly the Keweenaw Industrial Council) and Kim Stoker, director of WUPPDR (Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region).

"I appointed Frank (to this advisory committee) because ... he is senior on this board with almost 16 years serving as a County Commissioner," Keith said. "He is highly respected in this County ....He has my total trust."

Citing the Board's Bylaws, Langdon questioned Keith's authority to create this (advisory) committee; but Keith replied he had the authority to appoint committees, based on conversations with Prosecuting Attorney Donna Jaaskelainen.

Stubenrauch acknowledged the work of the Parks and Recreation Committee on the Mountain Lodge expansion project.

"I think they were sincere in their efforts, and they put in a lot of time pro bono. They didn't even get paid mileage," Stubenrauch said.

Stubenrauch will serve as agent of the Board of Commissioners in regard to the Mountain Lodge.

"We have to open next winter (2008-2009)," he said.

County Board hears Parks and Recreation Commissioners' comments

While Keith did not give detailed answers to questions from Parks and Recreation Commissioners who attended the Nov. 21 meeting, he did allow them to express their views on the Resolution.

During the Nov. 21 meeting Sam Raymond -- after commending the County Board members for their continued support of the trails, both motorized and non-motorized -- read from his Nov. 8 letter addressed to the board and written after he had attended the Nov. 7 meeting.

"The manner in which this issue was handled under the radar illustrated a lack of professionalism and a total disrespect for the dedication and hard work put forth by the volunteers who serve on our Commission," Raymond wrote.

He supported the Parks and Recreation Commissioners as having the best interest in the success and profitability of the Mountain Lodge in mind, with commitment and a variety of expertise -- including people with backgrounds in marketing, engineering, management, retail, law, hospitality, accounting and recreation.

In his letter, Raymond objects that the entirety of the County Board was not adequately informed of the Resolution prior to the Nov. 7 meeting and that the Parks and Recreation Commission was not consulted in advance of the Resolution.

Raymond questioned whether the Board of Commissioners was really in a position to oversee the successful operation of the Lodge, given all their other responsibilities for the county.

Joel Tuoriniemi, Keweenaw County Road Commissioner and member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, read a letter from Ken Stigers, owner of the Pines Resort in Copper Harbor. Stigers was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission by a motion approved 4 to 1 at the Nov. 7 meeting of the Board of Commissioners. He replaces Frank Kastelic, who resigned from the Commission this fall. In the letter Stigers requests that the Board rescind their Resolution to contract independent professional management for the Lodge.

Joel Tuoriniemi, Keweenaw County Road commissioner and member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, addresses the County Board during their Nov. 21 meeting in the Mohawk School. Also pictured are, from left, Wendy Lampela, Lodge bookkeeper; Janet Shea, former Parks and Recreation commissioner; Al Gunnari, County commissioner and Don Keith, County Board chair. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)

Tuoriniemi also addressed the Board with some financial information about the Lodge operating losses this year, attributed in part to opening too soon (in May 2007) while construction was still in progress. He added the Parks and Recreation Committee's decision not to open this winter was based on information from U.P. Engineers and Architects concerning some infrastructure problems with the cabins and the motel.

"The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is deeded as a county park," Tuoriniemi said. "As a county park either a park and recreation commission has oversight or park trustees have oversight."

Tuoriniemi said Keweenaw County Prosecutor Donna Jaaskelainen had informed him this is the law.

Tuoriniemi asked Stubenrauch to make a motion to rescind the Resolution.

Peg Kauppi, Copper Harbor business owner, said she had made adjustments in her own business, including closing her dining room, in order to support the Mountain Lodge. She also asked that the Board rescind the Resolution. Admitting she didn't always agree with everything the Parks and Recreation Commission has done, she said she felt they deserved an apology.

Peg Kauppi, co-owner of the Mariner North in Copper Harbor, addresses the Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners during their Nov. 21 meeting. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)

"We have a project that can be the biggest and best thing that has happened in Keweenaw County in a long, long time and for many, many years to come," Kauppi said. "But we can't do it this way. Those people are dedicated and committed, and that's what it takes."

Kauppi said the situation requires time and expertise the County Board doesn't have.

"And if you want to hire a management company, you still have to make that whole thing work," Kauppi added.

Lodge financial situation a factor in Resolution on management

Stubenrauch admitted the Resolution "was handled badly," but said the County Board is going to take over the responsibility because of the present financial situation at the Lodge.

During the public comment period, Lisa Trevethan, a former employee at the Lodge, asked several questions, addressing them particularly to County Commissioner Joe Langdon. She wanted to know how and when the borrowed money would be paid back.

Langdon said the Parks and Recreation Commission had borrowed $60,000 last year and paid it back this year and would pay back the $90,000 from the EDC as well.

Answering Trevethan's question on the government bond issue, Keith said it was for a period of 27 years.

"If we're successful, the final payment will be made in the year 2036," Keith said. "I personally have to accept responsibility for the fiscal integrity of this County, and part of my decision (the Resolution on the Lodge) was based on that."

Trevethan, who said she had 25 years of hospitality experience, nine of them running a restaurant, said she believed there were some real issues behind the Board's decision.

"I just think it needs to be brought out to the public that there are other issues besides what's being brought up, and the decision you gentlemen made was not all just arbitrarily out of the air," Trevethan said.

She said directly to Langdon that she realized he had reported at County Board meetings that the Lodge was not making money but she didn't see any program implementing any change in that situation.

"Your Board (the Parks and Recreation Commission) was put in place to manage the oversight of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. It's not being managed," Trevethan noted.

Doug Shubert, former chairman of the Parks and Recreation Committee, said the Lodge isn't ready for a management company, because it needs to be complete as a "plant" to produce a product before a management company would want to invest in it. He also asked the Board to rescind the Resolution.

Mac Marzke, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said he didn't believe the County Board runs the business of the Mountain Lodge like a business.

Jon Soper, chairman of the Keweenaw County Planning Commission, who is also a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said he was impressed by the quality of the people on that Commission.

Jon Soper, chairman of the Keweenaw County Planning Commission and member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, addresses the County Board on Nov. 21. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)

"These people have a heart for the Keweenaw," Soper said. "They're interested in seeing that the whole tourism industry of the Keweenaw moves forward and that the Mountain Lodge moves forward and develops into more than what it is right now."

Marzke and Soper both asked the Board to rescind the Resolution, as did Parks and Recreation Commissioners Glen Patrick and Gregg Patrick.

Glen Patrick said he wished both Janet Shea and Frank Kastelic, both of whom resigned from the Parks and Recreation Commission, were still on it.

"I think they did a great job," he said.

Kastelic said he "had his reasons" for resigning but didn't say what they were.

"I saw no problem with the direction we were going in total," Kastelic said during the public comment period. "I don't think the Commission was given a long enough opportunity to prove out their plan when we had an interrupted year to start with."

Janet Shea, who resigned from the Parks and Recreation Commission in September, 2007, after serving as secretary, said she believed Keith and the other County Commissioners did the right thing.

"I think the Resolution is probably adequate in saying why these actions were taken," Shea said. "Hopefully these issues can be put behind us, and we can look forward and work to make this happen."

Shea said she believed everyone at the meeting, including members of both Commissions and residents of the County, realizes what a critical operation the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is going to be for the economic welfare of Keweenaw County.

"This (the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge) should be the priority of the County because our tourism industry depends on it," Shea noted.

Shea, who is a business owner in Copper Harbor, is a member of the Keweenaw County Planning Commission and the County Zoning Board of Appeals. She is chair of Keweenaw County's Economic Development Committee (EDC), and she has been very active in the land use planning efforts in Keweenaw County.

"I have a high respect for all of the members of the Parks and Recreation Commission, and I hope they will continue to serve," Shea said. "I was eager to be part of the Commission; but I felt ineffective in contributing much, other than taking minutes of the meetings, due to a lack of communication among parties I was tasked to work with, and among the Commission members in general. I'm just hopeful that everyone who is really interested in the success of the County and the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge will get behind it, no matter what form the management takes."

Phil Musser of KEDA: Cooperation needed for Lodge success

On Nov. 28, Phil Musser, executive director of KEDA, spoke with Keweenaw Now concerning the advisory committee asked to search for independent professional management for the Mountain Lodge. Musser has agreed to serve on the committee along with Kim Stoker of WUPPDR and County Commissioner Frank Stubenrauch.

"It really is important that Keweenaw County and the Parks and Recreation Commission work together to make the Mountain Lodge a successful operation," Musser said. "These two groups and the Economic Development Committee (EDC) are really the leadership in terms of economic development in Keweenaw County and need to be working together."

Noting that he had not yet seen any strategic plan or financial report for the Lodge, Musser said he was only recently asked to provide advice.

"I'll certainly be willing to do that," he said.

Musser gave the Smart Zone as an example of a successful partnership.

"KEDA, Michigan Tech, Finlandia, Houghton and Hancock, the State of Michigan and many others have been working together to make that a success," Musser noted.

"The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is really an important economic asset for Keweenaw County. It needs to be successful in order not only to have cash flow but also to draw in customers for other businesses in the Keweenaw," Musser added. "One of the lessons we've learned over the years is the better the partnerships among those working toward economic development, the better the economic development results are going to be."

* Editor's Notes: The plans for winterizing the Mountain Lodge, according to Joel Tuoriniemi, originally included especially non-motorized trails for cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowshoeing, since the idea was to appeal to tourists interested in silent sports. See the July 2007 article, "Keweenaw Mountain Lodge to celebrate Grand Opening of Community / Conference Center July 21" on Keweenaw Now.

** Keweenaw Now regrets the error in our original posting, which stated that the County Board voted against rescinding the Resolution on the Mountain Lodge management. There was no vote on this. As of the County Board meeting on Dec. 5, 2007, the Resolution stands as originally passed on Nov. 21, 2007.