Thursday, August 29, 2013

Letter: Loss of MTU Lakeshore Center office space is hardship for Conservation District

Dear Constituents and Associates:

The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) is very sad to report that after almost 20 years at 600 E. Lakeshore Drive (now known as Michigan Tech's Lakeshore Center), the current landlord, Michigan Technological University (MTU), has elected to take the joint HKCD/USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for some other purpose effective September 1, 2013. MTU is unwilling to work out an ongoing lease. As a result, the office space at 600 E. Lakeshore Drive and the federal funding grandfathered for that specific location have been lost. This is a major hardship for our organizations.

At the March 21, 2013, annual meeting of the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD), held at Michigan Tech's Lakeshore Center in Houghton, where HKCD has had an office for nearly 20 years until this month, Gina Nicholas, HKCD chairperson and author of this letter, summarizes the District's 2011-2012 projects. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

600 E. Lakeshore Drive has been an ideal professional setting for HKCD and NRCS to serve the natural resource conservation needs for the citizens and landowners of Houghton and Keweenaw Counties and for accomplishing collaborative grant funded projects. Many MTU students and professors have been and are included in HKCD sponsored projects. Projects include the Eagle River Watershed, Pilgrim River Watershed, Bete Grise Preserve, Bete Grise Wetlands, Hills Creek and Cliff Mine.

At the March 21, 2013, annual meeting of the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District, Gina Nicholas, HKCD chairperson, speaks about the District's 2011-2112 projects and thanks the partners and volunteers in the community -- from Michigan Tech University faculty and students to Trout Unlimited, the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and others for their help and participation. (Videos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)*

During fiscal years 2012 and 2013, HKCD projects paid over $150,000 to MTU to help provide better educational and research opportunities for students and professors and to help MTU address financial challenges with its land holdings. HKCD also provides countless hours of pro bono service for MTU sponsored projects.

During her presentation at the March 21, 2013, annual meeting of the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District, Gina Nicholas speaks about restoring fisheries to Hills Creek and Eagle River by remediating stamp sand; expanding the Lizzadro Preserve and the Bete Grise Preserve on Lake Superior; and cooperating with partners on other projects.

In order to minimize disruption to projects and partners, HKCD/NRCS will relocate to a new office at 711 W. Lakeshore Drive in early September on a temporary basis. During the interim from August 23 to a date to-be-determined after September 3, 2013, the HKCD/NRCS office will be closed. There will be times when both files and systems are unavailable and some reports will not be completed on schedule. However, planned fieldwork and construction projects will continue as scheduled. Project partners can continue to reach Sue Haralson and Rob Aho via email and cell phone.

At the March 21, 2013, Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District annual meeting, Chad Kotke, Water Resources Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, presents "Preserving Our Past, Restoring Our Future in the Eagle River Watershed." (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Additional plans for the joint HKCD/NRCS office will be discussed at HKCD’s regular monthly public Board meeting at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. This meeting will be held in Houghton at the Portage Lake District Library conference room.

Thank you for your understanding and support as HKCD and NRCS work through this challenging situation. Please call me at 906-370-7248 if you have questions.

Gina Nicholas, Chairperson, Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District

Editor's Notes: The above letter is reprinted with permission. We have added our video clips and photos of HKCD's 2013 Annual Meeting to illustrate Gina Nicholas's letter with some details about HKCD projects, partners and volunteers.

* HKCD helped with the Natural Resources Trust Fund purchase of  320 acres, including the summit, of Brockway Mountain. See the Aug. 25, 2013, article, "Story of Brockway Mountain -- now part of Keweenaw Coastal Wildlife Corridor," by Gina Nicholas.

See the June 25, 2013, article, "Conservation District purchase adds Point Isabelle, Bete Grise wetlands, Lac La Belle shoreline to Bete Grise Preserve."

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