2011-08-18 / Front Page

Grassroots Effort Wants To Restore Old Chief Structure

By Mary Petrides

A grassroots effort is underway to try to restore and preserve the historic Chief Wawatam rail elevator that unexpectedly collapsed on the St. Ignace waterfront Wednesday, August 3. Telephone calls have come to the city manager, suggesting that efforts should be made to restore the structure, and Doug Taylor, a Naubinway resident, attended the Downtown Development Authority meeting Friday morning, August 12, and the city council meeting Monday, August 15, hoping to find the right people to talk with to initiate a restoration project. Jo Ford of St. Ignace has volunteered to locate and apply for grants to put the structure back.

“I want to get a coalition going to save the uprights,” Mr. Taylor said last Friday, referring to the A-frame and its large counterbalances that were used years ago to lift and align the track apron to the deck of the railroad ferry.

The timber and iron structure collapsed during the night, changing the landscape of the waterfront and leaving a pile of rubble in its place, even as Wawatam Park is being developed by the city at the site.

Mr. Taylor said he had read the article in The St. Ignace News August 11 about the collapse.

“The more I read it, the more I thought, ‘Someone’s got to do something,’” he said. “You can put pictures up as much as you want, but to have something like that, that’s an icon.”

Mr. Taylor said the biggest difficulty would be raising money, but the idea has been well received and he’s found nothing but support so far. He said he’s been glad for the support.

“I can’t do it myself, that’s for sure,” he said. But “I can’t turn my back on something like this.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Deb Evashevski, director of the Downtown Development Authority. “I love to see those kinds of things. I love to see citizen-initiated efforts like that, because when it’s grassroots, it has a chance of really happening.”

At the city council meeting Monday night, Mr. Taylor said the first step could be to build a Web site, and he volunteered to build one.

“We need to create an interactive Web site to gauge public support,” he said.

Mr. Taylor suggested a variety of fundraising ideas, as well, including outdoor vehicle raffles, children selling preservation badges, engraved brick sales, and a fundraising concert at Wawatam Park.

“My feeling is the artifacts need to be saved,” Mr. Taylor said.

Mrs. Ford brought information to the council meeting on grants, saying some were available for this sort of project. She said she found four she would definitely apply for.

“I know there’s interest out there,” she said.

City Manager Eric Dodson said last Friday he had received five phone calls from other individuals hoping to start a grassroots effort to preserve the structure, and by Tuesday, August 16, the number of concerned people had grown to 25 or 30, he said.

“I believe, from a city standpoint, that rehabilitation and reconstruction is not viable without community partnership,” he said Monday.

“I don’t think the city can do it on its own,” Mr. Dodson said last week. “It’s going to be a pretty expensive endeavor, but it is important to our history.”

He said raising money at the grassroots level, and possibly through grants, is promising.

“This community’s come together for the hospital and the library and the Mackinac Bridge. All these things haven’t been done by one entity; it’s always been a partnership,” he said.

He noted the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce may collect money for such a project through its nonprofit arm.

Director Janet Peterson told The St. Ignace News Tuesday the chamber board will discuss the matter at its September 14 meeting.

While the city council said it was interested in receiving ideas, but not in taking any action or making a commitment at the council meeting Monday, pending receiving insurance information, it did, after prodding from citizen George Ford, unanimously adopt a resolution to “attempt” to save the structure as a show of support for the citizens who are volunteering to help.

The city is getting estimates for the cost of repairing the structure, Mr. Dodson said.

“We’re going to work on it, make it safe, and move toward finding a solution to preserving history at that dock,” he said Friday.

At the council meeting Monday, Mr. Dodson expressed concern about further liabilities, such as floating boards hindering boat navigation or further collapse that could injure a curious trespasser.

“The dust is clearing; the city is trying to make sure there isn’t further collapse,” he said. “This is big stuff down there, and it’s not just going to go in the wheelbarrow.”

Mr. Dodson said he has been in contact with the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority, which insures the city, and has learned it may have money to help with removing the rubble and securing the location, but getting to the fallen structure will be difficult.

Driving a crane onto the new park, in front of the track apron, without damaging anything is “nearly impossible,” he said. A crane working from the water would be a “huge expense,” he added, costing $20,000 just to bring it here, in addition to the cost of labor.

“We will preserve the steel the best we can,” he noted.

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