Port Huron council OKs new Water Street Marina plan

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

The Port Huron City Council approved the amended Brownfield plan for the Water Street marina project.

In its last February meeting, the council held a public hearing for residents to address their concerns on the plan submitted Dec. 3 to the city, which outlines $18 million in investment, including two hotels and one restaurant.

“The expansion investment went from a $9 million plan to an $18 million investment,” City Manager James Freed said. “So, that means more jobs and more money invested in the community.”

Following the public hearing, the council approved the plan by a 6-0 vote.

The project is broken into three phases — a Holiday Inn Express, a restaurant and a second hotel, with each phase dependent on the success of the previous project.

According to the draft plan submitted in December, the hotel and restaurant developments will create at least 17 full-time positions at each hotel, 25 part-time positions at the restaurant and more than 50 construction jobs per project phase.

The developer, Amerilodge, estimated about $7.6 million of its investment in the property will be eligible for reimbursement under the Brownfield Redevelopment program.

“It’s going to be the newest generation prototype, and we are very excited about this,” said Jerry Flannery, director of business development for Amerilodge. “We plan on having a restaurant on site. We hope to deliver the first hotel by fall.”

Freed said the amended plan expands the scope of the project’s work. What was originally one hotel is now two hotels and a restaurant.

“What’s exciting about this development is the credibility of the developer — this is not their first rodeo,” Freed said. “There have been a lot of false starts on projects in Port Huron; what’s important for our community to know is you guys are well on your way.”

Freed gave a brief report on the state of the project as construction crews have begun underground work, completing utilities and steel structures.

Mayor Pauline Repp and council member Ken Harris said the council is looking forward to seeing the final product.

“I just want to thank you for coming down here. I guess the most amazing thing is it being a new prototype,” Harris said to Flannery. “We can’t wait to see it.”

Council member Rachel Cole was not present for the meeting.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 24, 2015)

Marysville woman plays on ‘Let’s Make A Deal’ gameshow

Justin and Blair Sedwick, in the cowboy and bee costumes, pose for a photo with Blair’s parents on the set of “Let’s Make A Deal” in Los Angeles in October 2014. Blair was called on stage and the episode is set to air on CBS on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Blair Sedwick)

Justin and Blair Sedwick, in the cowboy and bee costumes, pose for a photo with Blair’s parents on the set of “Let’s Make A Deal” in Los Angeles in October 2014. Blair was called on stage and the episode is set to air on CBS on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Blair Sedwick)

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

Five months ago, Blair Sedwick was in Los Angeles with her parents and husband putting on a bumble-bee outfit for a television game show.

The Marysville resident sought tickets for one of her mother’s favorite shows while they would be in L.A. for the week and was surprised when she herself became part of the show.

On CBS’ “Let’s Make A Deal,” audience members dress up in outlandish costumes to get host Wayne Brady’s attention in an attempt to make deals for either trips, prizes, cars, cash or the dreaded “Zonks.” Zonks are considered any prizes that are less than what the contestant originally traded for.

“It was my parents’ 30th anniversary,” Sedwick said. “My mom wanted to go out on a show while we were out there. When I looked up tickets online I saw they were free.”

Marcella McDowell, Sedwick’s mother, said she is one of the biggest fans of CBS’ popular game show.

Originally, McDowell had asked her daughter to arrange for them to be on one of her two favorite shows — “Let’s Make A Deal” or “The Price Is Right.”

The timing was too good to pass up for the former.

The plan to fly across the country had been in motion since September, but McDowell says Sedwick was a bit hesitant even to go on the show.

“They called me corny for wanting to go to the show and I had to talk them into it,” McDowell said. “They didn’t want to go at first. I’m glad they went with us because it wouldn’t have been as much fun.”

On Oct. 8 at Sunset Bronson Studios, Sedwick was chosen to be one of the seven participating contestants out of more than 100 eager people.

But there were a few steps that needed to be taken before then.

Audience members lined up for the interview process where some of the show’s employees asked a few questions about who they were and what they did for a living.

Justin was surprised his wife was chosen because of how their preliminary interview went.

“It seemed like they were going after people who were all psyched up,” he said. “They asked us where we were from and what we do for work. Our interview wasn’t the best.”

The interview process did not take long, but Sedwick and her mother were amazed by what preparations went into the show beforehand.

“It’s a lot different than on TV,” Sedwick said. “Before you go on they interview you, so I guess they pick you ahead of time. On the show it looks like they are just pulling people out of the audience at random.”

After waiting in line for what seemed like an hour, Sedwick and her family signed a few waivers and provided their contact information in the event they were chosen. Those waivers have kept the four of them from releasing any information about what took place until after the show is aired.

“I just thought we would have a good time, I never thought I would get chosen,” Sedwick said. “Regardless of who won or lost we still had a good time.”

The four had to wait in another line to choose a costume if they did not come prepared with one.

With Sedwick suited as a bee, her husband went as a cowboy and her parents chose to be clowns.

Next, they were led into a large room to meet the show’s energetic host.

“You are just waiting in this big room with everyone and Wayne Brady comes in and introduces himself and gets us excited for the show,” Sedwick said. “He was nice and very energetic.”

McDowell describes her daughter, who works as a registered nurse at St. Joseph Mercy Port Huron, as a shy and laid-back individual.

So, when Sedwick was chosen among the numerous loud, sometimes dancing audience members, McDowell didn’t know how to react.

“She was so nervous it was cute. I think she did well,” McDowell said. “We were all trying to get picked, but it was exciting to get my baby down there.”

Sedwick said she plans to watch the show Thursday. Her mother will be recording it.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 20, 2015)

Transit board judges citizen-submitted bus center names

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

Blue Water Area Transit asked for names for its new bus center and got a full load of them.

Jim Wilson, Blue Water Area Transit general manager, said that at the Friday deadline, the commission had collected more than 50 suggestions from telephone calls and Facebook posts.

The Blue Water Area Transportation Commission will review the suggestions at its Wednesday meeting and will announce the name by the end of March, Wilson said.

“I’m going to provide my commissioners with a list of those suggestions (Friday),” he said. “If a name is picked, it would be an action by the commission and possibly at the next board meeting or some later date. If they need more time for other possibilities we will have to see what happens.”

The transit authority if having a ground breaking ceremony at 11 a.m. March 16.

Wilson said he couldn’t predict if commissioners would settle on a name Wednesday.

Some of the names suggested were “The Exchange,” “Bus Port,” “The McMorran Acheson Blue Water Transit Center,” “The Illumination Station” and “The Port Huron Bus Center.”

Wilson said he wasn’t surprised by the flood of responses. “It’s nice to know there are people interested enough in the community to call,” he said. “I think there are a lot of good choices here and it’s hard for me to say.”

Anita Ashford, the board’s vice chairwoman and Port Huron councilwoman, said she has heard a few of the submissions, but is looking forward to reviewing the complete list.

“It’s important that we can come up with a name that will reflect our whole area and city,” Ashford said.

Ashford made the motion in the commission’s last meeting to open up the naming process to the city. Ashford felt the choice belonged to residents and wanted to do the right thing by engaging the public.

“I would like to see something everyone could identify with, something that would make a strong connection,” she said. “If we can’t choose one of them, we would have enough input to build around what was received. We are taking this very serious.”

Blue Water Transit began accepting recommendations after its Jan. 21 meeting. Construction of the bus hub will begin construction in March — weather permitting — in the south parking lot of McMorran Place in downtown Port Huron.

A mix of federal, state and local funds will pay for the bus hub: 70 percent with federal funds, 17.5 percent from state funds and the remaining 12.5 percent out of the transit agency’s funds.

The center will provide passengers with a heated waiting area, restrooms and bus schedule displays. It will be staffed with maintenance and security staff during hours of operation.

Blue Water Area Transit bought 3.8 acres in January 2014 for the bus center. The new transfer center will take up about one quarter of that, Wilson said.

Blue Water Area Transit runs a fleet of natural gas buses. In 2014, it had more than 1.33 million riders.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 23, 2015)

Rescue crews respond to Port Huron Township structure fire

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By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

PORT HURON TWP. — The cause of a fire that destroyed a home in the 1200 block of 36th Street is under investigation.

Rescue crews responded to the scene about 2:15 p.m. Firefighters from Port Huron Township, Port Huron, Kimball Township and Marysville worked to extinguish the fire.

Port Huron Township resident Joshua Sullivan noticed smoke four blocks away from his house around 2 p.m.

Sullivan said he drove by and called the police when he saw the flames.

“There was a mattress laying on the front steps,” Sullivan said. “Clothes were in the front yard and the front door and the garage door was open.”

Firefighters entered the structure and went down into the basement of the building but were forced to evacuate the building after the roof collapsed, said Port Huron Township fire Chief Craig Miller.

“We had to do an interior attack to go inside and fight the fire, but part of the roof had collapsed at that point, so we had to back our people out,” Miller said. “We will do a thorough search and investigation of the fire.”

Port Huron resident Ed Forton, the homeowner’s son, said his father is on vacation in Florida.

“I already talked to him. He’s not too happy,” Forton said. “We were coming down the road and seen the smoke. I’m guessing someone was in there.”

The St. Clair County Fire Investigative Team will be investigating what took place, Miller said.

No injuries were reported in the fire.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 13, 2015)

Girl Scouts, troop leaders ready for cookie season

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By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

In the back room of the Port Huron Music Center, Brooke Wolschlager rummaged through boxes of Thin Mints, Tagalongs and Do-si-dos in search of her allotted cookies.

The 10-year-old has been with Girls Scouts for four years and likes selling cookies.

“I joined Scouts because I wanted to sell cookies,” Brooke said. “Now my favorite part is being with my friends and being able to go on trips with them.”

Girl Scouts in the Port Huron area began their annual cookie sale Friday.

During the six-week direct sales portion, Port Huron residents can expect Girl Scouts to be stationed at businesses such as Family Video, 1002 Lapeer Ave., Port Huron; the Girl Scout Service Center at 2186 Water St., Port Huron Township; Tractor Supply at 1400 32nd St., Port Huron Township; and Kroger stores at 2907 Krafft Road, Port Huron, and 1215 24th St., Port Huron Township.

For Brooke and Girl Scout Troop 71513, work began with the 95 boxes of pre-ordered cookies they sold in January.

The fourth-grade Junior Girl Scouts spent an hour with parents and volunteers going through their order sheet and separating cookies based on type.

Amid the organized chaos was Fort Gratiot resident and troop leader Misty Kruse, who could be seen corralling the Junior Girl Scouts to the task at hand when they went astray.

Kruse and another volunteer had driven to Imlay City to load their cars with the cookies.

“My favorite part about working with Girl Scouts is the girls themselves,” Kruse said. “They are energetic and creative, and they challenge me every time we get together. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to work with.”

Kruse got involved when her daughter joined as a first grader at Thomas Edison Elementary School.

“When my daughter was old enough, I got involved,” she said. “I was in Scouts for four or five years since elementary school, and my mom was a troop leader.”

By participating in the cookie sale, Kruse said the girls learn key skills, including decision-making, money management, goal setting and people skills.

Among those who improved their people skills was 9-year-old Hannah Radigan, a first-year Girl Scout.

“I expected it to be fun, and it was,” she said. “I learned I have to make the customers feel like they are appreciated when they buy the cookies.”

Kruse said this time of year is important for Girl Scouts, as 80 percent of their funding comes from cookie sales in the winter and fall.

The day before Kruse drove to Imlay City, parents and other troop leaders met in front of the Girl Scouts’ local headquarters at 2186 Water St., Port Huron Township.

Workers unloaded boxes from a semitrailer into the parents’ awaiting vehicles.

Waiting in the cold behind a long line of dedicated parents were Marysville residents Barb Barnes, Lisa Hall and Jesse Jacob.

Barnes and Hall were in Girl Scouts and wanted to continue that tradition with their daughters, so they could benefit from the nonprofit organization in the same way.

“I think it builds self-confidence for girls,” Barnes said. “They try things that they normally wouldn’t do in other situations.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 13, 2015)

Great Lakes’ ice concentration on par with last year

A satellite image of Michigan and the Great Lakes from Thursday. As of Wednesday, 85.4 percent of the Great Lakes are covered in ice and will continue to increase. (Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory | Courtesy Photo)

A satellite image of Michigan and the Great Lakes from Thursday. As of Wednesday, 85.4 percent of the Great Lakes are covered in ice and will continue to increase. (Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory | Courtesy Photo)

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

It’s as if Queen Elsa from the movie “Frozen” touched the Great Lakes.

“The official ice concentration is on par with where we were at last year,” said Anne Clites, physical scientist for the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. “However, the situation has changed quite a bit this past week. If you were looking at the current ice two weeks ago it was significant, but not nearly what we have today.”

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory is reporting that 85.4 percent of the Great Lakes are covered in ice and coverage will continue to increase if current weather conditions persist.

The maximum basin coverage for the Great Lakes last year was 92.5 percent in March, while the highest amount recorded was 94.4 percent in 1979.

As of Wednesday, 92.8 percent of Lake Huron was in ice, compared to 94.5 percent last year. The record ice coverage for Lake Huron was 98.3 percent in 1994.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Cook warned not to look out for Queen Elsa’s sister Anna.

Michigan is stuck in the middle of the coldest air mass of 2015, he said, and it’s not going away.

“The computer models have us in a cold pattern through the next 10 days,” Cook said. “We should remain in the cold side of the jet stream for at least the next two weeks.”

Relentless below-zero temperatures will only thicken the ice, Cook said. He did promise a mid-March warmup, though.

Friday’s frigid temperatures will be driven by 10- to 20-mph gusts, Cook said, which could temporarily break up some of the ice.

“High winds help to break up the ice covering,” he said. “The wind has been helping keep the open water a little warmer. Plus, the more that Lake Huron is frozen, the less lake effect snow you’ll see.”

The heavy ice has slowed freighter traffic and kept Coast Guard ships busy.

Rob Zamora, chief warrant officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit, said it has been harder on the icebreakers to clear boat traffic.

“It pushes our icebreakers to their maximum capabilities,” Zamora said. “The north winds that create northern ridges have been difficult to deal with.”

While the St. Clair River is iced over, Zamora said he cannot determine the thickness of the ice or whether it is safe to walk on.

“With the current conditions it is possible (to walk the St. Clair River), but we don’t recommend it,” Zamora said.

Frank Frisk, of Boatnerd.com, said heavy ice on the St. Clair River is not unusual, but it started earlier this season.

“I’ve seen it this bad in late February,” he said. “It’s just the cold weather. This is the heaviest ice they have seen in years.”

He said the lake freighter Peter Creswell was stuck in the ice near Harsens Island.

“She’s in the lower end of the St. Clair River not moving,” he said. “She’s hardly moved at all in two days.”

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Samuel Risley was trying to assist the freighter.

Donna Krispin, a volunteer at the Readers Cove on Harsens Island, said she’s seen plenty of ice in the St. Clair River before.

She noted there was lots of ice last year, but it caused few problems.

“Last year we didn’t have any trouble with the ice in the spring,” she said. “You just can’t second guess.”

Champion’s Auto Ferry was still running between the mainland and the island, she said.

“The ferry’s running,” she said. “The only trouble we had was when the Coast Guard decided to come down and cut our path.”

The Blue Water Ferry between Marine City and Sombra, Ontario is not running because of the ice in the St. Clair River.

Mick Broughton, of Kimball Township, is the local representative for Okuma fishing rods and reels. He had stopped at Anderson’s Pro Bait in Port Huron.

“I’m not a big ice fisherman, so I don’t like it,” he said. “Four or five years ago this time of the year I was fishing open water in Lake Erie. We’re going to surpass last year’s ice record, that’s for sure.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 19, 2015)

Gratiot Road bridge closed until June for replacement

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By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

The Gratiot Road bridge crossing the Pine River is closed to traffic.

And will remain so until June 30.

The St. Clair County Road Commission is demolishing and replacing the 123-foot long, 40-foot wide bridge, at a cost of about $2.26 million.

Kirk Weston, road commission managing director, said the bridge is structurally deficient and weight restrictions limited heavy truck traffic.

“It’s a weight-restricted structure,” Weston said. “It was built back in the early 1930s and is beyond its lifespan.”

Construction includes the removal of the old bridge, placing new concrete abutments and pier, building new concrete bridge decks, installing new guardrails, rebuilding about 300 feet of road on each side of the bridge and seeding where the ground is torn up.

The bridge is closed to all traffic.

The detour is Gratiot Road, to Wadhams, to Rattle Run, and back to Gratiot. About 4,000 vehicles cross the bridge on a daily basis.

Federal funding is covering about 95 percent of the construction cost.

The road commission matches 5 percent of construction costs and is responsible for the costs for preliminary work, construction engineering and inspection fees. Weston said the local dollars come out of the county road millage.

Mike Clarke, county highway and bridge engineer, said the federal dollars come from the federal gas tax. The money is administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“Most of our major bridge construction is done that way,” Clarke said. “We have to apply three years in advance for funding and are in competition with all other municipalities and road commissions.

Weston said the bridge replacement began in the winter months to alleviate the amount of time the road would be closed in warmer months.

“We allow them to tear the bridge down now because it’s work that can get done now, so there is less closure in the summer months,” Weston said. “They had a contract signed on Friday, and it is my understanding they have been moving equipment in when they closed down the road on Monday.”

The contractor is Millbocker and Sons Inc. of Allegan.

The road commission began its application process for the bridge reconstruction in 2011.

The bridge was slated for demolition and replacement in June 2014, but was pushed back a year because of an endangered species of mussels located in the river, Clarke said.

“We had to redesign the bridge to make it 35 feet longer so it would span over the river,” he said. “We weren’t allowed to do any work that would disturb the river bottom.”

Mike Salloum, owner of the Pontchartain Motel, 6136 Gratiot Road, said he learned about the bridge replacement Monday when workers began putting up road closure signs.

“Nobody has shown up to my business since they started,” he said. “If I don’t have anyone stopping by it will affect my business a lot.

Salloum said he intends to keep his business open for the months the road is expected to be closed.

St. Clair Township resident Shelly Glass said the bridge has been in bad shape for the 12 years she has lived next to it.

“If feels like you’re going over potholes,” Glass said in reference to the concrete bridge deck. “They did not warn us that they were closing it. But roads need to be fixed and there is not much that can be done about it.”

The road commission is slated for work on another Gratiot Road bridge that runs over the Gillett Drain east of Richmond.

This bridge will have its box culvert replaced with a pre-cast unit for an estimated $430,000, Clarke said.

“It’s a lot smaller, so we will be able to have it completed in six to eight weeks,” Clarke said. “It will be completely closed.”

Weston said work for the second bridge would begin after the completion of the first bridge. The second bridge project has not received bids yet.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 18, 2015)