Hancock’s historic stairs to get an upgrade

HANCOCK – The members of the Hancock City Council Wednesday took action to improve the look of city property at the north end of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.

Members voted unanimously to accept a $10,490 grant from the Novi, Mich.-based Americana Foundation to do renovation work on the 1935 Works Prgress Administration Stairway Park, also known as the historic steps, which run from Front Street up to East Hancock.

Councilman Barry Givens, who has been working on the stairway improvement project, said help was given by John Rosemurgy, Keweenaw National Historical Park historical architect.

“He’s been giving technical assistance,” Givens said.

He’s also been communicating with Upper Peninsula Power Company representatives because trees next to the stairs will have to be cleared, and the company will donate $2,500 toward the costs for the project.

“They’re very impressed with the project and the cooperation between the city, the National Park and the East Hancock Neighborhood Association,” he said.

Givens said the plan is to bid out the project in July.

Mayor William Laitila said the renovation of the stairway has been an issue for years.

“Anybody using the stairs knows there’s a need for improvement there,” he said.

Council members also voted unanimously to ban the placement of banners on the recently renovated Front Street wall directly to the west of the stairway.

City Manager Glenn Anderson said he’s received several emails since the wall project was completed approving the fact no banners had been placed there, yet.

Councilman John Haeussler said he’s also been told not having the banners on the wall is an aesthetic improvement.

“The vast majority I heard from have been in favor of less clutter,” he said.

As an alternative to placing banners on the wall, council members voted unanimously to allow the placement of a maximum of three banners on two 14-foot-tall posts directly east of the historic stairs.

Council members heard a presentation from Drew Stockero of Boy Scout Troop 203 of Hancock about his plan for an Eagle Scout project to construct a new section of hiking trail at the Maasto Hiihto recreation area in Hancock.

Stockero said the proposed project would connect to an existing section of trail at the site. The new section would be about 3 feet wide. Work to clear the trail would be done by volunteers, who would provide tools, so there would be no cost to the city.

A bridge would have to be constructed on part of the trail, but Stockero said he thinks he could get some donated material and the rest would cost about $250.

Stockero said he wasn’t asking council members for money for the project, just permission to go ahead in late summer or early autumn.

After Stockero’s presentation, Haeussler said he appreciated the thought put into the proposed project, but he was concerned the area in which the trail would be constructed was purchased for the purpose of future development, and it’s not parks and recreation land.

“We have a lot of park and rec property that begs for some attention,” he said.

Haeussler said in the future if the city council decides to go ahead with development, many people will object because the trail is there.

“I just have a bad feeling about this project going on this property,” he said.

Councilwoman Lisa McKenzie said Hancock residents are concerned about quality of life and walkability. Although the 140-acre parcel was purchased for future development, that development could include areas left as parklike.

“I think (Stockero’s plan) is a good project,” she said.

Council voted six to one to allow Stockero’s project to proceed with Haeussler voting no.

In other business, council members:

approved the 2013-14 city operating budget and set city millages.

approved a bid of $356,708 from DP Construction, Inc. for the Navy Street boardwalk project pending approval of the Downtown Development Authority.

accepted a Michigan Department of Transportation grant of $124,985 for work on Campus Drive from Pleasant Drive to Poplar Street.

set July 17 for a public hearing for the proposed sale of a city-owned lot on Hancock Street.