Bridge exercise plans continue

HOUGHTON – Though no dates have been determined, there could be a full-scale bridge outage exercise involving a pontoon bridge within two years.

Members of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge Planning Group recently met with Michigan Guard officers from Lansing and staff from the 1437th Engineering Company from Sault Ste. Marie to discuss planning options.

“It’s a little bit premature to say that we’re going to end up with an exercise next year, but we’re very encouraged with the guard’s participation that we’ll end up with an exercise sooner or later,” said Jack Dueweke, emergency services coordinator for Houghton County. Dueweke said he will be traveling to Sault Ste. Marie to look at the available resources and see the deployment of the pontoon bridge.

The Portage Lake Lift Bridge Planning Group began meeting in 2010, spurred by a six-and-a-half-hour outage that August caused by a defective switch.

A full-scale test would involve bringing the pontoon bridge over from Sault Ste. Marie. There would be several steps before that, including National Guard reconnaisance of the Portage Lake Shipping Canal and tabletop exercises.

Dueweke said there are numerous logistical issues involved in erecting the pontoon bridge. The 700-foot pontoon bridge would be brought over on 18 trucks. The assemblage would also include a small flotilla of boats as well as staff for the boats and bridge construction. There also needs to be an evaluation of potential access points for the bridge.

But while they hope to have time to set up testing, it could come together in a hurry if necessary, Dueweke said.

“If there were an incident tomorrow, they would bring the asset here and they would set it up,” he said. “In an emergency, we would work on the fly to set it up.”

Dueweke said he is confident the exercises with the National Guard will come together.

“At the last meeting, they showed a definite interest in what we were doing, and also verbalized to the group and to me that our expectations of them are not unreasonable,” he said.

“It lets me know that they believe that they can come through when we need them. It’s just a matter of making it work as well as it can work, and that’s what you do with these exercises.”