Conservation District pushed out of Tech’s Lakeshore Center

HOUGHTON – After almost 20 years in the same building, the Houghton-Keweenaw Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service had to move out of their shared office space in what is now Michigan Technological University’s Lakeshore Center.

The lease through the NRCS and U.S. Department of Agriculture expired on Sept. 1. Gina Nicholas, chairperson of the HKCD, said she had found out on June 28 that Tech had plans to evict them, but didn’t find out until early August there was no hope of staying at the location.

“We found out very late what was going on and we tried to negotiate with Tech, but they declined,” she said.

For now, the HKCD and NRCS are relocating to a new office at 711 W. Lakeshore Dr. However, Nicholas said, the organizations are losing federal funding that had been grandfathered to that specific location, which had been used to support the office.

“I don’t think MTU ever fully understood what they were doing,” she said. “They’ve basically broken a chain that we can’t replace.”

While the Lakeshore Center rent was paid for by the federal government, the HKCD will have now to come up with part of that figure, Nicholas said.

“It’s a huge expense that we had no ability to plan for,” she said.

While the office will be closed, planned fieldwork and construction projects will continue.

Tech President Glenn Mroz said the university started working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NRCS last October at the federal level on a new lease agreement, but went four to five months without hearing back.

“Finally we started thinking ‘Well, there are other things we could do with that space if they don’t want it,’ because we weren’t getting any response from them,'” he said.

As an alternative, Mroz said, Tech decided to use the space to fit all of its institutional research department, which does research and reporting on issues such as compliance and enrollment figures.

Tech’s legal counsel got involved, at which point the USDA became more responsive, Mroz said. The USDA offered to come out to the site on July 4, which the university rejected as not doable.

Mroz said Tech offered space in the former D&N Bank building in Hancock, as well as the use of university resources to move.

“So then the next thing we heard was in August of this year, and they said ‘We’re moving to a different place and we won’t need that space,'” he said.

Mroz said he wishes things had turned out differently.

“Who knows whether the fiscal cliff and all that talk had anything to do with it … it’s unfortunate, the way it happened,” he said.

The Houghton-Keweenaw Conservation District will discuss additional plans for the joint office with the NRCS at its monthly meeting 12:30 p.m. Sept 17 at the Portage Lake District Library conference room.