Candice Miller for Congress, Michigan

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Miller makes holiday visit to Port Austin

by Candice Miller on September 8, 2011

Miller makes holiday visit to Port Austin

Candice Miller tours the farmers’ market.

Comes away impressed with market, projects

Published: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 8:14 AM EDT
For the Tribune

PORT AUSTIN — Port Austin was in for a rare treat this past Saturday when U.S. Representative Candice Miller visited to view the extensive projects that this town has implemented over the past three years.

Miller’s District Director, Karen Czernel, is a regular visitor to Port Austin, and she is especially fond of the Saturday farmers’ market. Her glowing testimonies had prompted Miller to arrange for a two-hour visit. This was indeed a rare treat because Miller has never taken a personal tour of the village since she has arrived on the state political scene. Miller, Czernel, and Port Austin volunteer John Pridnia met early Saturday at the town’s new visitor’s center.

Pridnia could easily be called a super volunteer due to the many duties that he undertakes in the village. Pridnia spent a few minutes bringing the congresswoman up to speed on the visitor’s center, the marina construction, the Port Austin waterfront, and the breakwall. Pridnia is no amateur to politics, having been a state senator before moving to the Upper Thumb.

He discussed the overall funding of the numerous projects. The former state senator had a printed flier showing the Port Austin waterfront development project from 2009-2010. This included an aerial photograph, two artist renditions of the project, and numerous financial facts. The flier showed that the DNR waterways commission would invest $3.7 million to all projects and the village of Port Austin would invest $1.7 million, for a total of $5.4 million.

Much of the village funding had come from grants while other funds would come internally from the village.

Pridnia said that bids for Phase II of the project will be sent out Sept. 16. This will allow all of the old docks on the eastern side of the harbor to be replaced with new floating docks. Pridnia stated that the money for Phase II has already been allocated.

“We are in marvelous shape financially,” he said.

Funds for Stage III are anticipated from the DNR waterways commission budget for fiscal year 2012-2013. These funds will not come directly from taxpayers, but rather from marine gas taxes, boat license fees and other funds raised from the waterways commission.

He went on to tell what state officials had said about the overall project. The DNR had been in Port Austin last year and had told Pridnia that “this is the best harbor in the state of Michigan.”

Pridnia then discussed his one main concern about the harbor — the breakwall. He asked Miller for some assistance in building a railing on the breakwall’s north side. There is a rail on the south side and metal tubes that run down the center of the wall. He was told that the tubes protect wheelchairs from falling over the north side. Nonetheless, this does nothing for the safety of pedestrians. The catch is that Port Austin does not own the wall. It falls under the jurisdiction of the Army Corp of Engineers. All work to the wall must be done through the Corps.

“We need these improvements for the overall safety of the wall,” Pridnia said.

He then asked Miller if she could recommend this project to the Corp of Engineers, and if there was any funding available for the Corps to finance it.

Miller related that finding funds in the early days of her political career was easier than today. She discussed how earmarks were a common practice then, and they could have been used for dredging of a harbor or for this project.

The political world and the economy have changed greatly since then. It would be difficult to make promises at this time. Nonetheless, she said she would look into it.

The group then agreed to tour the harbor area and finish with the farmers’ market. Pridnia led the way and started with the marina.

The group then turned its attention to Veterans Waterfront Park. The park is comprised of several items, most notably the children’s play area, the pavilion, the veterans’ memorial, and a stainless steel sculpture.

It was evident that Miller was impressed by all she saw. She seemed particularly interested in the overall layout of the park and the sculpture. Pridnia told her the art work was fabricated in Elkton by Gary Gardner and his company. The design was a collaboration between himself and three members of the Thumb Arts Guild. It is surrounded by three tons of polished black stones. The stone was purchased from a dealer in California, but they originated in Africa. The cost of the sculpture was completely covered by the owners of the former Breakers on the Bay. A small plaque states that it was donated in honor of the owners’ parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dossin and Mr. and Mrs. Clarence M. Ruth, by Del and Dianne Ruth.

The tour continued to the breakwall. Pridnia pointed to improvements that had been made. He then reiterated a need for a northside guard rail and described the dangers of not having one.

After Miller visually saw the area in question, she understood his concerns about safety. She felt confident these funds would be forthcoming due to the safety issues it raised. Miller also felt the wheelchair tubes should be removed and some resurfacing of the wall would be advisable.

Before leaving the area, Pridnia talked about one other project that he would like to see accomplished. He proposed that a large tube be inserted through the raised pedestrian path leading to the breakwall. This is on the west side of the harbor and it would allow for the flow of water through the harbor. This would be done to help eliminate sediment from building in the marina area and to keep the water from becoming polluted. Pridnia thought a request would need to be sent through the Army Corp of Engineers. He proposed that if the Corps built it, then the village of Port Austin would maintain it and keep it clean and open.

Pridnia, Miller and Czernel then returned to the visitors center for a short meeting with Lou Schillinger and Paul Arsenault in regard to the Port Austin Lighthouse.

The final part of the tour began at the popular farmers’ market. Miller toured the entire market and met with dozens of constituents. It was obvious that she was impressed with the market, as was her district director. The congresswoman made several purchases at the market, including a handmade cedar end table.

Copyright © 2011 – Huron Publishing Company, LLC

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