‘Cool’ plans ahead for ski hill

GLADSTONE – Upgrades at the ski hill in the Gladstone Sports Park may be on the horizon following action taken by the city commission during it meeting earlier this week.

“If we can get consistent snow on the hill by Christmas we have the opportunity to increase our revenue by 30 percent,” City Manager Darla Falcon told the Daily Press.

Currently, the ski hill uses city water to power it’s three snow guns. Because the city water must be kept at a warmer temperature for use throughout the city, the snow guns do not run at an optimal level until temperatures outside are at or below 18 degrees.

To combat the temperature limitations, the city is planning the construction of a one acre pond that would be the source of water fueling the snow guns. Since water kept in the pond would be naturally cooler than water run through city pipes, the air temperature could be warmer, making snow production less weather dependent.

“They just want to make sure the natural water in the hill itself is enough to fill that pond,” said Falcon.

The commission gave approval for Golder Associates, Inc. of Gladstone to drill four wells at the ski hill to test the amount of water available. The cost of the wells will be $5,000. While the project was not an existing part of the parks and recreation department budget, the project will be funded with money from the department.

Once the wells have been drilled and the results of the tests have been gathered, the information will be brought before the city commission and final approval with be given or denied on the construction of the pond.

“The sooner we get the answer and get back to the commission for approval the sooner we can get the pond built,” said Falcon.

In other business the commission decided not to approve an additional $30,000 payment towards the city’s Municipal Employees’ Retirement System unfunded liability.

“They (the commission) denied it because we may need that $30,000 somewhere else,” explained Falcon.

The $30,000 payment would have come from interest paid to the city on its investment in the American Transmission Co. project bringing transmission lines and substations through parts of the Upper Peninsula. Last year the city received $30,120.67 in interest from ATC.

The city has a MERS unfunded liability of $5,704,085. While Commissioner Hugo Mattonen noted the payment would have reduced the interest owed by the city, the final decision of the commission was that the money would be better spent on projects like the ski hill than used to pay only a small portion of the city’s unfunded liability.

“They would be willing to consider it in the future,” said Falcon.

During the meeting the commission also gave their approval to the wastewater department and C2AE, an architectural, engineering, and planning firm with an office in Escanaba, to pursue new grants being issued through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

MDEQ has allocated $450 million to provide grants and loans through the SAW Grant program. Grants are available up to $2 million per municipality with a 10 percent match for the first million and 25 percent for the first million.

Because the program is new, judging criteria for the grants has not been established or implemented. Instead, cities that apply for funding through the program will be entered into a lottery.

“Who knows if we’ll get picked in the first year,” said Falcon.