HOUGHTON - Restoring rail access and dredging the Portage Canal are two necessary transportation steps needed to draw business to the area, incoming State Rep. Scott Dianda said at a Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce forum Thursday.
Dianda, D-Calumet, appeared at the monthly Eggs & Issues meeting Thursday morning. He defeated incumbent Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine, in the November election.
About $1 billion needs to be put into the state's transportation immediately to prevent further deterioration, Dianda said. One way to ease the burdens on the roads is by bringing back the rail lines in the area, he said. Dianda said he's already reached out to U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek and State Sen. Tom Casperson for ways to collaborate.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Incoming State Representative Scott Dianda addresses the crowd during the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues meeting Thursday morning at the Shelden Grill in Houghton.
"It's so very important not to be able to squeeze out trucking, but to be able to take some of those massive, heavy loads off of those roadways," he said. "Maybe just in the spring thaw area, where they can start transporting some of this lumber and that out of here on the rail in those bad times of the year, because it's killing our roads and bridges."
Another positive move for road conditions would be using more sand on the roads instead of salt, Dianda said. Salt erosion also speeds up the decay of bridges, he said, especially when there's not enough sweeping or washing in the spring.
"I'm all for making sure that we have safe roads, but I think we've got to really take a look at what it's causing in structural damage," he said.
Additionally, Dianda said, dredging the canal will result in cheap transportation that is more attractive to manufacturing.
"(Calumet and Hecla Mining Company) sent all of their copper out of here on this port," he said. "We can do it again. I'm looking at that for here, and also in Ontonagon and down in Baraga County. We could have three points that we could ship out of here, even if it's not a 12-month shipping cycle."
Another tool Dianda suggested for bringing business to the area is a tax-free renaissance zone. But to prevent companies from leaving after five years, he favors stricter parameters with a minimum stay of 25 to 30 years and requirements for the number of people hired.
Dianda said the Portage Lake Lift Bridge accessibility for ORV/ATVs is important for tourism. He also backed ORV/ATV use on state trunk lines, which he said can be made more compatible with snowmobiling. He brought up the difficulty snowmobiles face in accessing the White House in Mohawk, owned by his brother-in-law.
"I think that we should be able to work with the county and the state, who take care of the road system in the wintertime, and make sure that they cut that bank so they can ride on the shoulder of the road where it would be safe," he said. "We've got plenty of right-of-way to do that."
In addition to job creation, Dianda restated his other main goals from his campaign of fully funding education and focusing on local control of government. On discussion of getting rid of the personal property tax, Dianda said there needs to be more research done into a plan that would not harm local municipalities. He also said he preferred the previous tax structure for mining operations, which included local property taxes, to the proposed 2.75 percent severance tax. However, he said, with the governor's support of the bill, it's past the point where he will have any input into it.
"I would hope that the governor's going to be fair, because that money is coming out of the U.P., from these existing mines and future ones," he said. "And I hope that he takes a look at it fairly, because there's only four votes from the U.P. and there's 106 in lower Michigan. I'm all for economic development. I'm for helping all of the state. but I don't want these six-and-a-quarter counties to get shortchanged in that process. I want to make sure that's part of the discussion."
While he doesn't want local areas to be shortchanged in funding, Dianda said he is also looking for ways to make government more efficient. While getting tires put on his car in Hancock, he talked with the owner, who told him about the process for getting a $65 dealer's license.
"They sent someone from Detroit on a three-day trip to come up here and ask if he had a restroom," he said. "Never used the restroom, walked out of the business and went back. Those are the insane things we need to stop. We can't afford it."
Dianda said he would also like to see more resources put into inspecting state unemployment assistance for fraud. Talking to a fellow representative in Monroe last week, Dianda said, he brought up the phenomenon of people from Ohio and Indiana claiming to be homeless and getting Bridge cards for food in Michigan.
"There's no mechanism in place when you know that we've got people from other states who are saying that they're homeless and we're giving them benefits," he said. "That's ridiculous."
Dianda said he also supports drug testing for people receiving state or federal dollars - as long as it's done across the board, including elected officials.
"Drug test us," he said. "If it's good for one, it's good for all. ... I think is it a big issue, but you've got to lead by example."
Dianda has completed orientation with his fellow freshmen. He's put in for several committee assignments, including appropriations, education, energy, transportation and corrections.
"I told the minority leader that wherever you want to put me on, I'm familiar with State of Michigan business, I'll definitely be there to help," he said.