Is government disaster aid for Glen Arbor landowners a pipe dream?


By Linda Alice Dewey
Sun contributor

Many Leelanau homeowners are hoping the governor’s state of disaster proclamation following the Aug. 2 megastorm will help fund their debris cleanup. Unfortunately, they may find those hopes dashed, especially if they expect financial help any time soon.

“The state is not providing money at this point,” reports Leelanau County Emergency Management Director Matt Ansorge. Assistance from the state will soon arrive but in the form of equipment and personnel. “Resources right now,” he continues, “are being used to supplement our own county’s ability to clear debris, help the Road Commission on roadways and pick up debris from the designated drop-off points.”

The county and state are currently working together to assess what those needs are, he says. “There are certain procedures that have to be done. We’re working to figure out the details, then report to Lansing; then Lansing coordinates that effort.”

On Monday morning, Aug. 24, the state provided excavators and semi trucks to haul away large debris from Northwood Drive; the heavy equipment will subsequently clear debris from other hard-hit areas, such as Dunn’s Farm Rd and the Little Traverse Lake area.

Ansorge says it is too early in the process to speculate on whether the disaster will escalate to the federal level where FEMA would be called. He warns that direct financial assistance for the private homeowner is “not out of the question, but there is no guarantee either.” That decision will come further along in the process. It could be weeks—or even months—away. “It’s tough to say,” he admits. “We’re just starting out.”

To help speed up the process, 48 volunteers showed up on Aug. 10 to help assess property damage in the Glen Lake/Glen Arbor area. “The response was excellent,” Ansorge exclaims, “and the effort that each one of the volunteers put out was fantastic.” That part of the job is finished now, and the county Planning and Equalization Departments are sorting and compiling the information into reports for Lansing.

According to Leelanau County building inspector Steve Haugen, some 578 structures were damaged in the storm, most in the Glen Arbor area. Seventy percent of those homes have been assessed, with the damage count at $17.1 million, and rising, reports the Leelanau Enterprise.

Although direct financial aid will not arrive for some time, if at all, Ansorge did suggest that, “with the state involvement, we’ll also be able to get more volunteer organizations in … to make it more manageable.”

We’re going to need them. One of those organizations, Team Rubicon, has been actively cleaning up in Traverse City with larger equipment than the chainsaws used by Southern Baptist Convention, who worked so hard in the Glen Arbor area for two weeks after the storm. As that Traverse City work winds down, said Ansorge, Team Rubicon will come over to Leelanau County. That’s not going to happen, says Jim Simmons, Team Rubicon’s Incident Commander for “Operation Sleeping Bear” in Grand Traverse County. “There is no question that clean-up work remains not only in Grand Traverse County,” Simmons says, “but Leelanau County and several others as well. As a volunteer-enabled disaster response team, we sustain response efforts as long as our volunteers are able to deploy and populate the operation. We have exhausted our volunteers’ available hours/days at this point and we must therefore stand down.” The Team Rubicon region administrator, Mike Watkins, agrees. “We are demobilizing and end our Operation on the 22nd,” he wrote via email. “We will not be standing another Operation.” Simmons did say that there are other Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) with whom Ansorge must be working to engage.

About the mess on and around Alligator Hill, Ansorge stated, “The National Park is going to be doing more federal stuff on their own. They go straight to their federal organization in order to get [it].”

Meanwhile, Glen Arbor Township responded to calls for a disaster relief fund by announcing the opening of a special fundraising account specifically for that purpose. The announcement appeared on its website and Facebook page at the end of the second week following the storm, inviting private donors to chip in. Eighty per cent of the funds will be used for cleanup and 20% for replanting. “The township made available an account for people that wish to donate funds,” states Glen Arbor Township Supervisor, John Soderholm. “Prior to that, there were three or four individual funds that were autonomous. It didn’t seem that that would serve the community the best. There needed to be a common focal point set up as a depository for any funds, rather than individually.”

Soderholm alludes to a few businesses in town that had already initiated their own disaster relief fundraising efforts. “[Bob] Ihme sent out letters to people he represents through associations, pointing out what’s transpiring” he says, “and that they’re trying to meet an honest need.” Cherry Republic launched its own fundraiser campaign just days after the storm, with the goal of-replanting trees in and around Glen Arbor. As of Aug. 22, Cherry Republic CEO Bob Sutherland reported that the “Bring the Arbor back to Glen Arbor” campaign had netted nearly $30,000.

“The goal is to replant big heritage white oaks and other iconic Glen Arbor trees in key spots,” said Sutherland. “It will take time to recreate the arbor in some areas of town. Also, the Park has a need at DH Day Campground, which lost shade trees and the line of fence row trees in Glen Haven.”

Meanwhile, Katy and Matt Wiesen at the M-22 Store, The Cyclery and Crystal River Outfitters began a matching campaign, where $10 for each shirt bought would go to a fund to aid eight of their employees whose cars were damaged in the storm.

The Glen Arbor Township announcement did not come without public blowback. Soderholm indicates that there has been some critical feedback online that says Glen Arbor is a town of people with means, and that it should not be asking for donations. “Frankly,” he counters, “some of these people with means are the ones who stepped right up.” As for the notion that there’s no real need in Glen Arbor because everybody has money, Soderholm comments, “People that live here know that there is a need.”

Soderholm says that an advisory committee for the disaster relief fund is currently being formed “to oversee the dispersement of the donated dollars, but we’re still putting that together.” He remarks that the task “is not something the township board is capable of doing.” The committee will most likely consist of five persons who, the supervisor feels are sensitive to the community. These five will be chosen from a current pool of seven that includes Bill Wittler representing the Glen Lake Association, Bob Ihme of Glen Arbor Outdoor, Cherry Republic’s Bob Sutherland, Andy DuPont, Bill Witler, Dan Padilla of Woodstone and Jeff Gietzen of Northwood Hardware. Although Soderholm will be the committee’s board contact, he will not be overseeing it. “These are all self-starters,” he explains.

Soderholm says that, as of Aug. 24, $25,000-$27,000 have already been collected for the new fund, in addition to an initial $100,000 seed money from the township treasury. All donations have been from private citizens, who will each receive a tax deduction certificate in return.

Meanwhile, the township is continuing its effort to, as Soderholm puts it, “identify a continuing need and what can be done to help them as far as removing wood. We’re trying to be flexible. The issue,” he continues, “becomes one of how we apply those dollars. The state has declared the emergency in its release. If donated funds come in from the state, we need to use this community disaster advisory group to make decisions on where it should be spent.”

How may private citizens apply for the new funds? “That has yet to be determined,” Soderholm answers. “There is not a fixed protocol. We continue to have people stop in and ask for help. What we’re doing is trying to get referrals. There’s a church group that’s working here — a couple of them — and we’re referring them.”

When asked if there might be fundraising activities, such as special concerts or dinners, Soderholm says he doubts it. “The fundraising initiative that is already underway is probably sufficient.”