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After 3 years, devastation repaired and Saxon Harbor reopens on Lake Superior

Sep 09, 2019 12:03PM ● By Editor
Jeff Soles purchased his 25-foot-long Bayliner in 2016 but has been keeping it in the Ashland harbor. On Wednesday, he moved it to Saxon Harbor, his base for salmon and trout fishing on Lake Superior and just five miles from his home.  Photo:  Barry Adams

By Barry Adams of The Wisconsin State Journal - September 9, 2019

More than three years have passed since torrents of rain overwhelmed Oronto and Parker creeks and sent waves of mud into the marina.

Boats were destroyed, a firefighter on his way to the scene was killed and Bill and Grace Hines saw revenues plummet at Harbor Lights, the bar and restaurant they own and the only commercial business in this remote outpost of Iron County along Lake Superior’s southwestern shore.

But the wait is over and the destruction finally restored. Saxon Harbor is again whole and now open.

“For the local people this was like cutting off their arm. I mean, this was the place. It was a terrible thing,” said Jeff Soles, a retired wildlife biologist as he readied his 25-foot-long Bayliner in one of the harbor’s slips. “I’m from here and I’ve been here most of my life and I’ve seen this place change. I just hope this improvement lasts.”

A $14 million reconstruction project has created a state-of-the-art harbor. The 81 slips are wider to accommodate larger boats, floating docks will help boaters more easily access their vessels and there’s a larger, 2,000-gallon gas tank and a new 1,000-gallon diesel tank from which boats can purchase fuel.

The Highway A bridge over Oronto Creek is wider and higher, loads of riprap line the creeks for more stability and there’s a concrete spillway to divert water from the creeks in the event of a major storm. New bathrooms and showers along with a new water system are part of the amenities, and there is plenty of parking for both boaters and those who just come to take in the views of the largest Great Lake that on Thursday looked like glass.

“It’s a 2019 marina,” said Eric Peterson, Iron County’s forest administrator, who oversees the county-owned harbor. “Many of these facilities were built a long time ago and constructed under different codes and standards. When you do a project like this today, you don’t get grandfathered in. It has to be all the latest and greatest.”

But the worst came on the evening of July 11, 2016.

The harbor, a destination for fur traders in the 1700s, sits at the base of a steep hill where the two creeks meet. So when heavy rains pounded the region, the creeks quickly filled from the 17-square-mile watershed, topped their banks and filled the harbor with sediment, debris and chaos.

A 31-foot Chris-Craft boat was found last summer on the harbor’s south side buried under dirt in a spot that should have had 10 feet of water. A few weeks later a Kia automobile was found nearby. On the night of the storm, 18 boats, ranging from 21 feet to 36 feet long, were pushed out of the harbor and deposited along the beach west of it. The only thing that hasn’t been recovered is a pontoon boat that was used by county staff to maintain the harbor. It was last seen in 2018 off Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.

To see a photo gallery and read more of the original article, follow this link to

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