Harbor Lights owners Bill and Grace Hines watched Oronto Creek's flow flood in a flash, obliterating Saxon Harbor Marina and Campground one night in 2016 when a high-powered, unrelenting thunderstorm struck the Northwoods.
The couple knew the park was done for that evening as boats crashed up onto Highway A, then awash in flood waters, before sinking back into the marina.
"We were watching it all by lightning flashes," Grace Hines said.
The storm, which would go down in history for washing out highways throughout northern Wisconsin, leaving tens of millions of dollars in destruction in its take and killing at least two people, started at about 5 or 5:30 p.m. in the Saxon Harbor area, Hines said.
"Bill said, 'This isn't going to be good. It doesn't look like it's going to stop," she said.
Bill Hines swiftly swept patrons out Harbor Lights bar's doors and closed down. The move saved customers from being trapped — like the Hines and their neighbors — on a virtual island after the storm washed out roads on either side of them.
Nearly three years later, the Hineses are holding on to their bar by their fingernails after suffering more than two years of lost business as damage around them was repaired. The county still is rebuilding the marina and campground wrested from it by 15 inches of rain, but the end — and a brighter future for Harbor Lights — may be nearing.
Season washed out
Iron County recently marked its third lonely and empty Memorial Day weekend at Saxon Harbor County Park, but it should be the last with the marina slated for completion in August.
Saxon Harbor, sitting on Lake Superior, was a sitting duck for Oronto and Parker creeks on July 11, 2016, when a storm packing powerful winds and torrential rains parked itself over the Northwoods, washing away roads, sparking flash floods and downing power lines.
Oronto Creek's watershed covers about 14 square miles, Iron County Forestry and Parks Department Director Eric Peterson said, and its elevation drops 400 feet between Highway 2, about five miles to the south, and the lake.
"If we get a 1-inch rain event, you can see Oronto Creek visibly rise in just a matter of minutes almost," Peterson said.
When the creeks finished scouring out Saxon Harbor County Park, its campground and marina were memories. Boats and RVs had been washed miles out into the lake, and former County Board member Mitchell Koski, who had come to the park to see if he could help, was killed when his vehicle was swept off Highway A as he attempted to drive through running water.
Since that night nearly three years ago, the county has toiled during construction season on a $14 million effort to bring Saxon Harbor back to life.
Iron County, with the help of engineers, isn't just rebuilding the harbor. It is also tweaking the park's layout to mitigate future damage as devastating flash floods and storms grow more common in the Northwoods.
Highway A's 40-foot bridge spanning a curve in the creek proved to be a problem when the flash flood hit on July 11, Peterson said. So crews set to work on both the highway and bridge.
Instead of making a beeline to Lake Superior, Highway A now makes a graceful S-bend to the west. A new bridge boasting a 100-foot span crosses the highway between the curves, which puts it in a better position to handle Oronto Creek flooding.
The Federal Highway Administration and state Department of Transportation helped to cover the road and bridge project's $1.5 million cost with the county kicking in 20 percent.
Creekside, a rocky berm has been built up between the creek and marina to guard against rising waters, and a spillway has been positioned so creek overflows are guided to the lake via the marina's opening instead of bottlenecking at the Parker Creek confluence.
The campground, slated for 28 sites instead of its previous 33, is moving to higher ground, and each site will have water and electricity. Once FEMA approves plans, hopefully within a few weeks, Peterson said, the contractor can launch a four-month construction project for a 2020 season opener.
That will be none too soon for Saxon Harbor camping fans. The county fields calls weekly from people looking for sites, Peterson said.
"We think we're going to be pretty busy when we finally get open," he said.
Anglers, too, are eager for reopening. The boat launch at the campground was the jumpingoff point for big-game fishermen stalking salmon and trout.
The marina, which dates back in some shape or form to the 1930s, will have 81 slips instead of 91 to accommodate wider boats. It's slated to open mid-August, and boaters will be welcome, Peterson said.
The marina also features a new, second boat landing in an area better protected from wind and Great Lakes waves. The old boat landing near the entrance to the docks has been refurbished as well.
The county aims to replace what it lost instead of improve upon the park, Peterson said, because FEMA's public assistance program won't pay for improvements, just replacements.
Money down the drain
Pre-storm revenues at the marina and campground tallied about $130,000 annually, Peterson said. The park will have been out of commission for essentially 3 1/2 years by the end of the season, leaving the county $455,000 behind since July 2016.
Grace and Bill Hines, too, have seen bar receipts dip precipitously. She estimates they lost two-thirds of their business.
"It's been a long three years," she said.
While the county is going strong and focused on reopening, Grace Hines isn't certain as to her and her husband's future at Harbor Lights.
The couple have owned the bar for 44 years and are licensed for a small campground, and Hines said she's loved the experience, meeting world travelers cruising the lake and establishing a rapport with local residents.
But the struggle to stay afloat over the past three years without the marina, campground, and lake and boat access drawing in visitors has left a mark.
Hines simply doesn't know how much longer she and her husband will stay. They may decide to list the bar for sale for the first time since they bought it and "find a palm tree" somewhere, she said.
But in the meantime, she said, "We're hanging on."
Laying the lines:
To see video of construction crews installing water and electrical lines at Saxon Harbor County Park marina, visit this story on the Daily Press website.
To see video of construction crews restoring Saxon Harbor County Park's marina in the wake of a 2016 flash flood, visit this story on the Daily Press website.
Ashland and Walmart have settled a lawsuit against the city in an agreement that will cost the city about $4,800 a year in reduced taxes for the company's property in Ashland.
Walmart and other big-box retailers have been suing municipalities across Wisconsin in recent years — including Ashland — arguing that their property taxes should be calculated based on comparisons with vacant, dark stores not based upon their value as open and thriving businesses.
City Administrator Brant Kucera said he still believes Ashland's tax assessments have been fair, but said the settlement was reached to prevent a long and costly court battle.
The tentative settlement calls for a 5% reduction in Walmart's assessment for tax years 2017, 2018 and 2019. Kucera said tax payments would be refunded for 2017 and 2018,
while the Ashland Board of Review will cut Walmart's 2019 tax assessments by the amount agreed to in the settlement.
The city's loss of slightly under $15,000 isn't the only cut that will come from the settlement. The School District of Ashland, Ashland County and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College will also lose a like percentage of their tax revenue for the affected years. Kucera said those bodies too would lose about $4,000 a year each.
Kucera said the city could revert Walmart to its former tax level despite the potential for yet another lawsuit.
"At the end of the day, we looked at what was fiduciarily was the wisest thing to do, based on potential legal costs, in the future and based on what a judge could actually arrive at," he said.
Kucera also said that accepting the 5% cut in tax revenue was strongly recommended by the mediator and the city's attorneys.
"They said this was pretty much as good as it could get," he said. "I know it's not ideal. I know people have strong feelings toward Walmart, but it's about tax assessment, it's not about a corporation, and we did what I think was most prudent."
The proposed settlement was approved by City Council members Tuesday in closed session on a 10-1 vote with Sixth District representative Wahsayah Whitebird voting in opposition.
Ashland's decision not to continue the lawsuit is being watched by other communities in Wisconsin. About 60 other municipalities in the state have made similar deals — and lawsuits continue to be filed.
The League of Wisconsin Municipalities represents the interests of Wisconsin cities and villages and has been a leading supporter of legislation closing what they see as a loophole in state law and eliminating dark store lawsuits. Deputy Director Curt Witynski said although there have been hundreds of lawsuits filed, and some have been settled to the advantage of stores like Walmart, other cities like Plover in Portage county have fought the suits. Plover recently defeated a suit brought by hardware chain Lowe's in court.
Witynski said recent decisions in favor of municipalities have encouraged others being sued to fight back.
Democratic state senator Janet Bewley, whose 25th district includes Ashland, dark store lawsuits likely will continue because Republicans have again refused to take up legislation she said would remedy what she called a loophole in state law that allowed the suits in the first place. She coauthored the latest round of legislation seeking to end dark store lawsuits and expressed her frustration at the lack of action on the bill.
"Republicans will not schedule a vote on it, which is really too bad. I wish I didn't have to paint it in party line allegiances, but it's a large corporation that has the expectation that Republicans are going to reduce their taxes," she said.
The man shot to death by federal authorities outside an Ashland home last week was wanted in Oregon for attempting to kill a deputy who had been called to a burglary. DCI, which typically reviews police shootings, refused to release any additional information.
But records in the state of Oregon detail a varied and violent history for Tedrick, dating back 11 years and ending in September, when he was accused of shooting at the deputy as she approached the scene of a reported burglary.
That incident happened Sept. 24, prompting the federal fugitive warrant that ended with U.S. Marshals attempting to arrest Tedrick May 22 in Ashland, Clackamas County Oregon Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Owen said.
"He had an active warrant for attempted aggravated murder for attempting to kill a police officer here," Owen said in a phone interview Friday. "The allegation was that he had fired a weapon at a deputy as she sat in her car while responding to a burglary."
Owen said the shot hit the deputy's car and she was not injured in the incident that took place south of Portland in the metropolitan county of about 400,000 residents.
Owen said Tedrick was indicted by a grand jury after the shooting on charges of attempted aggravated murder, attempted assault, unlawful use of a weapon, illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, criminal mischief and reckless burning.
He said he believed the reckless burning charge had to do with what happened as the deputy arrived at the scene. News reports and police records said that as
home being broken into simultaneously erupted in flames.
The car later was found to be registered to Tedrick, which likely is how he was identified as a suspect, Owen said.
He had no information about how U.S. Marshals tracked Tedrick to Ashland. Eric Wahlstrom, a supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal in Oregon, deferred questions to Clackamas County authorities.
"I can say that the U.S. Marshals Service Portland, Oregon office was assisting the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office with locating and apprehending Joseph M. Tedrick at their request and as a partner of the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force," Wahlstrom said in an email to the Daily Press.
DCI, which often takes months to complete inquiries into police-related shootings, refused to say anything more about the incident this week. Ashland Police Chief Jim Gregoire on Wednesday told the Daily Press he didn't know anything about the man who was shot, who he was or why he was wanted.
The incident involving the Oregon deputy was not the first time Tedrick was accused of shooting at someone.
He also was charged with two counts of attempted murder in 2008, and later convicted of lesser charges of attempting to commit a felony, assault and unlawful use of a weapon.
Newspaper accounts of that incident said Tedrick was arrested when he was accused of shooting another man in the leg after an argument over a basketball game.
He was sentenced to seven years in prison when he was 22 years old.
In 2016, he was sentenced to eight days in jail after being charged with possession of cocaine and ecstasy, a psychoactive recreational drug.
Over the past decade, he also was charged with criminal mischief, burglary, theft, aggravated theft and other crimes.
The charges that most recently landed Tedrick in court prior to the burglary shooting were filed in August after witnesses in Portland, Ore., told police of a man driving erratically with a child in his car. Police eventually found the car, parked.
"The driver, later identified as the defendant, was nodding off in the driver's seat," Brent Weisberg, the public information officer for the Multnomah County Oregon District Attorney's Office told the Daily Press.
"Law enforcement noted that engine was still idling and the shift lever was in 'drive,'" he said. "While law enforcement attempted to contact the defendant, the defendant looked at the officer who noted that the defendant's eyes were droopy and his movements deliberate and slow. The officer ordered the defendant to put the vehicle in park.
"The defendant did not comply with the police orders. Instead, the defendant floored the accelerator and shot away."
Police briefly gave chase but stopped for the safety of the 5-yearold girl who was in the back seat of Tedrick's car. But Tedrick unexpectedly turned around and headed back toward police, who used spikes to deflate his tires and stop him, Weisberg said.
Tedrick left the child in the back seat and jumped into the nearby Columbia River and attempted to swim away but was captured.
The girl in the car said Tedrick was baby-sitting her for her mother.
"The child's mother arrived on scene and identified the defendant as her boyfriend," Weisberg said. "She would not cooperate any further with police."
Tedrick told police at the time that "he had taken an unknown substance," before the chase.
He was charged in that incident with two felony counts of fleeing police and several misdemeanors, and was released on $1,750 bond, according to court records.
Those charges still had not been resolved when Tedrick was killed in Ashland.
Brought to you by GreenBranch Dental 715-682-2396