A sad story is unfolding in the tiny town of Michigamme.
Specifically at the Mt. Shasta restaurant, a way station on US 41 for so many of us on trips to the western U.P. It’s also renowned for its part in the movie Anatomy of a Murder–several scenes were shot in the restaurant.
Nancy Ferro bought Mt. Shasta eleven years ago as an investment for her retirement and was doing fine until 2009. That’s when MDOT started blasting the rocks near the highway so they could build a new road and straighten it. It would be better, safer.
Probably so, but with the blasting and dumping of tons of rocks near the restaurant, Ferro noticed a change.
The pump for her well started seizing up and then the well water, which was routinely tested four times a year, turned up contaminated. Coliform.
Sure seemed like an obvious case of cause-and-effect. So they decided to drill a new well–deeper and farther away from the old well. And Ferro says that a company working for MDOT, after some delay, agreed to pay for the new well.
So things should have been fine, right? Well, no.
The new well had problems, too. Sometimes the water was tested and found to be clean, and other times it, too, tested high for coliform. When that happened, she was put on Maximum Contamination Level and she had to take all sorts of precautions–filters, bleaching her sinks, adding bleach to the well to cleanse it, and transporting bottled water in.
It’s been a pain in the ass, and it’s costly, time-consuming and aggravating. Ferro’s comfortable, little investment was starting to go south.
Then, July of last year, came the worst news. Her water started testing positive for e coli. Not all the samples, just some of them some of the time. Sometimes it came back clean. Made no sense.
In any case, she had to continue with the inspections, and when the tests came back dirty, she was required to continue with the water cleansing measures and to post notices at Mt. Shasta that the water was contaminated and patrons needed to take precautions.
You’ll never guess how this affected her business. Go ahead, take a guess.
Ferro says she used to draw 100 diners in for a Friday Fish Fry. Now she gets 10 or 12.
She estimates business is down by about two thirds from previous years even though, as far as she knows, no diners have ever gotten sick from the water at Mt. Shasta.
She worries that she’s not going to be able to make it through this year. She may lose the restaurant.
She’s been told by the Department of Environmental Quality she needs to fix the problem within a year. She’s been told she needs to hire an environmental attorney.
She’s asked representatives for State Senator Tom Casperson and State Reps John Kivela and Scott Dianda for help. Nothing so far. She’s making phone calls, waiting, hoping. Losing money.
She’s certain somebody needs to step up and compensate her for her loss. Everything was fine, she insists, until MDOT started building the new highway.
Did the blasting and dumping really cause the ground to shift around her well?
If so, where’d the e coli come from?
Could it all have simply been a natural event? A strange coincidence?
Can the e coli ever be eliminated?
Does the state or one of its contractors owe her anything?
Will Mt. Shasta just have to shut down?
Lotta questions here. Not many satisfying answers.
In fact, none at all for Nancy Ferro who at one time thought she had made a perfect investment for her retirement . Now she just sits alone in her charming, historic, little restaurant on US 41 and wonders how the hell it could all go so wrong.
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