Hancock nonprofit plays outsized role in Upper Peninsula flood recovery

A sign near Hubbell, a Western Upper Peninsula community hit hard by the Father’s Day floods. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

HANCOCK — One enormous hurdle for residents still reeling from disastrous rains in June and July in Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula: They won’t get insurance payouts.

For the most part, homeowners policies don’t cover flood damage, and few people here have separate flood insurance, which is largely unavailable in this historic mining region known as Copper Country.

And since the federal government hasn’t committed disaster aid to homeowners,  groups like Portage Health Foundation are stepping up efforts to help the estimated 900 households damaged by the storms.

The Hancock-based nonprofit is playing an outsized role in the region’s recovery, particularly in Houghton County, which was hit hardest. Through a program called “Flood with Love,” the foundation that typically promotes health and wellness is working to get folks back in homes before winter.

“It’s definitely out of our wheelhouse, but we knew it was the right thing for our community,” said Kevin Store, the foundation’s executive director.

“A lot of people aren’t asking for help — that’s the Copper Country.”

Kevin Store, executive director of the Portage Health Foundation

Following a deadline to apply, the foundation said it received nearly 500 applications. It plans to address residents’ most pressing needs first — major structural and electrical fixes, mold prevention and new furnaces and water heaters, for instance.

The foundation initially expected to offer roughly $3.2 million in aid, but Store said the total likely will be far higher.

Along with other challenges, the foundation has struggled to find enough local contractors to do the work. Some are coming two hours away from Marquette in the central Upper Peninsula, and one is from Holland, more than 500 miles away in West Michigan.

“It’s definitely putting a burden on our local builders to get these done,” Store said.

The Portage Health Foundation has roughly $60 million in total assets.

It was formed in 1990 and originally operated as a hospital foundation at Portage Health hospital. It was converted into a 501(c)(3) charitable organization in 2013 when for-profit LifePoint Hospitals purchased the nonprofit hospital.

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Tue, 08/14/2018 - 12:59pm

These series of articles indicate that the homeowners were not given an option to buy personal home flood insurance. Is it because their homes are built in a flood plain? Or because of the limited insurance options in the U.P.?

When folks know they are living in a flood plain, does anyone plan ahead for these probable situations? Or do you just cross your fingers and hope it won't? I know this was an unusual level of flooding, but these type of scenarios must be running through your head when you know you are living in a flood plain; it can't be a complete suprise.

B. Johnson
Wed, 08/15/2018 - 8:32am

This area is not on a flood plain. Flood insurance was not available to them. Some have tried to buy it and were denied.

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 7:13pm

I wonder why they were denied the option of flood insurance? Is there some history to the area on this, or just the back luck of no competition for insurance companies?

Sarah Olson-Ros...
Tue, 08/21/2018 - 8:43am

Marie - it is not a flood plain as previously mentioned. Flood insurance is not available to when you are not on a flood plain. Nothing to do with insurance companies. This was basically a 500 year storm.