2018-02-10 / News

Overnight Stays Are Necessary To Capitalize on Construction Season

By Stephanie Fortino


At left: The Aaron Winberg Masonry crew takes a lunch break at the Pink Pony Restaurant Tuesday, February 6, including (from left) Matt Matson, Chris Matson, Ernie Bigger, Ray Halberg, and Shawn Cowell. This winter, the crew is working on projects for Bob Benser and Andrew Doud, who gives them lunch from the deli at Doud’s Market. The business partners also provide housing for the crew to stay during the work week. (Photograph by Aaron Winberg) At left: The Aaron Winberg Masonry crew takes a lunch break at the Pink Pony Restaurant Tuesday, February 6, including (from left) Matt Matson, Chris Matson, Ernie Bigger, Ray Halberg, and Shawn Cowell. This winter, the crew is working on projects for Bob Benser and Andrew Doud, who gives them lunch from the deli at Doud’s Market. The business partners also provide housing for the crew to stay during the work week. (Photograph by Aaron Winberg) A seasonal workforce on Mackinac Island ramps into high gear each winter. After the crowds leave in the fall, the narrow streets of the Island are quiet and construction work can finally begin. Among the hands who build new hotels, fix damaged homes, and renovate existing structures are many workers who travel from the mainland. On Monday mornings at Mackinac County Airport in St. Ignace, the terminal is filled with these workers who check in at the front desk, weigh themselves and their gear, and wait for their names to be called for the next flight.


At right: Steven Paquin, owner of Belonga Plumbing and Heating, gets ready to board a plane at Mackinac Island Airport Friday, January 26. Commuting by airplane is a common experience for the skilled workers who travel to the Island for construction work in the winter. At right: Steven Paquin, owner of Belonga Plumbing and Heating, gets ready to board a plane at Mackinac Island Airport Friday, January 26. Commuting by airplane is a common experience for the skilled workers who travel to the Island for construction work in the winter. Those overseeing new projects this winter include business partners Andrew Doud and Bob Benser. The two have a new hotel on Market Street that is slated to open in the spring of 2019. Work is also ongoing inside the second floor of the former Alford’s building, which is being renovated into three apartments.

The Aaron Winberg Masonry crew has been working at the new hotel since November. Owner Aaron Winberg told the Town Crier Tuesday, February 6, the crew has to build one more wall in the basement and the retaining wall on the hill behind the hotel. They’ll also put up the wood walls in the basement and will finish the floors.


At left: Three of the four basement walls are up at the new hotel on Market Street owned by Andrew Doud and Bob Benser. The Aaron Winberg Masonry crew is working there this winter. (Photograph by Aaron Winberg) At left: Three of the four basement walls are up at the new hotel on Market Street owned by Andrew Doud and Bob Benser. The Aaron Winberg Masonry crew is working there this winter. (Photograph by Aaron Winberg) Alexander Electric of Mackinaw City and Belonga Plumbing and Heating of St. Ignace will soon start working there and at the other projects. Construction there will continue inside the building this summer.

Having a seasonal construction workforce on the Island, especially during the winter, means property owners and construction contractors must make provisions to ensure work continues on schedule. Mr. Doud and Mr. Benser provide housing for their crews to stay overnight at apartments behind Doud’s Market, at the Lilac Tree Hotel, and other locations.

Mr. Winberg and his crew stay at the Lilac Tree and at Doud’s.

“We’ll be here through the winter,” he said.

Mr. Doud also provides lunch, which the crews eat at the Pink Pony in the Chippewa Hotel.

Belonga Plumbing and Heating owner Steven Paquin has been traveling to the Island to work for years. He started working at the company 25 years ago as a 13- year-old, sweeping the floors in the office, where his mother, Michele Paquin, has worked for many years. On January 1, 2018, Mr. Paquin bought the business from Larry Belonga, noting, “It was a long time coming.”

The Belonga Plumbing crew is working at the Shepler’s Dock project, Richard Doud’s house, the Hoppenrath duplex the city is preparing for employees, the Iroquois Hotel, the Westin home, and many other little projects. Once the new hotel on Market Street is framed, the Belonga crew will install the plumbing and HVAC systems, as well as work on the condos above the old Alford’s store.

Scheduling work in the winter is a lot different than in the summer, said Mr. Paquin Friday, January 26, while waiting at the airport to go home to the mainland after a day of work.

Work days often depend on air travel, which in turn depends on favorable weather. During the third week of January, many of the workers couldn’t fly off the Island because of bad weather. And at the beginning of the fourth week of January, they couldn’t get to the Island because of bad weather in St. Ignace. If flights from the mainland are cancelled, Mr. Paquin tries to find work for his employees to do in St. Ignace so they don’t have to use vacation days.

When workers commute, the travel time can cut into work time. Belonga Plumbing has a few rooms reserved at the Pontiac Lodge all winter in case workers get stranded unexpectedly, and it also rents a condo for the crew to live in during the week.

After the boat stops, most of the crews come over early Monday morning, work 10 or 12 hours a day, and leave Thursday afternoon. Travel is reduced, and more work gets done.

Staying overnight, Mr. Paquin said, “is a slight inconvenience for the guys, but it’s not too bad as long as you have a nice place for them to stay.”

Winter on Mackinac Island also poses logistical challenges and requires planning and forethought.

“If you run out of material, sometimes you have to wait a couple of days to get it,” he said. “We’re at the mercy of the planes.”

The big stuff, like furnaces and long lengths of pipe are shipped by boat and staged for winter work on the dock or at job site, and only the occasional box of fittings has to be brought flown over later. Belonga Plumbing also has a shop at Star Line’s Main Dock in the center of downtown, where material and equipment is stored for the winter.

Over the years, Andrew Doud has honed the winter preparation process and has learned to live with the challenges of winter air service, which is dependent on the weather. Great Lakes Air flies from the Mackinac County Airport in St. Ignace, and Mr. Doud said it does a good job of communicating with business owners.

“We’ve had great experiences with Great Lakes Air,” he said, “and we understand the challenges of Mackinac without a boat.”

Just as contractors have to plan when to bring over their supplies for the winter, Mr. Doud must also plan what groceries he’ll have stockpiled for the winter at Doud’s Market. Perishable items like fresh produce and dairy are flown over every day.

“We always try to stock up on beer and pop, items with a little more weight that we can carry throughout the winter in the basement of Doud’s,” he said.

This winter was helped by a late season freight run by Arnold Freight.

“There are definitely some challenges this winter,” Mr. Doud said, “but we were lucky with the Arnold freight boat and with Great Lakes Air.”

In terms of making deliveries, Mr. Doud said, “We’re very thankful for the plane, but the best scenario is for the boat to run year-around.”

This winter has seen a return to frigid temperatures, following two mild winters when the boats were able to run most or all of the winter. And while an ice bridge can allow deliveries via snowmobile, Mr. Doud says he is more comfortable flying his freight over. Crossing the ice can be dangerous and would require him to send a staff member over to meet the delivery trucks early in the morning.

“I think I’d rather fly my stuff over than haul it over the ice,” he said.

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