Grand Portage Hat Point Ferry Terminal project set for September 2024 completion
Matthew Baxley

Grand Portage Hat Point Ferry Terminal project set for September 2024 completion

A nearly decade-long project in Grand Portage has officially broken ground. 

The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa held a groundbreaking ceremony on the morning of Nov. 15 for the long-awaited Hat Point Marina and Ferry Terminal project. 

Community members and eager construction crews joined members of the Grand Portage Band and Tribal Council in the small gathering held at Hat Point in Grand Portage. 

“This is a pretty historic project for Grand Portage,” Tribal Chair Robert Deschampe said during the opening ceremony. “I think when it’s done, it’s going to be something that the Grand Portage people and the Grand Portage community can be really proud of.”

The project received support in Sept. 2019 following the U.S. Department of Commerce announcing that the Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $3.2 million grant to the Grand Portage Reservation Tribal Council to help redevelop the Hat Point Marina and Ferry Terminal, matched with an additional $2 million in local investment. In addition, the project secured funding from the Ferry Boat Program (FBP) through the Federal Highway Administration.

The discovery of available funding for the project can be traced back to the co-owner of Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation Lines, Capt. Don Szczech, and Tim Cochrane, a now-retired National Park Service superintendent. 

“We learned myself and Don Szczech that there’s actually a formula for operating as a passenger service for the public,” Cochrane said during the ceremony. He explained the formula includes number of passengers, distance traveled by the vessel, and number of cars ferried. With the formula and necessary data from the Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation Lines, Cochrane and Szczech found initial funding based on an annual appropriation from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, a total of $171,520,177.90 is available for the FBP in 2023. Based on the formula and data from Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation Lines, $3,065,691 was allocated for the ferry service in 2023. 

The scope of the Hat Point Marina and Ferry Terminal project includes rebuilding the ferry terminal dock, public docks, ticketing, restroom building, parking lot improvements, electrical upgrades, and relocating and rebuilding the deteriorated boat ramp. The Grand Portage Tribal Council has been working closely with AMI, an engineering consultant firm, to develop preliminary layouts, 3D renderings, engineering reports, and cost estimates for the project.

Chair Deschampe said the project is expected to be completed in Sept. 2024. With the groundbreaking ceremony taking place in mid-Nov., there is little room for error or leisure due to the constrained timeframe. “We’ll be pretty persistent.”

Following the ceremony, Ulland Brothers, the construction company for the project, began cutting trees and prepping the site. The first task on the list is erosion control, fencing, and removing or demolishing the existing buildings. “Next week, we’ll be excavating for the brand new building,” Scott Kyrola with Ulland Brothers said. “And then, as long as mother nature allows, we’ll keep on going as long as we can this year on the project.”

Old Highway 61 Sign – Photo by Tim Cochrane

As Grand Portage looks toward the future, Tribal Councilor Agatha Armstrong hopes once the project is complete, it will bring more people to Grand Portage and “show them the beauty of what we have here.”

The Grand Portage Band and numerous attendees at the ceremony acknowledged the importance of the project and the substantial investments in time, effort, and funds devoted to enhancing and reimagining the gateway to Isle Royale.

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins attended the Nov. 15 groundbreaking ceremony at Hat Point. Audio and video from the ceremony is below. Photos and video by Matthew Baxley. With thanks to the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation and the Blandin Foundation.