LAKE COUNTY — The commissioners room at the courthouse was filled with residents who came to chat with State Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, during a coffee hour he hosted last Friday.

“I appreciate everyone coming out on a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon. I am your state senator for the 35th district,” he said.

VanderWall opened the discussion with assuring everyone he is pushing for no-fault auto insurance reform.

“We have the highest auto insurance rates in the country, and that is a concern,” he said. “We are working to make sure there is good, positive no-fault reform for everyone, so people get the protection they need.”

Paul Bigford and Paul Bos, of the Pere Marquette Watershed Council, informed VanderWall of the threat posed with the eroding bank along the railroad tracks on the PM River, saying if a train topples into the river, it would adversely effect the local economy.

“This embankment is sluffing off into the river, and the railroad isn’t sharing our concern,” Bigford said.

VanderWall said he will make contact with the Railroad Association in Lansing.

“I have a pretty good relationship with the Michigan Railroads Association. I will keep you in the loop. There has to be some responsibility on their part, and the Department of Environmental Quality,” VanderWall replied.

VanderWall also discussed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed gas tax increase to raise money for infrastructure.

“This gas tax would make us the highest taxed out of 50 states. This is a concern because businesses will start to move to other areas — all when we were starting to rebound,” he said. “I, Curt VanderWall, will not be voting in favor of this bill. I want to keep your hard earned money in your pocket. We need to spend more wisely.”

Commissioner Christine Balulis said a raise in gas taxes would hurt resort areas, especially areas north of Grand Rapids.

Webber Township Supervisor Ernie Wogatzke asked if revenue from medical marijuana could be used for improving infrastructure.

“Webber passed medical marijuana licensing, and fees can only be used for enforcement and legalities. We can’t use fees for infrastructural,” he said. “We have road projects we want to take on.”

VanderWall said this could perhaps change with medical marijuana, but not recreational marijuana.

Commissioner Betty Dermyer asked VanderWall if he knew how progress was going toward reopening the North Lake Correctional Facility.

“GEO is in negotiations, but nothing has been signed yet,” he said. “I am hesitant to say anything because I don’t want to get hopes up.”

Dermyer also said FiveCAP has faced cuts this year, and more funding is needed to help people heat their homes.

Webber Township Trustee Dan Cousar asked how Lake County can do better.

“It’s what we can do to help you make Lake County better,” VanderWall said, adding he has a heart for the county because his parents had a place here when he was young. “There are hurdles, such as much of US-10 being single-lane. You have to drive 30 to 40 miles to Chase to get to a double-lane. There is no agriculture base here, but there are great opportunities with timber. There also is a housing shortage, but there is county-wide busing.”

Other topics discussed were health insurance, steep higher education costs and opportunity zones.

VanderWall also was scheduled for stops in Cadillac, McBain and Reed City. According to his Facebook page, he was unable to be in Reed City or Cadillac, so his district director Jamie Callahan filled in for him.