Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Concerned citizens question erosion from AAA road, need for new county road

By Michele Bourdieu

ISHPEMING -- A group of citizens have expressed concern about erosion along the AAA Road and increased sedimentation in the Salmon Trout River from this road that leads to the Rio Tinto-Kennecott Eagle Project mine site. After their public comments at the Sept. 20 meeting of the Marquette County Road Commission in Ishpeming were received, some minor improvements for erosion control appeared along the road, but their request for a public hearing on the AAA was not granted.

Marquette County Road Commissioners receive public comments at their Sept. 20 meeting in Ishpeming. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

On the other hand, the Road Commission has scheduled a special meeting / public hearing on a proposed new north-south county road to replace the former Woodland Road that had been requested by Kennecott Eagle Minerals.*

Citizens express concerns about erosion, stream sedimentation from AAA road work

At the Sept. 20 Road Commission meeting, Catherine Parker of Marquette read a letter she had sent on Sept. 18 to DNRE (Department of Natural Resources and Environment) officials, along with photos illustrating the problem.

During the public comment period at the Sept. 20 Marquette County Road Commission meeting, Catherine Parker of Marquette reads her letter to DNRE (Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment) officials concerning erosion problems on the AAA Road leading to Rio Tinto-Kennecott's Eagle Project sulfide mine. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Her letter includes the following statement:

"The photos ... were taken on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010, along the Triple A Road in Marquette County. This road, which is currently being used by Kennecott for access to their Eagle Mine Project, crosses the Salmon Trout River several times along that stretch.

One of Catherine Parker's photos illustrating erosion problems along the AAA Road on the way to the Eagle Mine site. Note ineffectual straw bales. (Photo courtesy Catherine Parker)

"During the past few months, clearing along the easements has resulted not only in a loss of canopy, but also a severe erosion problem, particularly where trees have been cut along the stream banks. There is no silt fencing protecting the stream banks. If this is allowed to continue, run-off will choke feeders, and ultimately wetlands, with sand.

"The County has given Kennecott and its contractors permission to do whatever is 'necessary' to 'maintain' the road. This is the result."

Parker also spoke about her letter to the Road Commission concerning the distance from the center line where contractors had cleared, suggesting they were changing the center line of the road.

Cynthia Pryor of Big Bay asked about the contractor Van Damme (working for Kennecott on road maintenance) and whether the work plan, including tree removal along the east branch of the Salmon Trout River was approved by Jim Iwanicki, Road Commission engineer-manager.

Cynthia Pryor, standing, of Big Bay addresses the Marquette County Road Commission during the public comment period of their Sept. 20 meeting in Ishpeming. Also pictured, from left, are Catherine Parker, Teresa Bertossi and Barbara Bradley. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

She noted straw bales along the east branch of the Salmon Trout River and the huge amount of sedimentation now going into that stream.

"I have never seen the Marquette County Road Commission treat a stream in that fashion," Pryor said. "If Van Damme as Kennecott's agent and your agent is doing such, I think there needs to be a conversation about work plans, there needs to be a conversation about public knowledge of these changes to our roadways."

Pryor said she protests this as a citizen who lives in that area and who has to withstand being stopped along the roadway by unauthorized personnel.

"I think you have given away your duty to the citizens of Marquette County and the citizens who live in that area," she said.

Pryor also asked for a public hearing on the removal of the tree canopy along that road. She said Best Management Practices for logging were not being respected in the amount of tree removal near the roadway and the streams.

Teresa Bertossi of Marquette also asked if there would be a public meeting on recent improvements to the Triple A -- widening it in places and removing trees.

Photo showing tree removal near the AAA Road. (Photo © and courtesy David Allen)

David Allen of Marquette, Conservation chair of the Central U.P. Sierra Club group, told the Commission the Sierra Club has been monitoring streams and rating their quality in the area of the east branch of the Salmon Trout River. He said he would expect the east branch, which comes out of a beaver pond, to clean up quickly, which to a large extent did occur according to his measurements. However, he also noted as a subjective observation an increase in sediment.

David Allen, standing, of Marquette, Conservation chair of the Central U.P. Sierra Club group, addresses the Marquette County Road Commission during public comments at their Sept. 20 meeting. Allen also gave the commissioners a CD with photos to illustrate his points. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"There is considerably more sand sediment in the stream than has existed in the prior seven years since we've been doing (the monitoring)," Allen said.

Photo showing brown water from sedimentation in a stream near the AAA Road. (Photo © and courtesy David Allen)

He also noted a beaver pond, just upstream from where they sampled, that was significantly more turbulent than normal; and its water was brown.

"That brown water came from someplace. It came from the Triple A," Allen noted.

Photo showing greater than normal sedimentation in a pond upstream from the site of the Sierra Club's stream monitoring. (Photo © and courtesy David Allen)

Allen provided the commissioners with a CD of photos to support his opinion that the contractor on the Triple A was using straw bales as a "palliative" measure to control sedimentation.

"It is a disgrace, what's going on," Allen said. "I don't know where the blame lies, but I do know that ultimately the Road Commission should be seeing to it that adequate anti-sedimentation efforts are in place."

Allen suggested that the Triple A road improvements be halted until adequate measures are in place.

Also during the public comments at the Sept. 20 meeting, Arnold Sirtola, Ewing Township supervisor, told the Commission he was concerned about what is in dust control solutions and whether it could be putting pollutants into the streams and rivers.

Pryor asked for a meeting with the Road Commission's Engineer-Manager, Jim Iwanicki, in order to discuss various citizen concerns, including stream soil and sedimentation issues and wetland impacts along the AAA and the Northwest roads, the Work Plan for the AAA and 510 roads, public hearing requirements, a request for a traffic volume and speed study on 550, 510 and AAA, a request for dust monitoring equipment, and permits (for non Road Commission personnel) for stopping traffic.

Iwanicki meets with citizens, DNRE on AAA Road concerns

On Monday, Sept. 27, Iwanicki did meet with a group of citizens, Mitch Koetje of the DNRE (Department of Natural Resources and Environment) and Michael Harrington of the Road Commission.

Teresa Bertossi, who attended the Sept. 27 meeting, reported Iwanicki described the work on the AAA first as "maintenance" and later as "maintenance improvements." Iwanicki also said the Road Commission gave permission to "widen" the entrance to the AAA. On the other hand, Bertossi added, Iwanicki denied the work consisted of "widening" the road, since that would require adding a new lane. Hence, Iwanicki held the view that the "improvements" on the AAA Road do not require a public hearing.

According to the 1909 Public Roads Act, "Before the board approves a project for the construction of a new road or improvement of an existing road not part of the federal-aid systems, as defined in section 103 of Public Law 85-767, 23 U.S.C. 103, which improvement consists of widening or straightening the line of a road the board of county road commissioners shall conduct a public hearing..."

Bertossi also reported DNRE official Koetje, at the meeting with Iwanicki, said the DNRE had been on site, but had no stumping, no additional soil erosion concerns. He said he had seen photos by Ms. Parker, had seen the straw bails in place, but said it is likely the current erosion/sedimentation will not result in a violation.

"He (Koetje) also said he noticed the road stream crossings were in rough shape, but that there are many roads with stream crossing problems," Bertossi added.

According to Bertossi, Iwaniki also stressed that sedimentation concerns on the AAA were low on his list of priorities, but that they would try to address the public's concerns within a week.

Some silt fencing has been added in front of straw bales, as seen in this Sept. 28 photo; however, concerned citizens are still not satisfied that the work along the AAA Road conforms to Best Management Practices or protects stream crossings adequately. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Citizens question proposed new county road to replace Woodland Road; public hearing on new road to be Oct. 7

The subject of the proposed new all-season county road to run north-south for vehicle access to the north central portion of Marquette County was also mentioned at the Sept. 20 meeting of the Marquette County Road Commission. The commissioners agreed to schedule a public hearing on that road.

The hearing is actually to be held at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Ishpeming Township Hall, 1575 U.S. 41 West, Ishpeming, MI.*

During the public comments at the Sept. 20 meeting Teresa Bertossi of Marquette first pointed out to the Road Commission how roads such as the AAA (as it is now) impact uplands, wetlands, streams, aquatic life, flora and fauna.

Teresa Bertossi of Marquette (second row, in red) expresses concerns about road impacts to the environment during the public comment period of the Sept. 20 Marquette County Road Commission meeting in Ishpeming. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"Sadly most public agencies disregard these environmental impacts of these roads and attempt to justify timber and mineral extraction roads as benefiting us," Bertossi said.

Bertossi then referred to a recent transportation meeting where it was discussed that Michigan did not have the funds to keep up the current road system. Bertossi noted she asked at that meeting why the proposed Woodland Road (a multi-purpose road which would have extended from U.S. 41 at County Road FY in Humboldt Township north to AAA Road to serve travelers as well as timber and mining activities and which was held up by Environmental Protection Agency concerns) would be changed from a private to a public road where citizens would have to pay for the maintenance of it beyond the mine and the closing of the mine.

Bertossi mentioned Mr. Iwanicki, Road Commission engineer-manager, had recently asked both the City and the County for support of the Woodland Road as a public road.*

In fact, a Sept. 14 letter to Iwanicki from Marquette Mayor John P. Kivela describes a proposed new road to replace the Woodland Road as follows:

"The City of Marquette is requesting that the Marquette County Road Commission develop a new, all-season primary county road to run north-south, beginning at the intersection of US-41/County Road FY northerly to County Road IAA."

The letter includes a map showing such a road as passing through a corridor that includes sections of Humboldt, Champion and Michigamme townships.

The letter continues, "The purpose of the new, all-season county primary road is to provide enhanced vehicle access to the adjoining lands in the north central portion of Marquette County. This new road would provide additional recreational and economic development opportunities in this undeveloped area in Marquette County.

"The proposed road would provide a direct benefit to the timber, mining and gravel industries in the area and would encourage economic development and expansion by providing an adequate transportation corridor, thereby benefitting [sic] the townships along the route with additional tax revenue opportunities."**

The Mayor's letter also claimed the new road would increase public safety by providing and alternate access route to the north central portion of Marquette County and reducing traffic in more heavily traveled corridors.

However, Bertossi questioned whether this new public road would be safe.

"If it's the Road Commission's duty to protect the safety of the public on public roads, how is making the Woodland Road a public road rather than a private road making it any safer?" Bertossi asked. "If it's too dangerous to run trucks through Marquette and currently traveling on the Triple A is rather dangerous," she added, "how is it any safer to make a road a public road?"

Cynthia Pryor, in a recent email message, commented on the county's proposed new road and the scheduled public hearing.

"The background conversation is about this new road being paid for by a developer -- Kennecott Minerals -- and that they would pay for everything including the permitting processes," Pryor writes. "The county would ostensibly be selecting the new roadway, going for all the permits under county name and ownership, determining costs, imposing county standards, working with all landowners along the new routes -- easements or condemnation -- as the case warrants, and accepting maintenance of the roadway after its completion."

Pryor also questions the need for and the safety of such a new road.

"The subject of the hearing is to take public comment relative to the need for a NEW public county road from U.S. 41 north to the AAA road. We understand that the county is not presenting any alternatives -- but rather just wants to query the public about the NEED for a new county road," Pryor notes (emphasis hers). "There will not be a safe route for the public whether on an old road or a NEW road -- but have them haul their ore on existing roads and not create a new road through our last remaining wild places for a short-term mining operation on the Yellow Dog Plains."

*Editor's Note: See our Oct. 4 announcement of the Oct. 7 special meeting / public hearing in Ishpeming.

** According to Save the Wild UP, the purpose of this new road is to allow hauling ore to the old Humboldt Mill. For an April 22 Mining Journal article by John Pepin on opposition to the former Woodland Road, click here.

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