By Michele Bourdieu
ISHPEMING -- The Ishpeming Township Hall was nearly standing room only on Oct. 7 as Marquette County Road Commissioners heard public comments both for and against a proposed new all-season county road to run north-south in a 4-mile-wide corridor for vehicle access to the north central portion of Marquette County, thus serving as a haul road for Rio Tinto-Kennecott's Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains.
About 200 people packed the Ishpeming Township Hall on Oct. 7, 2010, for a public hearing on a proposed new road to connect the Kennecott Eagle mine site on the AAA Road to US 41 near Humboldt. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
Proponents of the road argued it would truly be a public road, would offer recreational opportunities and would be a source of much needed jobs. Opponents of the road recalled objections by federal regulating agencies that prevented the first Woodland Road, proposed last spring, from being approved by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) as a private road for Kennecott, especially because of the impacts it would have on wetlands and streams. Opponents also noted the alternative of rail transport for Rio-Tinto Kennecott's ore.
Deborah Pellow, Marquette County commissioner, read a letter from the County Board of Commissioners in support of the new road beginning at the intersection of US-41/County Road FY northerly to County Road IAA. She noted public benefits from this road would include access to recreational land. Businesses and industry would benefit from the road, she said, and Kennecott mine traffic would use this road instead of US 41, M-28 or County roads 510, 550 492, 502 and 473.*
"The Board of Commissioners understands funding for this road construction and maintenance will be from private sources," Pellow said.
A representative of the Lake Superior Community Partnership also spoke in favor of the road, noting it would benefit logging and mining and offer access to recreational and economic opportunities.
Emily Whittaker, executive director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, asked the Road Commissioners to think about the long-term cost of building another road.
"I just wondered how they will pay to upkeep another road when existing roads are not able to be properly maintained as it stands now," she said.
William Malmsten, Northern Michigan University grad and resident of Ely Twnship for 31 years, said he moved up here from Menominee County. He is now President of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC).
"The reason I came to Marquette County was because of the wild and beautiful country up here," Malmsten said. "How much can you destroy before Marquette County loses that distinction? Tourists aren't going to drive up here from the population centers of lower Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin to look at an industrial waste site."
Malmsten questioned supporting a very short-term destructive operation. He recalled a Road Commission meeting last July when county officials indicated they didn't have funding to maintain roads they have.
"I think it's kind of insulting for you to tell us there's another function when this is a mine haul road," Malmsten said. "I think it's a short-sighted plan. It produces too few jobs for too short a time at too big of a cost for the future residents of Marquette County."
Bill Carlson, Negaunee Township supervisor, said he supported the first Woodland Road last April because of negative impacts haulage along 502 and 510 would have on his township. Their six-year effort to decrease congestion on the 41-28 corridor would suffer a setback without the Woodland Road; therefore his township supports this new Woodland Road, too, he said.
However, one resident of Negaunee Township, Jeff Knoop, said the economics of this road was a mystery to him.
"It's sort of my understanding that Kennecott is going to pay for this road -- and then what happens after that?" Knoop asked. "I live in Marquette County. Will I have to pay for this road?"
Knoop also pointed out that there hasn't been a really good assessment of alternatives to this Woodland Road, for example, a railroad.
"The most efficient way to get that ore out of there is to take it by rail right to Lake Superior," Knoop said.
Cynthia Pryor of Big Bay mentioned that rail transport was included in Kennecott's original permit application for the Eagle Mine and she wondered if the Road Commissioners had communicated with Kennecott on that alternative.
"The Triple A has already been significantly impacted by the start of this mine," Pryor said.
She suggested the Road Commission consider solving safety issues by meeting with Kennecott about the possibility of having the convoy of trucks run on the AAA and County Road 550 to a railhead from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. before people drive to work rather than taking on a new public road that the County would have to maintain after Kennecott leaves.
Eeva Miller of Marquette expressed concern about the impact on tourism and the destruction of the environment.
"This is a short-sighted plan," she said. "We need to look at the long term."
Amy Conover of Marquette also spoke about the long term -- the opportunities we have in the UP to develop outdoor recreational trails, to capitalize on the unique geography.
During the Oct. 7 Marquette Road Commission hearing on the proposed new road, Amy Conover of Marquette (standing) questions the need to build a new road through a natural corridor that protects wildlife. Seated, at Conover's right, is Eeva Miller of Marquette, who also spoke in opposition to the road.
"There are very few places in the world and in our United States that have large tracts of untouched, undeveloped land," Conover said, "and people are more and more seeking those areas when they come to vacation, when they want to retire -- and that is sustainable growth, that is sustainable lifestyle ... What is a road like this going to provide to our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren? When this mine is gone will there still be a haul road there? Is it really necessary? As has already been mentioned Kennecott Rio Tinto has a plan laid out to bring their ore to a railhead and load the ores onto trains. I really believe that we should hold them to that plan of developing that railhead instead of creating a county road."
Conover noted the proposed road would cut right through a very large natural corridor that right now has moose, bear,wolves and other wildlife.
"As soon as you put in a large road you would cut that natural corridor in half," she said. "You're going to have increased wolves, bear, moose in people's backyards. You're going to have increased incidence of animal-vehicle accidents. I think it would be a travesty to put a road like this through one of these very rare remaining areas."
Conover also commented on the need for jobs, noting she was in full support of people trying to get jobs, but the road and the mine would not offer the kinds of jobs that would keep people here for generations.
"I think we need a very solid job assessment so we know exactly how many jobs would be created by producing a new road as opposed to upgrading existing roads," Conover said.
Paul Argall, a life-long resident of the area, said his interest is in economic development and jobs and he doesn't believe the road will adversely affect tourism. Argall said he has been involved in recreation, trail development and tourism but wants a balance among what he terms the three base industries here: mining, timber and tourism -- three industries that can now compete in international markets.
"I think we should be supporting those three, and I think this road is an excellent idea," Argall said. "I know it will increase substantially the recreational use of that property. We need a good north-south road for recreation as well."
George Lindquist, identifying himself as an outdoorsman, said he had no intention of trying to stop the mine and wants to see it done the best way possible, but he questions the recreational value of the road.
"People spoke about recreational value. I don't see it. I see it taking away recreational value," Lindquist said. "This is actually a highway, not a woods road."
Lindquist said he was hoping a bill in the legislature would approve a short moose season. This road, he noted, is right through the middle of moose country. If six moose get killed, hunters won't have a moose season. Lindquist said his experience in Alaska taught him that moose are not afraid of any type of vehicle and could easily walk right in the path of a train or a truck.
"You have to consider wildlife," he said. "You have to consider the impact on our water and streams."
Joe Derocha, Humboldt Township supervisor, presenting a letter of unanimous support to the Road Commission, said, "The Humboldt Township Board is in full support of this (road) for public health, safety and welfare."
John Olson of Michigamme Township said the Michigamme Township Board has also voted for this road.
"I think it's a good thing for Michigamme Twnship," Olson said.
One Michigamme resident opposed the road, however.
"I do not support the road," she said. "Kennecott originally said they were going on the Triple A, to the 510, and down the 550, through Marquette and on to the Soo, right? Didn't they? They didn't lay all their cards on the table then, and they probably aren't doing it now, either."
She said Kennecott's tactics are to get county officials to be their "fall guy" -- to do their dirty work and take the phone calls from residents who object to the road.
"You get to be the one who'd take the fall for the ultimate patchwork of roads across the region, from Big Bay to Skanee," she said. "And, most importantly, you get to be the one responsible for opening up (and ultimately destroying) one of Michigan's last remaining wilderness regions. What a great trade-off! Nope. Let them stay with the original proposal in the permit. And dump the dollars into maintaining and improving that. Furthermore, impose restrictions upon their travel. Let them use tandem trailers, travel in convoy, and at non-peak hours."
Dan Hornbogan, who lives on County Road 550, said he represented 56 families in his area who support the new Woodland Road because of traffic on the roads now being used.
Dan Hornbogan (center, reading statement) speaks in favor of the proposed new road, which, he says, "is good business for Marquette County Road Commission and for the County of Marquette."
He then gave his own reasons for his personal support of the road: "(1) The jobs created by mining and logging in this area, between Big Bay and L'Anse, will be greatly facilitated by this road for the next hundred years. (2) Because of accessibility, much land area could be developed, thus increasing tax base for state and local government. (3) ...culverts or bridges do not impact streams and wetlands ... Roads do not seem to impact wildlife ...Wildlife is all over the place ... Business is the horse that pulls the economic wagon in the United States. This road is good business for Marquette County Road Commission and for the County of Marquette."
Michelle Halley, an attorney representing the National Wildlife Federation and other petitioners who are challenging the mine, said she believed the whole discussion on this road was premature.
"I feel that it is unwise for the Commission to even be seriously considering and putting forth time, effort and taxpayers' money in considering this road at this particular point in time," Halley said. "The mine itself is still being appealed. That appeal is at least months if not years out of a final resolution. And so, as a taxpayer in Marquette County, it troubles me to see all of this time and money spent on a road that may never even need to come to fruition."
Kristi Mills, director of Save the Wild UP, agreed with Halley that it's too early to be at this point -- to be arguing over a road that is basically Rio Tinto's dream road -- a road that would save them money. If the county decides to approve any plan toward a Woodland Road, Mills said, citizens should demand that all action on 510, AAA and 550 come to a halt because what the company wants is everything.
Kristi Mills (front, center), director of Save the Wild UP, speaks against the proposed new road during the Oct. 7 Road Commission hearing. At left (dark shirt), taking notes, is Matt Johnson, Government and Community Relations manager for Rio Tinto-Kennecott.**
"Our organization is in the business of at least trying to preserve what's left of the UP -- the wild portions of the UP; and when you're talking about building a mine on one road, hauling ore on another road, that's a lot of impact," Mills said. "Are we going to allow both of those areas to be destroyed? ... Do we allow both of those projects to go forward? I would say it's one or the other or none."
Teresa Bertossi of Marquette said she understood this hearing to be about whether or not the County needs this particular new road. In her comments Bertossi addressed James Iwanicki, Marquette County Road Commission engineer-manager.***
"We don’t need this road -- Kennecott needs this road," she said. "If you are not considering anything but traffic and trucks and safety, Mr. Iwanicki, then we don’t need a new road. Traffic and trucks can travel on existing roads safely. There are other routes that would not destroy the last of our roadless areas."
Bertossi noted roadless forests and wetlands are safe havens for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife, while road building fragments wildlife habitat. Roadless areas also preserve vast expanses of land, which include watersheds that supply drinking water -- unpolluted by development, Bertossi added.
"These quiet, pristine places offer refuge to people as well," she noted. "This is the true heritage of the Upper Peninsula -- not making it busier. Roadless areas are a world apart from the bustling, settled landscapes of our daily lives; and they harbor some of the best fishing, hunting, hiking and camping in the nation."
Bertossi pointed out that if safety were the number one concern, this would be a private road, not a public road. She said the County and Road Commission should provide a better public transportation system, take better care of the roads they have and encourage people to drive less.
"Use the money you say Kennecott is willing to spend to put people to work improving existing roads, not build a new one through the heart of one of our last wild places," Bertossi said.
Ken (last name inaudible), a Humboldt Township resident, said, "We would welcome the Woodland Road for the economic benefit and recreation it would create for Humboldt Township."
Faye Mattila, supervisor of Republic Township, also expressed her township board's support of the road.
Cynthia Lynne of Negaunee addressed the jobs, safety and economic issues by pointing out that once the road is built there won't be those construction jobs; and, she added, safety on a road built for mining trucks is questionable. She noted also that as a taxpayer she did not want to pay for a road for Rio Tinto.
Gabriel Caplett of Skandia said he was offended by the way county officials have been "open for business" in accommodating Rio Tinto's "needs" for their mine -- lobbying for them, securing road permits for them, etc.
A Marquette resident who identified himself as a bricklayer (name inaudible) said, "We need more jobs in the UP. It sounds to me like every township in the area is in favor of this," he said. "The UP bricklayers ... are in total support of this road."
Barbara Bradley of Skandia noted Kennecott's original application indicated the ore would be transported down the AAA to the 510 and 550, then shipped by rail. She said if safety of citizens is the County's number one concern, then these trucks should run only in the early hours of the morning. She noted since Kennecott touts safety, then their $50 million could be used to strengthen existing roads and make them safer.
Barbara Bradley of Skandia reads her statement questioning the Marquette County Road Commission's proposed new public road.
"Why should we, the citizens of Marquette County, bear the burdens of this company?" Bradley asked. "If Kennecott hadn't come to the UP, we wouldn't be so worried about our roads being more dangerous, would we?"
Bradley also pointed out the serious objections to the first Woodland Road by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission. The dangers to wildlife species are indications of what the future holds for humans, she noted.
"The overwhelming destruction this new road would cause would be a festering stab wound to the heart of the UP, with no hope of recovery," Bradley said. "Do you want this to be your legacy? Do you really want this to be what your grandchildren will remember you by -- because we are making history."
Tom Polkinghorn of Champion said he is opposed to the road because he doesn't believe it's needed and, because of the trucks, it's not going to be public.
"You're looking at the same general corridor as before for the same purpose -- primarily a haul road for Kennecott -- the same funding source, Kennecott," Polkinghorn said. "The only difference is now you call it a public road."
As for enhancing recreational opportunities, Polkinghorn said his idea of recreation is being in the wilderness where it's quiet and roadless.
"Explain to me how cutting a corridor right through that quiet wilderness enhances recreation," Polkinghorn said.
As a fisherman, he said he realizes much of the experience of fishing is the effort to get there, to find the wild places where fish hide.
"Explain to me how clearing 150 feet of every stream and creek between 41 and Triple A is going to enhance that experience," he said. "Are you aware or do you even care that standard culverts are actually an impediment to fish movement? At least work with the people that know when it comes to crossing these creeks. The mine is temporary and the pollution risks there are real, but the habitat destruction and fragmentation to build the road to it and the road itself with all the dust and noise are certain and permanent destruction to the very recreational opportunities you claim to want to enhance."
Polkinghorn said he believed improving existing roads should be sufficient to facilitate Kennecott's objectives with a lot less destruction of the wilderness.
Bill Hennigan of Holli Forest Products, whose company has been logging on the AAA, complained it took an hour and a half to go from his office to the logging site, while if this road existed it would take only 45 minutes.
"This area is not wilderness -- wild, maybe, wilderness no," he said. "It's been logged and worked for decades and decades so it's not a wilderness."
Mentioning several Upper Peninsula forest product companies, Hennigan noted they are huge employers who provide many high-paying jobs, but some of the mills are "on life support" because of competition in a global economy. Emerging biomass markets would help the forest product industry, and the sawmills would benefit from this road.
Noting he drives long distances to a job in order to live and support his family in the Upper Peninsula, a UP resident (name inaudible, in red scarf) argues in favor of the new road for needed jobs in the area.
Al Sullivan, a boilermaker, said if the road helps one guy get a job it's worth it. He thinks the road will promote tourism and not hurt the environment. He likes to ride his motorcycle on these roads.
"You could promote this road as a scenic road, a scenic highway, all the way to Big Bay," he said. "It's a win-win."
Martha Bush of Big Bay rents cabins to tourists whose children won't sleep in the front room of the front cabin because of truck noise, she said. She still opposes this proposed road.
Martha Bush of Big Bay expresses opposition to the proposed new road, noting the fugitive sulfide dust and noise from trucks that now go past her tourist cabins.
"What kind of trucks are going to be carrying the ore out of this ore body? Are they covered trucks?" she asked.
Unless the trucks are enclosed, fugitive dust from the sulfide ore will be everywhere, Bush said. She said she wants the Road Commission to demand that the trucks go through Marquette so people can see these trucks and report the fugitive dust.
Victoria Jungwirth of north Champion Township said her property is valuable because it's remote.
"Tourism and mining don't go together," she said. "Please consider those of us who live there when you make a decision."
In comparing this road to the first proposed Woodland Road, Catherine Parker of Marquette called this proposed road "another attempt by Rio Tinto to run a haul road through relatively undisturbed wilderness."
Noting a Marquette City Commissioner's criticism of staff in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their opposition to granting permits for the first Woodland Road because of environmental concerns, Parker quoted some of those concerns in these comments:
"The Army Corps of Engineers: 'Objections by the public to upgrading public roads to accommodate ore truck traffic may be considered, but do not in themselves result in the removal of an alternative from consideration…The argument that it is beneficial to locate truck traffic so as to bypass major transportation corridors lacks support.'
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: 'We are concerned that development of the proposed road would not only directly impact wetlands, but indirectly impact the remaining wetlands along the corridor by significantly altering wetland hydrology and causing habitat fragmentation. Alteration of hydrology and fragmentation could result in permanent habitat degradation of remaining on-site wetlands.'
"The EPA: 'The project, as proposed, would result in significant degradation of the aquatic ecosystem by directly impacting 23 streams and 27.1 wetland acres, which include rare wetland types and high quality habitat.'"
Parker also noted concerns of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) concerning the first Woodland Road, from habitat fragmentation and negative impacts on wildlife to invasive species to disruption of groundwater flow and stream flow.
"Moving the proposed route slightly does not eliminate these concerns," Parker said. "It doesn’t change the fact that it’s a haul route, either. Rio Tinto is the second-largest mining company in the world, and they know how to manipulate the system and buy out communities. We should not allow them to talk us into projects that will destroy the character of our landscape and the integrity of our environment."
Parker also read a statement from Sara Culver, a resident of Lower Michigan whose heart is in the UP.
"Let us consider the word 'recreation,'" Culver writes. "Simply it is 're-creation.' Our lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, forests and all that live in them provide us with the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe ...
"The forests are our lungs, the wetlands are our kidneys, the waters are our blood; foul these and we die," Culver continues. "A thinking society does not mine and pollute and degrade the organs of life. Unhappily, for most of recorded history, human beings have shown that they would rather die than think. For the sake of our children and their children and grandchildren, I am asking you tonight to think."
Steve Garske of Marinisco, Mich., said he was surprised at the number of people who were in favor of the road as long as it wasn't in front of their place.
"We already have an alternative route. It's the route that Kennecott wanted; it's the route that Kennecott got," Garske said. "I think we ought to make them stick to it."
Steve Garske of Marinisco, Mich., addresses the Road Commission on the possibility of using railroad lines as an alternative to heavy truck traffic on the proposed new road.
Garske said he had noticed a number of east-west railroad lines near Marquette that could be moved north of Marquette, thus opening an opportunity for railroad jobs as well as construction jobs. Also, he added, on the original Woodland Road, Kennecott had said they wanted to run 50-75 round trips a day with ore trucks, which works out to 4.2-6.3 passes per hour, day and night, 365 days a year.
"I can't understand how that can be a recreation route unless the recreation is avoiding those trucks," he said. "Berry pickers aren't going to go up there. It doesn't make sense to me. I think we ought to work with what we have, which is a good environment and lots of wild land that a lot of people come up here to enjoy -- and try to find another way to make our way than to have such a destructive industry here."
Toward the end of the hearing, Cynthia Pryor of Big Bay asked the Commissioners, "How are you going to proceed going forward? Are you going to have public meetings?"
Cynthia Pryor of Big Bay, standing, asks Road commissioners for a public forum on their proposed new road. Seated in the row in front of her, at right, is Marquette County Commissioner Deborah Pellow, who presented a statement from the County Board of Commissioners supporting the proposed new road.
Pryor asked for a forum for public participation as this was a community discussion not a Kennecott discussion if the county was to take this project on.
After the hearing, Pryor said she couldn't imagine why the Commissioners would want to take on the grief of an obviously contentious (comments were 1/2 and 1/2) debate.
"Kennecott has virtually passed all their troubles of building a haul road, permitting a haul road and maintaining a haul road to the County of Marquette. The county will have to struggle through -- not Kennecott. County government at its best thinking. Money overwhelming all," she said. "The Commission will carry the onus of selecting it, designing it, engineering it, permitting it, building it and maintaining it -- but Kennecott will pay for it. Will they be paying Commission employees also? Conflict of interest or what?"
Jim Iwanicki, Road Commission engineer-manager, indicated that this will be a long process and he has not yet determined a final route and there will be many alternatives. He said this would be a Class A Primary All Season County Road that would probably look more like County Road 550 or County Road 581. It would be paved, with two lanes, a paved shoulder and ditches, he explained.
Marquette County Road Commissioners take public comments during their Oct. 7, 2010, Hearing / Special Meeting on a proposed new public road from the Rio Tinto-Kennecott Eagle Mine site on the AAA Road to the Humboldt mill near US 41. Seated at the table, third from right, is James Iwanicki, engineer-manager.
"There might need to be a passing lane or an auxiliary lane," Iwanicki added. "Without knowing design I can't say that wouldn't happen, but generally it would be a two-lane road."
Iwanicki said he would present a recommendation to the Road Commissioners at their next meeting, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18, in the Ishpeming Township Hall. The Commissioners will then decide whether or not to pursue the development of this new road.****
People who wish to offer further public comment can contact the Marquette County Road Commission via email, phone or mail:
1610 N. Second Street
Ishpeming, MI 49849
Phone: (906) 486-4491
Fax: (906) 486-4493
* In a Sept. 9, 2010, Marquette Mining Journal article, "Woodland adjustments considered," by John Pepin, Commissioner Deborah Pellow is quoted as follows concerning the proposed new road: "'It's kind of a collaboration between the road commission, the county and the townships,' said Commissioner Deborah Pellow of Ishpeming. 'It's kind of a joint effort to move forward the Woodland Road.'" Pellow was also quoted as saying the DNRE would be concerned about wetlands.
** Matt Johnson left the hearing before the end, so Keweenaw Now emailed him some questions for this article; but we have not yet received a reply. Johnson recently took reporters from Northern Michigan University's independent news source, North Wind, on a tour of the Kennecott Eagle Mine site. See "North Wind tours Kennecott mine," by Lucy Hough.
*** Bertossi was one of a group of concerned citizens who met recently with James Iwanicki, Road Commission engineer-manager, Mitch Koetje of the DNRE (Department of Natural Resources and Environment) and Michael Harrington of the Road Commission concerning impacts to the AAA Road. See our Oct. 6, 2010, article, "Concerned citizens question erosion from AAA road, need for new county road."
See also Teresa Bertossi's March 19, 2010, Headwaters News article, "Feds to State: Deny Rio Tinto’s Michigan Haul Road," concerning objections by federal agencies to the first proposed Woodland Road last spring.
**** Click here for the agenda proposed for the Oct. 18 Road Commission meeting.