Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is new road for Kennecott truly "public"?

Editor's Note: Catherine Parker of Marquette read the following statement during the public comment period of the Marquette County Road Commission meeting on Oct. 18, 2010, in Ishpeming. After receiving this and other public comments at this meeting, the majority of which were in opposition to a new "public" road (to replace Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company's formerly proposed Woodland Road, to which federal agencies objected because of potential impacts on wetlands and streams) the Commission approved Road Commission Engineer-Manager James Iwanicki's recommendation to pursue construction of a "public" road intended for hauling ore from the Kennecott Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill for processing.

By Catherine Parker

In the US Army Corps of Engineers’ analysis of the Woodland Road application, it is pointed out that "Permit applicants may not bias permit application reviews by making substantial resource commitments in advance of permit decisions. This is one of the basic tenets of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), outlined in their regulations in Section 1506.1."*

An Agenda Supplement to the September 13, 2010 meeting of the Marquette City Commission contains the following statement:

"Recently Jim Iwanicki from the Marquette County Road Commission contacted City staff to request the City’s support of a new north-south road, located west of the previously-recommended Woodland Road."

Consequently, a letter was drafted and signed by the mayor, dated September 14, requesting that the Road Commission develop this road.

A week earlier, the Marquette County Commission discussed a request from the Marquette County Road Commission to develop a new all-season primary County Road. During the meeting, Commissioner Corkin suggested that Kennecott had already committed financial resources to the new North-South Road proposal. In his words:

"I guess I would suggest to the board that we put a request in to the road commission to make application for this Woodland Road as a public road, and which obviously would be paid for by Kennecott Minerals, but it would be a public road..."

Now back up even further, to July 6, to a letter written to Jon Cherry, of Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company, in which Mr. Iwanicki says:

"I have had several meetings with people from your company to discuss what the process is for the Road Commission to take on a road as a public road."

Has Kennecott, or any other private entity, made financial commitments in advance of a new permitting process? If so, they, and other participating parties, are once again in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.*

(Michigan) House Bill 4961, passed on May 6, 2010, contains provisions for private-public partnerships relating to creation and operation of public transportation facilities, or infrastructure. And yet it firmly states that "A public transportation facility shall be publicly owned and shall be dedicated to the public use as a public transportation facility…"

Our city, county and township officials are proposing to build a major road through the wilderness, a corridor to the isolated and unpopulated northern regions of Marquette County, for the benefit of a few private entities, primarily Kennecott. The Army Corps of Engineers’ analysis of the Woodland Road permit application points out that Kennecott is projecting 12,000-18,000 trips per year for their ore transport trucks, while logging trucks would make around 1,700 trips annually. It is difficult to imagine private citizens, tourists included, competing with those numbers. This road would not be "dedicated to the public use."

The public does not need this road, nor can they afford it.

During the June 30, 2010 Road Funding Forum for Marquette County, we were told that our local road commission is in dire financial straits. A few figures:

61% of MCRC (Marquette County Road Commission) roads need repairs, including 188 miles of primary roads at a cost of $83 million. Plus 192 miles of local roads need repair at a cost of $77 million.

52 of MCRC 94 bridges need work! 25 are structurally deficient with a cost to replace them of $19 million. 27 are functionally obsolete and a cost to upgrade them is $21 million.

MCRC has $200 million in unmet needs and only an $11 million annual budget.

Kennecott projected that the original Woodland Road would create 12 on-going maintenance jobs. The new North-South road is to be maintained by the County, which has seen a decline in full-time employees from a high of 106 in 2001 to a current figure of only 49. We do not have the personnel necessary to take care of an additional road.

Why not use our meager resources to repair and maintain the roads we already have?

Again, the public does not need this road.

* Click here to see NEPA Regulation 1506.

No comments: