Monday, January 24, 2011

Updated: Headwaters: Elected officials ask Commission to consider rail option for Rio Tinto hauling plan

By Gabriel Caplett

Posted in Headwaters News Jan. 24, 2011

MARQUETTE -- Marquette County road commissioners were told tonight that Rio Tinto’s currently-approved and original ore hauling plan does not involve heavy truck traffic through Marquette, but instead delivery to the LS and I rail line, northwest of Marquette, that avoids heavy truck traffic through the streets of Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming.

"I don’t understand why the road and some of the transportation issues that are being raised now were not raised when Kennecott first put in their mine transportation application initially, and which was approved," said County Commissioner Mike Quayle.

"If I understand the original application -- the permit granted -- the product is to be trucked to just north of Marquette utilizing county roads Triple A, 510 and 550. It was then to be transferred to railcar and hauled to Sudbury, Canada, for processing. If there has been an amendment to the permit to haul the ore through the city of Marquette, Marquette Township, onto US-41/M-28, west to the Humboldt plant I’m not aware of it."

Quayle said the Triple A, 510, 550 route through Marquette that Rio Tinto is now proposing "is the worst stretch of the hauling route now being discussed" and places the public at risk, suggesting the company should stick with original plans to use rail transportation in some form.

"I feel government officials and residents who stepped forward with recent safety concerns of the current route proposed by Kennecott should encourage Kennecott and regulators to use rail for their transportation needs from the mine site, in Big Bay, to Humboldt for processing," said Quayle. "Rail transportation, in my opinion, should be the first consideration to avoid safety issues now coming to the foreground and will help save the current road systems which we all know this type of hauling is very hard on."

Quayle added, "Utilizing rail, versus trucking, seems to be the best solution to all the road problems facing not only Kennecott, but also the taxpayers, citizens, and travelers of Marquette County."

County Commissioner Bill Nordeen agreed. "What happened to that [original] plan?" Nordeen questioned. "We can strongly suggest and, as you said numerous times here, that [Rio Tinto] needs to get political . . . buy-in . . . to be able to do these things."

County Road Engineer Jim Iwanicki acknowledged that the rail option has "not been discussed at all" in his meetings with Rio Tinto but that the county has limited options in regulating Rio Tinto’s hauling route.

County Commissioner Deb Pellow said, "For the safety of the traveling public it is the concern of the majority of the county board that we continue the 595 option because it comes straight south and gets those trucks off of those other roads that aren’t up to snuff to handle that kind of traffic."

Big Bay resident Gene Champagne used a football analogy to explain his position on the road.

"My opinion is the County Road Commission shouldn’t be in the business of running interference for Kennecott," said Champagne. "No matter how you dress this up, 595 is a haul road for Kennecott."

“We wouldn’t be here if they would have wrote an actual, solid, bona fide permit with the requirements of the law," said Champagne. "The transportation section of the permit’s about a half-a-page long -- you could write it almost on a matchbook cover."

Iwanicki told road commissioners that he had received a letter from Rio Tinto saying "they were no longer interested in County Road 595," yet Rio Tinto officials called him the following day and discussed possible plans that involved the Road Commission moving forward on County Road 595, regardless of the company’s involvement, and that the company would need to get local political support if it chose to pursue its current plan of driving through the city of Marquette.

"I told them that there was some political buy-in that they needed to get with Marquette Township, the city of Marquette, and the County Board, especially, as well as the other townships before the Road Commission started working on County Road AAA, 510, or the 550 route and did point out to them that any agreements dealing with these roads will be written in the Road Commission’s favor," said Iwanicki. "The standard would be 55 miles an hour, 40-foot width, and all contracts will let through the Road Commission."

Iwanicki said Rio Tinto’s Rick Thomas noted he doesn’t want the county to have control over ore trucking on public roads and disagreed with the Road Commission’s position that road improvements would have to follow county guidelines.

Headwaters’ contributor Catherine Parker reminded the Road Commission that it did have authority under Michigan’s new "Part 632" mining law to regulate ore hauling traffic. Parker read a passage in the law that included the following:

"A local unit of government may enact, maintain, and enforce ordinances, regulations, or resolutions affecting mining operations if the ordinances, regulations, or resolutions do not duplicate, contradict, or conflict with this part. In addition, a local unit of government may enact, maintain, and enforce ordinances, regulations, or resolutions regulating the hours at which mining operations may take place and routes used by vehicles in connection with mining operations. However, such ordinances, regulations, or resolutions shall be reasonable in accommodating customary nonferrous metallic mineral mining operations."

A meeting between the Road Commission and elected officials has been planned for Thursday, Jan. 27, at 2 p.m. Iwanicki expects that a draft letter to be sent to Rick Thomas will result from the meeting.

Editor's Notes: Visit Headwaters News for related articles and photos.

Update: In our Jan. 24, 2011, posting, the article inadvertently identified Jim Iwanicki as a road commissioner. The correction has been made: His title is County Road Engineer.

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