By Catherine Parker*
MARQUETTE -- The first line of the Endangered Species Act says, "various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the U.S. have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation."
There has been talk amongst local officials about "opening up" western Marquette County to economic development by bisecting the wilderness with a new county road.**
Not a winding country lane, as it was falsely depicted on a certain mining company's website, but one designed with large ore trucks in mind.
The original Woodland Road would have crossed through the headwaters and wetlands of four watersheds, posing significant risk to water and wildlife. The County Road 595 corridor straddles this same route and was never more than a thinly veiled attempt by Rio Tinto to get its haul road built, most recently under the auspices of the County Road Commission.
It has been an open secret that local officials and Kennecott expected federal regulators to relax their standards when dealing with a public as opposed to a private road, but that has not been the case.
Although Rio Tinto has announced that it is no longer interested, county officials are intent on lobbying the EPA for approval of the Woodland Road/CR 595, sending off a letter in haste, asking them to "start moving on it."
Is it appropriate for our local officials to be pressuring the EPA to ignore the law? Nearly three-fourths of the original wetlands area in our state, an estimated 11 million acres, has been destroyed. It is not in the public's best interest to adopt a cavalier attitude toward what remains.
The Road Commission, under pressure from city, county and township officials, continues to press forward with plans for CR 595, despite the absence of a funding source and shrinking transportation dollars.
Sixty-one percent of Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) roads need repairs -- 380 miles, at a cost of $160 million. Under current funding, only 6 to 8 miles of road can be fixed per year.
Additionally, 52 out of 94 MCRC bridges need work; and, according to the Road Commission, it would take $40 million to repair or replace them.
As Iwanicki himself said, "Road funding is at a breaking point."***
Why, then, aren't our local officials directing their lobbying efforts towards maintaining the roads we already have, while protecting the environment and community we cherish?
*Catherine Parker is a resident of Marquette. This letter also appeared in the Marquette Mining Journal on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011. Reprinted here with permission of the author.
** See our Oct. 25, 2010, article, "Opponents of proposed 'public' mine haul road call for more public input" and the Feb. 1, 2010, update, "Marquette officials discuss Kennecott haul road options." See also the Feb. 6, 2011, Marquette Mining Journal article, "Kennecott looked at many options for ore haul route."
*** James Iwanicki is the road engineer for the Marquette County Road Commission.