Sunday, September 18, 2011

Updated: Marquette Road Commission to answer public comments on CR 595 at Sept. 19 meeting

By Michele Bourdieu

MARQUETTE -- At their Board Meeting tomorrow, Monday, Sept. 19, the Marquette County Road Commission will be answering written comments submitted to them during and after the Open Houses they held on the proposed County Road 595 Aug. 30 and 31.

Marquette County Road Engineer Jim Iwanicki speaks to citizens attending the County Road Commission Open House on CR 595 on Aug. 30, 2011, at Lakeview Arena in Marquette. Seated at right is Charles Wolverton, an environmental consultant for Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co., who spoke about avoiding environmental impacts in building this road. On the table is a recent, lengthy document with information on analysis and project assessment for the road, to which Wolverton contributed his expertise. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Ishpeming Township Hall, 1575 US 41 West. While written comments on CR 595 were due on Sept. 6, 2011, the Commission will again take public comments and will vote on the pursuance of CR 595, Rio Tinto-Kennecott's haul road from the Eagle Mine site to Humboldt, a brownfield site to be used for processing the ore for copper and nickel.

"Anything that we get in writing we will answer at our Sept. 19th, 2011, Board Meeting," said Jim Iwanicki, Marquette County road engineer, at the Aug. 30 Open House in Marquette.

Iwanicki read aloud the purpose of road as stated in a recent document with information on analysis and project assessment for the road: "The Road Commission purpose for County Road 595 is to construct a primary north-south road that (1) connects and improves emergency access and recreational access to a somewhat isolated but key industrial, commercial and recreational area in northwest Marquette County to U.S. 41 and (2) reduces truck travel from this area to the county's populations."

Iwanicki gave the length of the road as approximately 22.7 miles, noting 22.5 miles of that, or 99% of the 2.7 miles, are within 500 ft. of an existing road, two-track or trail. The road, if built, would provide an alternative to hauling the ore from the Eagle Mine site on existing roads, including CR 550 in Marquette, to Humboldt -- a distance of about 60 miles.

This map of the proposed CR 595 (vertical red line ending at Humboldt) was among the documents displayed at the Road Commission's Open House. Click on map for larger version.

"One of the factors in deciding where to place CR 595 is the fact that the new road is not being built and developed in a pristine wilderness. It's being built in a commercial forest area that has lots of roads and trails that crisscross the land. The timber in this area has also been harvested over the years," Iwanicki said.

As of now 23.35 acres of wetland would be impacted by the proposed road alignment, so 43.9 acres of wetland are proposed as mitigation, he explained. The plans include 23 river and stream crossings regulated by Part 301. Only six of these are new -- clear-span bridges -- while 17 existing ones will be improved and upgraded with concrete box culverts. One of the stream mitigation projects will be a clear-span bridge across the East Branch Salmon Trout River where it crosses the Triple A Road.

Iwanicki noted a realignment of the Triple A Road is proposed for this location so that the road is not right next to the existing stream.

Ideally, Iwanicki said, the Road Commission would like to have a 40 ft.-wide road (two 12-ft. lanes with an 8-ft. shoulder on each side) designed for 55 mph for the entire length of the road. However, because of environmental impacts, the Commission has decided on 32-ft wide road -- two 12-ft. lanes with a 4-ft. shoulder on each side. Some places would have a 35 mph design speed (on curves and up and down hills) to reduce environmental impacts.

This diagram, displayed at the Road Commission's Aug. 30 Open House, shows the proposed width of the road. One foot of the shoulder on each side would be paved and the remaining three feet of shoulder would be aggregate. Click on photo for larger version.

"Socially (this road) will improve the health, safety and welfare of the motoring public and also improves the health, safety and welfare of others that interact with or live adjacent to both the existing roadways and the proposed roadway," Iwanicki said. "CR 595 will also economically help three of our key local industries -- logging, mining and tourism."

He noted the proposed road has the support of all local governments including the county board and of several state and federal agencies -- MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation), Michigan State Police and the Federal Highway Administration.

[Editor's Update: Keweenaw Now reader Jeffery Loman, a Keweeenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) member, who works in Alaska as deputy director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, sent this comment on Sept. 18, 2011, on the above statement by Mr. Iwanicki: "If the Federal Highway Administration supports this road when did they prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or an Environmental Assessment (EA) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and sign a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)? Are Federal funds being used for this project? If they are the Federal agency that's providing these funds is taking a Major Federal Action and must comply with NEPA."]

"We have already determined at the Road Commission that this road is needed," Iwanicki stated.

Iwanicki said this road is similar to the previously proposed Woodland Road except about four miles of the road that have been adjusted.

Charles Wolverton, an environmental consultant from the Traverse City area, who is working for Kennecott, pointed out some of the differences between the Woodland Road and CR 595 -- mostly efforts to reduce environmental impacts.

George Lindquist, who works with Michigan Conservation Clubs, said natural stream crossings are important for wildlife. He asked whether the new road design would accommodate the wildlife in this wilderness area.

Wolverton replied that the new, large box culverts intended for CR 595 would have natural stream bed material put inside -- very different from what was done previously.

Wolverton also pointed out on the map about four miles that differ from the Woodland Road.*

"It's generally the same (as the Woodland Road), but there's been a lot of changes in the design to minimize impacts and there's been areas of reroute like this that really got rid of a new stream crossing and allow us to rebuild an existing one that's in dire need of being rebuilt," Wolverton explained.

During the Aug. 30 Road Commission Open House, Charles Wolverton, environmental consultant for Kennecott, points out some differences between the proposed CR 595 and the previously proposed Woodland Road -- mainly in four miles of the proposed 22.7-mile CR 595, north of U.S. 41.

Iwanicki said the Road Commission was working on a document showing the differences in the designs of the two roads, but it was not ready at the time of the Open House.

Rosa Musket, a member of WAVE (Water Action Vital Earth), asked about the cost of winter maintenance for this road.

Iwanicki gave a rough comparison with Ewing Township, where 20-some miles of local road cost $50,000 for winter maintenance. He said at this time no one has stepped up to pay for that. The Road Commission is funded by the State of Michigan transportation budget (from a percentage of fuel purchases and the cost of license plates -- not taxes), he explained. It receives about $2000 a mile for a primary road in a rural area.

"Does the Road Commission always do stuff in its best interest? Absolutely, positively no," Iwanicki said. "We do things that make sense from a community level."

In other words, he added, the local government support gives the Commission some of its marching orders.

To a question on whether Kennecott is helping fund this, Iwanicki said the Road Commission has no commitment -- no signed document or contract -- saying Kennecott is going to fund CR 595.

"We have a letter that says they're interested in talking about funding," he noted. "They have helped us with the engineering. They have helped pay for the documents here. We have a commitment from them to help us with the permitting process (under certain conditions)."**

Lindquist pointed out this area has the highest snowfall in northern Michigan.

"I just can't see how the county can take this on without full funding for everything, essentially -- whether they direct you to or not," Lindquist said.

Gail Griffith of Save the Wild UP asked how much this project has cost the Road Commission so far.

Iwanicki replied that $15,000 was spent for an environmental consultant for quality control -- to look at what Kennecott consultants produced and make necessary changes. He noted staff time has been minimal with the exception of his own additional time, especially for meetings.

Jim Iwanicki, Marquette County road engineer, fields questions from residents at the Aug. 30 Open House on the proposed CR 595.

Some residents who live on or near CR 550 said they would prefer this new road to having Kennecott use existing Marquette roads.

"We live on 550, and right now it is non-stop (truck traffic) so we would be glad (for the 595)," said one such resident (unidentified). You don't feel safe walking down the road, but I don't think it's fair for the county to be left (after this mine is completed). What are you going to do with this beautiful big road? Are you going to maintain that plus the Triple A?"

Iwanicki replied, "If it's an all-season road that's what we are required to do. There's a process for putting it back into a seasonal road standard."

He noted that would be a possibility if there were no more development in that area; however, he added he believed future development would occur to the west.

"I think ultimately you're going to see an east-west road being developed betweeen Marquette County and Baraga County," Iwanicki said. "There is no public road connection north of US 41 to Baraga County."

Gabriel Caplett of Headwaters News made a comment referring to the difficulty Kennecott had with permitting the Woodland Road because three federal agencies questioned its environmental impacts.*

"I don't understand how you're going to convince the EPA that this isn't a Kennecott haul road (from the mine to the mill)," Caplett said.

"That is a valid point. I cannot control what EPA (or DEQ) will do," Iwanicki said. "My board has determined that it's in the public's best interest."

Mike Springer of the Marquette Township Planning Commission said his township would be greatly impacted if truck traffic from the Eagle Mine comes down 550.

As for township residents' opinions on the Eagle Mine, Springer said they were looking at both sides.

"People have concerns about the environmental impacts (of the Eagle Mine)," Springer said. "They (also) certainly look at it as helping the economy."

At the end of the Open House, Gene Champagne, a resident of Big Bay, told Keweenaw Now he believed the road should have been included in the original Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permit application for the mine.

"We shouldn't even have to be here. The DEQ did not follow the law. These permits are illegal. That's why they're being contested in court," Champagne said. "They should have addressed all this in the original permit application. The impacts of transportation were not addressed in the original permit. They only did an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) on the fenced area. The law requires that they do an EIS on all impacted areas of the mine. The Humboldt mill, this road and the electricity -- all should have been in the original permit. They piecemealed their permit to get around the law, and the DEQ let them get away with it."

Champagne has acted as a spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Big Bay in a lawsuit contesting Kennecott's electrical permit. Kennecott lawyers and Michigan's Assistant Attorney General accused him of practicing law illegally, he said.

"I wasn't claiming to be a lawyer. I was just conveying the group consensus," Champagne explained. "The Kennecott lawyers and the Assistant Attorney General were afraid of me kicking their ass in court."

Champagne noted the Concerned Citizens of Big Bay want Kennecott to do the electric permits over with a full EIS and everything else the law prescribes.

"They didn't ask for the permits until the wires were a stone's throw from their gate," Champagne said. "There's never been electricity on the Yellow Dog Plains. They (Kennecott) paid for the whole thing and then asked for a permit afterwards."***

Champagne said he objected to the way Kennecott has divided the community with their Eagle project.

Barbara Bradley of Skandia, who also attended the Open House, sent this comment to Keweenaw Now: "I think twenty, thirty years from now, if this road goes through -- along with the Eagle Project -- many of our county leaders will regret what they have left for their grandchildren and the U.P."

Editor's Notes:

* Kennecott's proposal for the Woodland Road was rejected by the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. Click here to read Catherine Parker's article in Headwaters News, including the objections of these three agencies.

** Click here to read the March 31, 2011, press statement from Rio Tinto-Kennecott concerning their agreement with the Marquette Road Commission.

*** Click here to read Gene Champagne's article on Kennecott's electric permit.

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