Monday, February 20, 2012

Updated: DEQ to hold public hearing on CR 595 Feb. 21

By Michele Bourdieu

Marquette County Road commissioners take public comments on the proposed County Road 595 during their Sept. 19, 2011, meeting in Ishpeming. Since then the Road Commission has submitted a permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for the road's environmental impacts. The public will have another chance to comment on the road and that application during a DEQ Hearing on the application tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 21. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

ISHPEMING -- Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) Engineer Manager Jim Iwanicki says he expects a large crowd will attend the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Public Hearing tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 21, on the Road Commission's application for permitting County Road 595, a proposed 21-mile road to connect US-41 with County Road AAA.

The DEQ will host the public hearing to receive comments on the proposal beginning at 6 p.m. at the Country Village Banquet and Conference Center, 1011 North Road, in Ishpeming.

The Marquette County Road Commission’s stated purpose is to construct a new primary county road that will improve emergency, commercial, industrial, and recreational access to northwest Marquette County and reduce truck travel through Marquette County’s population centers.

The proposed road project connecting US-41 near Humboldt to County Road AAA near Kennecott’s Eagle Mine requires wetland, inland lake and stream, and floodplain permits. The DEQ has determined the Road Commission’s application is administratively complete.*

Critics of the road consider it chiefly a haul road for Rio Tinto-Kennecott's Eagle Mine and claim the stated purpose of the road is poorly defined, as stated in a Feb. 17, 2012, posting on Stand for the Land:

"This is a haul road for Kennecott," the article states. "It is a nearly direct route from Kennecott’s Eagle Mine to their processing facility in Humboldt. Kennecott has invested over $8 million in the project so far, and has offered to pay for construction of the road. There is no previously documented public need for this road, while Kennecott’s mine permit application shows they considered the possibility of a south haul route as far back as 2006."**

In their application to the DEQ, the Road Commission states the purpose of the road as follows:

"The purpose of the proposed CR 595 project is to construct a primary county north-south road that 1.) connects and improves emergency, commercial, industrial and recreational access to a somewhat isolated but key industrial, commercial and recreational area in northwest Marquette County to US-41; and 2.) reduces truck travel from this area through Marquette County population centers."

The application also quotes an Oct. 4, 2010, letter to James Iwanicki from Gerald O. Corkin, Chairman of the Marquette County Board of Commissioners, stating, "'there would be many public benefits from the new road. The road would improve access to recreation land, western Marquette County businesses would benefit from a safe, efficient transportation route, and truck traffic from the Kennecott mine would use the new road rather than US-41/M-28, CR510, CR 550, CR 492, CR 502, and CR 473, improving safety on existing state highways and county roads. In addition, the new road would greatly benefit the timber industry.'"

The fact that the mining and timber industries would be the major beneficiaries of this road was clear at the Sept. 19, 2011, MCRC meeting, where a sort of parade float featuring the mining and logging industries as the future of the U.P. welcomed the public to the meeting at the Ishpeming Township Hall.

This "float" promoting mining and logging, was parked in front of the Ishpeming Township Hall on Sept. 19, 2011, preceding the Marquette County Road Commission meeting taking public comments on the proposed CR 595 that day.

The sponsors of this exhibition were announced on a large sign that was part of this display:

The names of Michigan Republican elected officials are displayed as supporters of logging and mining in an exhibit outside the Ishpeming Township Hall preceding the meeting of the Marquette County Road Commission on Sept. 19, 2011. Click on photo for larger version.

Under "Purpose and Need," the application appears to confirm the emphasis on mining and logging in this statement:

"Logging and mining have been integral to the base economy of Marquette County and the entire western Upper Peninsula since settlement. The value of the logging and mining industries to this region is significant. Much of the infrastructure in Marquette County can be attributed to these two industries; including roads, power plants and hydropower facilities, recreation amenities, and public services. This proposed project, the construction of a new primary county road to serve these two heritage industries as well as providing access to lands for recreation and other public benefits, is essential public infrastructure to continue to support these baseline industries that form and sustain the region’s economy. The full economic benefits of the mining and logging industries cannot be realized without the proposed road."

Keweenaw Now asked Iwanicki today how this road, which will be used for a large number of mining and logging trucks, will also serve "recreation."

In their DEQ application MCRC estimates more than 50 round trips per day of ore trucks will be added to existing traffic volumes on primary county roads and US-41 depending on the selected route of truck traffic to and from the mine. (See section 3.03 of application.)

A chart displayed at the Sept. 19, 2011, meeting shows estimates of logging traffic:

In the application document, this is Table 3-1. Timber Company Activities and Annual Estimated Level of Use for CR 595. Click on photo for larger version or see the MCRC application to the DEQ, Section 3.

Iwanicki said the primary benefit to recreation is access to trails, e.g., a turn-off that leads to the North Country Trail. In addition it will provide easier access tor CFR (commercial forestry) land, which is open to the public for certain activities such as hunting and fishing.

At the Sept. 19, 2011, MCRC meeting Iwanicki reviewed the resolution passed by the Board of Marquette County Road Commissioners in 2010 approving the need for a new road running north-south from County Road FY/US41 to County Road IAA and discussed resolution updates since that time. He also read his recommendations to the Road Commission Board:

At the Sept. 19, 2011, Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) meeting, MCRC Engineer Manager Jim Iwanicki reviews the resolution approving the need for the proposed CR 595 and gives his recommendations to the MCRC Board. (Videos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Iwanicki told Keweenaw Now today, Feb. 20, that the content of his presentation at that Sept. 19 meeting is still current in the application, though some additional work has been done on it since that meeting. Iwanicki said he would be giving a similar presentation at the DEQ Hearing tomorrow, Feb. 21, in Ishpeming.

The application also indicates both support and criticism of the CR 595 project.

At the Sept. 19, 2011, MCRC meeting, public comments from supporters included several township supervisors or representatives and State Sen. Tom Casperson, State Rep. Matt Huuki, and a representative for Congressman Dan Benishek. A few questions came from members of environmental groups and other local residents.

During the Sept. 19, 2011, MCRC meeting, representatives of townships and construction companies express support for CR 595. Cynthia Pryor of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve asks for more detail and requests that the Road Commission put all information and updates on the road online. Presently, the entire DEQ application is online on their Web site and an almost identical document is on the MCRC Web site.

A representative for U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls) reads Benishek's statement of support for CR 595 during the Sept. 19, 2011, MCRC meeting.

Michigan State Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and State Rep. Matt Huuki (R-Atlantic Mine) offer their comments of support for CR 595, while Steve Garske questions the need for the road since Kennecott's original application for the mining permit including transporting the ore to a railhead.

Gail Griffith, retired Northern Michigan University professor and member of Save the Wild UP, asked if federal highway funds would be involved for this road and if so would there be an appropriate NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) environmental impact statement.

"As of now the Road Commission is not planning to use any federal highway funds," Iwanicki replied."And if we do there are other things that have to be done that are involved with federal highway funds."

Environmental impacts are the reason for the application to the DEQ. The application states the following:

"The proposed CR 595 would result in the total wetland impacts of 25.81 acres of wetlands over a distance of 21.4 miles. Included in the total wetland impacts for the CR 595 project are impacts to 0.35 acres of wetland associated with the necessary relocation of snowmobile Trail 5 (the application for permit to be filed for by others) and 0.01 acre of wetland impact associated with the East Branch Salmon Trout River stream mitigation project. Also, there are 22 stream crossings (bridges or concrete box culverts) along the proposed CR 595 and one stream crossing on the East Branch Salmon Trout River stream mitigation project." (See Section 4, CR 595 Project Overview in the application)

The Nature Conservancy, which holds a conservation easement in an area near the proposed road, has sent two letters to the Road Commission concerning one of their initial alternatives for the road route.

In their Jan. 5, 2012, letter, TNC states, "The Nature Conservancy is strongly opposed to Alternative 12A, the Mulligan Plains West Route,since it would violate the terms of a recorded conservation easement and would cause destruction and fragmentation of important conservation resources."

While the Mulligan Plains West Route is still mentioned on the application as a possible alternative, Iwanicki said today that the Road Commission has now eliminated that option.

"Our board has no interest at all in building a road through Nature Conservancy property," he said.

MCRC's preferred alternative at present is the Kipple Creek option, which follows a logging road known as Snowmobile Trail #5.***

He explained the need to list alternatives in the application in case the DEQ (or federal agencies involved) should object to the preferred alternative.

"We submit an application for our preferred alternative, but in justifying that preferred alternative we had to show other things that were considered and why those things considered don't meet the project purpose."

Despite MCRC's plan to create new wetlands as mitigation for those the road would impact, environmental groups opposed to CR 595 claim the destruction of wetlands could be greatly reduced by the use of existing roads.

As the article in Stand for the Land notes, "Construction of County Road 595 would cause severe and widespread adverse impacts to the environment. The proposed action will result in degradation and destruction of aquatic ecosystems, waters, and associated natural resources. Wetlands mitigation has a high rate of failure. The activity is not wetland dependent. There are available alternatives that would meet the purpose and need stated in the 595 application. Updating Kennecott’s permitted haul route (Triple A-510-550) and continuing to use other existing roads would result in wetlands impacts of only about one acre."

Because of the impacts to wetlands and streams in this project, federal agencies that objected to the original Woodland Road proposed by Kennecott (CR595 is about 75 percent the same route as the proposed Woodland Road), i.e., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are still involved with this project, even though Michigan is one of only two states (the other is New Jersey) that evaluate environmental permit applications normally regulated by federal agencies.

"The DEQ has responsibility for federal permitting," Iwanicki noted, "but because of the nature of this project and because of the amount of wetlands being impacted, the Army Corps, EPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission weigh in and give their opinions to the DEQ."

The MCRC application to the DEQ includes five wetland mitigation sites described in section 8, including maps of each one.

Written public comments, accepted through March 2, should be sent to DEQ, 420 5th Street, Gwinn, MI 49841.

The public can also submit comments electronically by filling out this DEQ form.

Comments can also be submitted to these agencies:
US EPA, Region 5 Watersheds and Wetlands Branch 77 West Jackson Boulevard Chicago, IL 60604

Army Corps of Engineers at: US Army Corps 477 Michigan Ave. Detroit, MI 48226


* Click here to access the application on the DEQ Web site or click here to download the entire pdf file of the application.

** Click here to read the Feb. 17, 2012, Stand for the Land article, "DEQ Hearing on CR 595, aka Kennecott's haul road."

See also "Rio Tinto continues to push for Wilderness haul road."

Update: Click here for maps of the CR 595 preferred route.

Update: See also Lake Superior Mining News for more info on CR 595.

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