Tuesday, August 21, 2012

EPA to hold Public Hearing on Wetland Fill Permit Application for County Road 595 in Marquette Aug. 28; written comments due Sept. 4

By Michele Bourdieu

CHICAGO, MARQUETTE -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012, at Northern Michigan University in Marquette to take comments on the Marquette County Road Commission’s revised application for a wetland fill permit for the construction of County Road 595.

This photo shows Wildcat Canyon in the potential CR 595 corridor. Looking straight down the canyon, one can see Eagle Rock in the middle of the photo, close to the top, below the bluish ridges on the horizon. The sand from the Eagle Mine site is visible just to the right and left. The proposed 21-mile primary county road, running north-south between U.S. Highway 41 and County Road Triple A, would connect the Eagle Mine with the Humboldt Mill. (File photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye. Reprinted with permission.)

Oral and written comments will be taken at the public hearing. EPA will hold an informational question-and-answer session immediately before the public hearing -- at 6 p.m. on Aug. 28. The public hearing begins at 7 p.m. Both will be held at Northern Michigan University, Don H. Bottum University Center, Ontario/Michigan/Huron Rooms, 1401 Presque Isle Ave., Marquette.

EPA scheduled the hearing at the request of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

The EPA states the Road Commission has proposed a new 21.5-mile primary county road, running north-south between U.S. Highway 41 and County Road Triple A, through Champion, Ely, Humboldt and Michigamme Townships. According to the application, the EPA hearing notice says, construction would affect 25.81 acres of wetlands and would require the building of 22 stream crossings.*

MDEQ has the authority to issue permits for projects under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for wetlands, lakes and streams. EPA’s role is to ensure that proposed projects comply with federal guidelines. At the hearing, EPA will take comments on two issues: (1) whether there are practical, alternate routes for the road which would have less impact on aquatic resources; and (2) proposals to mitigate damage to wetlands and streams.

The public comment period started on July 27 and concludes on Sept. 4, 2012. Comments should be addressed to Melanie Haveman, U.S. EPA (WW-16J), 77 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604-3590 or by email to rd.county@epa.gov. For questions or additional information, call EPA toll-free at 800-621-8431, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.,week days.

Related documents and information about the public hearing are available on EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/region5/water/cr595.

Click here for a project location map and the EPA's map of the proposed CR 595.

The official records are also available at the Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library, 317 N. Main St., Ishpeming.

In a recent letter to the Marquette Mining Journal, Catherine Parker of Marquette points out that support for the road does not come from the general public, but from area politicians and industry representatives.

"The DNR’s evaluation of the 595 application describes the likelihood of extremely serious consequences to fish and wildlife habitat, animal populations, and recreational experiences; and yet it rather flippantly concludes that these concerns can somehow be remediated," Parker writes.

"And during a brief meeting in Marquette, Director Dan Wyant told environmentalists that the DEQ intends to excel at customer service," she notes.

On a visit to the site of the proposed County Road 595 during his recent visit to the U.P., MDEQ Director Dan Wyant, fourth from left, and his policy assistant Jim Goodheart, third from left, look at a map of the area shown to him by MDEQ staff Ginny Pennala and Mike Smolinski. In the foreground are Steve Casey, right, MDEQ Water Resources Division district supervisor of the Upper Peninsula District Office, and State Sen. Tom Casperson. Casey said MDEQ staff took Wyant on a five-hour tour of the wetlands and stream crossings included in the CR 595 permit application. Here the group is shown near the Wildcat Canyon Creek crossing of the proposed CR 595. (Photo courtesy Brad Wurfel, DEQ Communications director.)

"How does this translate to our present situation? Who is the DEQ’s customer?" Parker continues. "Clearly, County Road 595 is a haul road for Kennecott, as was the Woodland Road before it. The timber and aggregate industries will see only marginal profit increases if it is built. Negative impacts to the environment, both natural and human, will be severe and are entirely avoidable."

Parker also questions the justification for building this road when Marquette County alone needs $200,000,000 just to repair existing roads and bridges.**

EPA letter states objections of federal agencies, based on Clean Water Act

An Apr. 23, 2012, letter from the EPA to MDEQ offers the combined comments from three federal agencies: the EPA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers with these objections to the permit application, based on the Clean Water Act (CWA) Guidelines:

"In sum, the Federal agencies have concluded that the materials included in the application and accompanying analysis do not demonstrate that the County's preferred route is the least environmentally damaging practical alternative (LEDPA), and therefore, it is not possible at this time to provide the conditions necessary for issuance of this permit in accordance with CWA 404(b)(1) Guidelines. In addition, the project would lead to the significant degradation of aquatic resources, and the proposed wetland and stream mitigation would not fully compensate for the loss of aquatic function and value."

The letter also states the following:

"Because road construction is not a water-dependent activity, the CWA § 404(b)(l) Guidelines require an applicant to demonstrate that practicable alternatives do not exist which are less damaging to the aquatic environment. The alternatives analysis should demonstrate that the County's preferred alternative meets the criteria for being the LEDPA while still meeting the project purpose. Finally, once the LEDPA is selected, the applicant must demonstrate that it has avoided and minimized impacts to the maximum extent possible and compensated for any unavoidable impacts."***

Among the impacts and concerns mentioned in the EPA letter are these:
  • Approximately 75 percent of the proposed wetland impacts are to forested wetland types, which are difficult to replace. The probability of success of replacing the lost wetland functions is low.
  •  22 stream crossings -- 8 new and 14 replacement crossings -- could mean loss of stream functions due to the lengths of bridges and culverts and due to changes in hydrology and water quality. Additional stream mitigation would be necessary.
  • A significant amount of clearing, excavation, and fill would impact at least 171 acres.
  •  Long-term impacts on hydrology and water quality (e.g. road-salt, sediment, oil inputs) would degrade habitats adjacent to the proposed road.
  • Disturbances and changes to wetland flow patterns due to floodplain compensating cuts will negatively impact adjacent wetlands.
  • Vehicles along CR 595 may spread invasive species that would impact natural communities along the proposed route.
  • The road would have negative impacts on migratory birds, amphibians and reptiles (turtles).
  • "With a design speed of 55 mph, the proposed road is also expected to increase the number of vehicle collisions with other wildlife including white tailed deer, gray wolf, and moose."
  • Kirtland's warbler and Canada lynx, federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, have the potential to be found in the proposed CR 595 corridor.
In conclusion, the EPA letter states, "As presently proposed, the project would lead to the significant degradation of aquatic resources, and the proposed wetland and stream mitigation would not fully compensate for the loss of aquatic function and value."***

Army Corps, local residents note road would chiefly benefit Rio Tinto - Kennecott

Gabriel Caplett of Headwaters News notes in a May 6, 2012, article, that, unlike the Army Corps of Engineers letter in March 2012, also objecting to CR 595, the April EPA letter fails to indicate that the proposed CR 595 would be built largely to service Rio Tinto-Kennecott's mining operations.

"The Corps outlined a number of hauling options that could work to service Kennecott’s Eagle Mine operation, including an already planned bypass of Marquette Township, as well as road-to-rail options, something Kennecott seriously considered in its original Eagle mining application," Caplett says.****

The EPA letter, however, without mentioning the Eagle Mine, quotes the Road Commission's stated purpose for the road: "'to construct a primary county northsouth
road that 1.) connects and improves emergency, commercial 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 population centers.'"

This map, displayed at the Sept. 19, 2011, Marquette County Road Commission meeting, shows two possible haul routes for the Rio Tinto / Kennecott Eagle Mine. The red north-south route is an approximate projection of the proposed County Road 595, which would have ecological impacts, especially on wetlands and streams. The longer route, in black, would use present roads: the Triple A Road (heading east from the mine site), CR 510, CR 550, and US 41 (heading west) to the Humboldt processing mill. Click on map for larger version. (File photo of map by Keweenaw Now)

In an earlier article, Caplett cites comments from several local residents on the fact that Rio Tinto-Kennecott wants this road to haul its ore from the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill.*****

County submits revised application, preferred route

A revised permit application from the Marquette County Road Commission, dated July 24, 2012, attempts to address EPA and MDEQ concerns, but not all wetland issues have been resolved. Marquette County Road Commission Engineer Manager Jim Iwanicki told Keweenaw Now a new wetland mitigation plan, with a ratio of 20 to 1 (20 new or mitigated wetlands to each impacted wetland) is expected to be submitted to the EPA and MDEQ today, Aug. 21.

Two alternative routes mentioned in the EPA letter for further consideration -- the Mulligan Plains East-Sleepy Hollow Route and the CR 510-Red Road-Sleepy Hollow-Wolf Lake Road route -- are still not acceptable to the Road Commission. According to Iwanicki, the former (brown solid line on map below) would require a bridge at a difficult crossing of the Yellow Dog River and the latter (red line on map below) would add about 20 miles to the route.

This map, from p. 43 of the July 24, 2012, revised application for CR 595 shows several alternative routes considered for the road from the Eagle Mine on the AAA Road to the Humboldt Mill just off US 41 in Humboldt Township. The Marquette County Road Commission prefers the north-south green route. Click on map for larger version or go to the revised permit application, p. 43 of section 4.0 on the Alternatives Analysis. (Map courtesy Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Web site)

"It's less wetland impact but it costs too much to build and it does not meet our project purpose, which is to build a north-south road in the western end of Marquette County," Iwanicki said of the longer route. "You might as well use the existing road system."

At the southern end of the County's preferred route, the EPA and MDEQ have expressed a preference for a stretch of the road called Wolf Lake South because it impacts three fourths of an acre less of wetlands than the County's choice of CR FY. However, according to Iwanicki, Humboldt Township has put a weight restriction on Wolf Lake Road South because it runs in front of residential areas. For this reason the Road Commission believes the Wolf Lake South Road option is not in the public interest.

This map shows the County's preferred route for the proposed CR 595, with some uncertainty about whether the southern end would use CR FY (red segment, no. 1) and the Wasie Alternative (green segment, no. 3) or Wolf Lake Road South (blue segment, no. 4) because of a 3/4 acre difference in wetland impacts (see above). The road would continue north on segment nos. 5, 6, 9, 7 and 32, ending at the AAA Road. For a larger version of the map, go to the revised permit application, p. 52 of section 4.0. (Map courtesy Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Web site)

"The Road Commission would still prefer CR FY," Iwanicki said. "But if the only way to get a permit is to go Wolf Lake Road, we will."

On the revised Permit Application Form, the project is marked "public/government" and the box indicating "project is receiving federal/state transportation funds" is unchecked.

"Right now we're working on an agreement to get Kennecott to fund the project," Iwanicki said. "If Kennecott doesn't pay for the road it won't get built."

Iwanicki added he is "pretty confident" the Road Commission will get an agreement from Kennecott if they receive the permit.

While the purpose statement still does not mention the Eagle Mine, the Project Overview in the revised application states the following: "The proposed CR 595 will be a public road, with all of the associated benefits that go with that designation. Those benefits include the fact that the new road will be open to public use and will be maintained as part of the Marquette County road system."

The "Eagle Development Project" is mentioned in the permit application overview as needing this road. The benefit to the mining and logging industries is stated as including both recreation and safety benefits for the public.

"The value of the logging and mining industries to this region is significant," the overview states. "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."

To a question on how public recreation can benefit from a road where 50 mining trucks will be running each way (100 trucks just from the Eagle Mine, not counting logging trucks), Iwanicki said the main public benefit of the shorter route is that it increases public safety.

"By building 595 you're taking heavy vehicles (trucking) out of the populated area of Marquette County," he said. "You're keeping them out of the city of Marquette and out of the 41-28 corridor between the Ishpeming-Negaunee area and the city of Marquette -- which happens to be the heaviest traveled road in the UP."

While Iwanicki admits the EPA and MDEQ still have questions on the environmental impacts of the proposed road, he believes the County has answered their questions sufficiently.

"I wouldn't be spending the time and effort on the permit for 595 if we didn't think it was a public benefit for the people of Marquette County," Iwanicki said.

According to Steve Casey, MDEQ Water Resources Division district supervisor of the Upper Peninsula District Office, MDEQ requested the hearing after the EPA voiced their objection to permitting CR595.

"The County Road Commission is working hard to resolve that objection," Casey said.

After considering comments at the hearing, Casey added, the EPA will choose one of three outcomes: 1) continue with the same objection, 2) revise the objection, or 3) remove the objection.

If the EPA decides to issue the same or a revised objection, the Road Commission will have a month to resolve it.

"The DEQ decision is due October 1," Casey said. "The EPA expects to complete their public hearing process and follow up by October 1."

Editor's Notes:

* The revised application (July 24, 2012) cites the total wetland impacts as 25.48 acres of wetlands over a distance of 20.9 miles, with 26 stream crossings along the proposed 595 and one stream crossing on the East Branch Salmon Trout River stream mitigation project.

** Click here to read Catherine Parker's Aug. 10, 2012, letter to the Mining Journal.

*** Click here to read the Apr. 23, 2012, letter from the EPA to the MDEQ.

**** See Headwaters News for Gabriel Caplett's May 6, 2012, article, "EPA caving on Kennecott road?"

***** See Gabriel Caplett's Feb. 22, 2012, article, "Citizens pack hearing to oppose Rio Tinto road."

See also our Feb. 20, 2012, article announcing the Feb. 21 meeting, with video clips and photos of the Sept. 19, 2011, Marquette County Road Commission meeting taking public comments on the proposed CR 595.

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