Saturday, August 25, 2012

Michigan League of Conservation Voters: This Bill is the Pits!

[Editor's Note: This June 19, 2012, article may be of interest to readers planning to attend the Aug. 28, 2012, EPA Hearing on CR 595 or to comment on the EPA concerns.* Thanks to Jessica Koski for calling attention to this article, which is reprinted here with permission from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.]

Posted by Michigan League of Conservation Voters
June 19, 2012

A new bill could open up a whole new can of worms for Michigan public land.

Introduced in the midst of the clamor over the attack on northern Michigan public lands, Senate Bill 1164 would require the Department of Natural Resources to approve any request by a county road commission to mine gravel or sand on state land chosen by the county.

Currently, counties already receive a reduced rate to extract gravel from existing gravel pits on state land. The lease approval process takes about three months because it must go through multiple channels of approval, including the Department of Transportation. Under existing guidelines, an approval could not be obtained any sooner. Also, since at least 2000, no new gravel pits have been dug on state land because there has not been a need for them; counties can extract gravel from existing pits without carving new roads and digging new holes on public lands.

Senate Bill 1164, however, turns this process on its head. It requires the DNR to approve contracts within 30 days -- impossible under current procedures -- and allows the county to select both the extraction site and the reclamation plan. Despite already receiving reduced rates from counties, the bill would prohibit the DNR from collecting royalties on either the extracted minerals or fees for the timber cut down on the gravel pit sites -- which can be huge -- and along the access roads.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Thomas Casperson (R - Escanaba). Marquette County, within Sen. Casperson's district, is proposing to build a new road, County Road 595, to serve the Kennecott sulfide mine located at the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River in the Yellow Dog Plains. Kennecott had originally proposed the road as a private haul road called the Woodland Road, but its plans were rejected by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers due to environmental concerns. Now the county wants to build the road for them, which Casperson touted in a letter to Michigan’s two U.S. Senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

While it’s unknown whether SB 1164 and CR 595 are in any way related, the bill, if passed, would allow Marquette County -- or any other -- to extract the gravel needed for the road from any state land of its choosing without having to pay royalties to the state. As it relates to CR 595, Kennecott has agreed to fund the road, so this bill could reduce Kennecott’s financial burden in purchasing the gravel needed to build the road, giving away the state’s natural resources to private industries. There is nothing to indicate that the bill and the haul road are purposefully linked, but this could be the result, nonetheless.

As with most legislation, whether or not it is intended to address a specific situation, it will have statewide consequences. Counties who want a closer gravel source than the nearest existing gravel pit could pick one out at their whim, carving new roads through state land. Since the DNR would be prohibited from charging a timber removal fee, someone would be receiving that timber for free, depriving the state of timber sale proceeds from state land. The ability of a county to dig a hole on any state land it chooses could intrude on outdoor recreation uses, too, continuing the legislature’s Assault on Pure Michigan.

SB 1164 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Transportation.

Text and links courtesy Michigan League of Conservation Voters. Visit their Web site at www.michiganlcv.org.

* Click here to read Keweenaw Now's Aug. 21, 2012, article with information on the Aug. 28, 2012, hearing at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

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