Thursday, November 27, 2014

State Rep. Scott Dianda notes concerns about clean energy, road improvement, public transit, more ...

By Michele Bourdieu

After a recent interview with Keweenaw Now, Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), 110th District state representative, right, chats with two local residents, Jack Korri, left, of Calumet, and Mark Korpela of Hancock in the Kaleva Café in Hancock. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), 110th District state representative, is concerned about alternative, cleaner energy and also about roads and public transit -- especially in the context of what will benefit his constituents in seven Upper Peninsula counties. He recently discussed several issues under these topics in an interview with Keweenaw Now.

Coalition needed for building renewable energy future

Dianda recently joined with Republican colleagues in the Michigan House in proposing a bipartisan legislative package of energy bills targeting sector growth, job creation, new investments, lower energy costs and environmental protection. Rob VerHeulen (R-Walker) and Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) joined Dianda in proposing bills intended to start a discussion about Michigan’s energy future.

"I’m pleased that my colleagues in the House are taking a forward-looking approach to Michigan’s energy challenges," said Dianda. "Between woody biomass, wind, solar and geothermal, we have the opportunity to make cheap, renewable energy right here at home. Our consumers in the U.P. are facing job-killing energy rate increases. We need to encourage investment in energy generation and empower people to produce their own power. It’s the future."

Since Democrats are in the minority in both the Michigan Senate and the House, Dianda said, he believes a partnership with Republicans is necessary and he is glad to work across party lines to get renewable energy legislation passed.

"We have to build a coalition to improve our energy future with renewables," he noted.

Dianda said residents in his district -- which ranges from Gogebic County in the west to parts of Marquette County (Ishpeming and Powell townships) -- cannot afford to pay more for electricity than they are already paying, especially during the cold U.P. winters.

"We are going to have to have more electricity for our furnaces and -- for those who heat with wood -- for the fans to move the air around," he noted. "A lot of my residents use electric blankets and heating pads because they don't have much heat in the house."

Michigan State Rep. Scott Dianda introduces himself to Kaleva Café customers Bob Lean, left, of Bootjack, a former UPPCO (Upper Peninsula Power Company) employee, and his grandson, Bobby Lean, of Hibbing, Minn.

Dianda's bill, HB 5968, introduced on Nov. 13, 2014, would establish clean energy targets for each Michigan utility, he said. Dianda envisions Michigan's coal power plants, by switching to bio-fuel, reaching a goal of 15 percent renewable energy by 2019 and 19 percent by 2022, with additional increments of 4.5 percent every three years until they reach 100 percent.

"We need some of the bigger producers to come and help us in the U.P. with an incentive program for investment," Dianda added.

If forest waste products in the U.P. were used for bio-mass, local energy production could be increased from the current 10 percent renewables to 30 percent, Dianda said. He also suggests using some sort of organic waste, e.g. food waste, to return nutrients to the soil after these forest products are removed.

Dianda's bill also includes wind energy -- creating a wind energy resource zone board and providing for its power and duties and authorizing the creation and implementation of wind energy resource zones.*

Dianda told Keweenaw Now he is in favor of using geothermal energy from water in the local mines (as has been proposed recently and is presently being used at the Keweenaw Research Center).**

"We could never re-create the caverns of warm water that we have under these communities," Dianda said. "They're created by the mining industry, and we're left with the by-product."

With the resources at Michigan Tech and the Keweenaw Research Center, there must be a way we can tap into these old mines that have an abundance of warmer water -- for district heating, Dianda noted.

Dianda said he is also aware of and supportive of the HEET (Houghton Energy Efficiency Team) and their recent efforts and application for a Georgetown prize of $5 million to support their energy efficiency plan.

State Senate bill would raise gas tax for Michigan road improvement

Dianda has expressed concern about a recent Senate bill to add a 41-cent per gallon tax on gasoline in order to fund road repairs in Michigan.

"We've got people right now having a hard time paying their heating bills and putting food on the table," Dianda said. "It's going to be a very big tax burden on people up here who can least afford it. And out of the $1.2 billion that they want to raise, how much money is going to come to our seven counties and what is it going to do to help our local county road commissions?"

He noted, for example, that the funds would not be designated for snow removal.

In an open letter released this week, Dianda called on Governor Snyder to make the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) a more cost-efficient organization. The lawmaker warned that he would not vote for a gas tax increase on his constituents unless he felt that MDOT was making the wisest use of its current budget.

"In the U.P., we are seeing that MDOT maintains a fleet of state planes for its employees to use, but the department won’t keep our main streets clear of snow and ice during a storm," Dianda said. "There is something very wrong with that picture."

Dianda is concerned that even with the proposed gas tax increases, municipal governments in his district still would not get the service they need to function properly unless the state cuts back. In his letter, Dianda outlines several steps the governor could take to curb costs at MDOT, including a smarter system for awarding state contracts and making sure that MDOT employees use videoconferencing technology whenever possible to avoid travel expenses.

"We have a sacred trust to guard the resources of the people and to spend their money as we would our own. My constituents are very concerned about how a gas tax increase is going to impact their daily lives and ability to commute to work," Dianda noted. "We need to fix Michigan’s roads and maintain them during the winter. Our counties and townships have been asked to do more with less. I understand that," he added. "But I will not vote to make it more costly for folks to get to work unless I know I have done everything I can, and the governor is doing everything he can, to make the Michigan Department of Transportation a leaner, meaner organization."

Dianda formerly worked for MDOT and he is now on the House Transportation Committee.

Need for public transit in rural areas

Asked about future possibilities for improving public transportation in the U.P., Dianda told Keweenaw Now lawmakers have talked about public transit in committee, but funding is lacking.

"The way the funding situation is, I'm just glad we have what we have," Dianda said. "I'd like to see it improved for all of our counties up here."

He agreed that Hancock and Houghton public transit could be improved with evening and weekend hours -- to benefit both senior citizens who don't drive and young people who have to work part-time jobs.

Dianda said he fears most of the funding might go for road expansion in more populated metropolitan areas rather than improvement of existing roads and needed public transportation in the seven counties he represents.

"If we spend $1.2 billion is the quality of transportation life in the U.P. going to get better? That's my question," Dianda said.

Mining trucks through Marquette add high carbon footprint

Since Dianda's constituency includes parts of Marquette County, he also expressed concern about the truck transport from the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill, now that the mine is in production.

"The truck traffic from the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill has to take an out-of-the-way route through the Northern Michigan University campus -- Wright Street to U.S. 41 and west to Humboldt," Dianda said. "This is a large carbon footprint -- trucks having to do extra mileage."

Dianda noted the mining company should have put in an elevated railroad with lighter loads in order to have less impact than truck traffic.

Dianda's Bill naming bridge for veterans approved in House

The Michigan House recently approved unanimously Dianda's Bill 5715, which names a bridge in Ontonagon County the "Ontonagon County Veterans Memorial Bridge."

“Our brave veterans deserve our support and recognition for their courage and willingness to leave their families to serve," Dianda said. "I am proud to sponsor this bill to show them our appreciation."

HB 5715 was introduced in July following a recommendation from the Ontonagon County Veterans’ Association, which has been in operation for 10 years. The bridge is located on Highway M-64 over the Ontonagon River in Ontonagon Township.

"I thank my House colleagues for joining me to honor our veterans and approving my bill," said Dianda. "I hope that my Senate colleagues will give their approval so we can see this bill signed into law before session ends in December."

To learn more about State Rep. Scott Dianda or to contact him, visit his Web site.

Notes:

* Click here to read Dianda's proposed HB 5968.

** See the guest article by Laura Smyth, "Minewater Geothermal on the Keweenaw Peninsula."  A Green Lecture on this subject was also held in Houghton on Nov. 20, 2014. Watch for more on this issue, coming soon.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Guest article: Lundin mineral lease application -- Here we go again

This photo from the north demonstrates the proximity of Lundin Mining's proposed 40-acre mineral lease to the Yellow Dog River and recreational access. The actual corner of the parcel with trees removed north of the bridge (red X) is less than 400 feet from the river and less than that from the flood plain. Click on photo for larger version. (Photo and caption © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

By Gene Champagne*

Eagle Mine LCC, a subsidiary of Lundin Mining of Toronto and Sweden, has recently applied for a mineral lease on 40 acres of state owned property (in other words OUR property) that lie a short distance southeast of the current Eagle Mine site. The parcel also lies within a few hundred yards of the Yellow Dog River -- close enough to be in the river’s 100-year floodplain. Public comment is currently being accepted by the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources (MDNR) until December 1, 2014. Citizens should not only comment on this proposed mineral lease, but also request that a public hearing be held on the permit application either in Marquette or Big Bay. Marquette is a regional hub that would enable more people to comment. Big Bay is the community most affected by the creeping industrialization of the decreasingly pristine Yellow Dog Plains.

Residents of Big Bay are literally the "canary in the coal mine" for this segment of the mining industry that is mapping out a new mining region around Lake Superior. Big Bay residents are just beginning to experience some of the negative side effects of this industrialization. Our quality of life is being seriously diminished by noise, super highways, and other precursor effects. Other potential effects to our water and air may not be felt for years to come. By the time any negative impacts to our water are realized, it will be too late; the horse will be out of the barn with no turning back. You cannot reverse the process of acid mine drainage. We need to give pause before proceeding with any new mineral leases of state land in this area.

First of all, Eagle Mine has just commenced production, which is not even up to full speed yet. This segment of the mining industry is relatively new to the region. The history and science of hard rock mining has left a legacy of watershed devastation worldwide and in the western US, where it is DRY. Michigan and the Great Lakes region may have too much water for this type of mining. Water is becoming the oil of the 21st century.

Eagle Mine permit challenged

Many consider the current permit very inadequate at the least. There is enough evidence to render it fraudulent and illegal. If Eagle Mine is to operate we should wait a few years with Eagle at full capacity before jumping down some sink hole we may never recover from. The minerals are going nowhere. If our water is ruined, it is ruined forever. No one is making any more.

Of most concern is the process of mineral leasing and mine permitting itself. The state leases minerals for exploration that may, or may not, turn out to be profitable. If determined to be profitable, the company submits a permit application to mine. The State of Michigan, through the Dept. of Environment Quality (MDEQ) feels obligated to grant a permit. You cannot lease minerals without the expectation of a permit application to follow. The area may be an inappropriate place to mine due to the sensitivity of the environment (read water table/watershed/rare fauna/flora). The permit may be totally inadequate to protect such an area, but will be granted regardless.

Michigan needs siting criteria for mining

Those who speak of our toughest in the nation mining laws (politicians and mine advocates/officials) are blowing smoke. For example, South Dakota, a traditional mining state, has siting criteria, which determine areas that are too sensitive for mining activity. Michigan needs such siting criteria. The writers of the current rules and regulations refused to include a siting provision when Kennecott Minerals opposed it. Some of these same mine advocates, with the backing of local media, portend the need to balance the environment with development, but there is no balance when development always wins out. All we get is an inadequate and illegally compromised permit. The "winners" of late are international conglomerates beholden to stockholders, while we are tossed "trinkets and beads." Trinkets and beads buy us nothing when our lands are gone.

Dan Blondeau, senior advisor, Communications and Media Relations for Eagle Mine, has stated that Eagle Mine LLC has no interest in mining this parcel, but hopes it will help them understand the geology of the area better.

Dan states, "Contrary to speculation there is no mine plan for the proposed lease area, nor is there an immediate plan for exploration."

I can relate to that. I lease parking spaces all the time and let them sit idle. I just want to better understand the nature of parking lots. I do the same with apartments and cars. When Lundin acquired Eagle Mine from Rio Tinto, the package came with over 5,000 acres of owned/leased mineral rights in the vicinity of Eagle Mine. What is this 40-acre parcel going to tell them that they don’t already know? And so we begin the slide down the slippery slope.

Why lease this public land?

To grease the skids down this slippery slope, the MDNR Fisheries Division quietly changed the property’s designation to "development -- with restrictions," which could include a mine, when Eagle Mine made their intention for a mineral lease application known to the MDNR. The property was originally designated as "non-development" in 2003. What changed on this land other than a mining company’s interest in it? This land is OUR land. This 40-acre parcel of OUR land sits adjacent to an additional 481 acres of OUR land. Sound familiar? It should.

Many area residents, as well as tourists, use this area for camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, gathering, snowmobiling, skiing, and quiet reflection. This is OUR quality of life. It is the main reason many have chosen to live here. Private land adjacent to this state- controlled 40 is used by many people for some of these same purposes. There was a recent gathering here in October for religious and spiritually inclined individuals to mourn the loss of our solitude and quality of life. The gathering bemoaned the destruction of our immediate environment and, reflecting upon nature’s gifts, resolved to stand against further loss. The gathering was well attended.

Public comments due Dec. 1, 2014

Do we, as residents of the central Upper Peninsula, wish to maintain our quality of life or would we rather sell out to foreign internationals for a temporary infusion of "trinkets and beads"? Your opinion matters. Comments may be mailed by Monday, Dec. 1, 2014, to
Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst
Minerals Management Office, Department of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 30452
Lansing, Michigan 48909-7952

or email Karen Maidlow at maidlowk@michigan.gov.

* Editor's Notes:
Guest author Gene Champagne is a member of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay. Excerpts from this opinion article appeared recently in the Marquette Mining Journal.