By Michele Bourdieu, with information from Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources
LANSING -- The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has received a revised land transaction application from Graymont, Inc., a limestone-mining company based in British Columbia. The company is proposing development of a limestone mining operation in northern Mackinac County near the town of Rexton in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. The land transaction application amends a January 2015 version of the proposal.
The revised land transaction application is unchanged in the total amount and location of public land under consideration (more than 10,000 acres of public surface lands or mineral rights).
A Jan. 15, 2015, article in the Detroit Free Press, noting six DNR division heads sent a Jan. 13 memo to DNR Director Keith Creagh opposing the transaction for several reasons, describes the mining operation as "a sprawling, 13,000-acre, open-pit and underground limestone mining operation touching three U.P. counties -- Luce, Mackinac and Chippewa."*
The Jan. 13 memo notes opposition to the land transaction from tribal governments, individual citizens and groups and at least one affected township, although it states general support of the project by local governments.**
Environmental groups oppose Graymont proposal
The Sierra Club Michigan Chapter applauded the DNR officials for their opposition to the January land transaction application, noting, "The proposed $2.9 million purchase, lease and options to buy 10,457 acres of public land by Graymont would constitute the largest sell-off of DNR lands in the state’s history."
Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter conservation director, said, "Michigan’s public lands like this are too valuable to sell off -- and to do so for a few million dollars in short-term benefits would be tantamount to theft."
Marvin Roberson, Sierra Club forest ecologist, said the DNR land that Graymont wants to buy and lease includes ecologically important parcels -- prime forest land -- in Luce and Mackinac counties.
Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has also expressed opposition to the proposed land transaction. In a Jan. 27 action alert email message, SWUP said Trout Lake Township resident and community advocate Kathy English is encouraging the public to attend meetings on the Graymont proposal.
"We need to let the DNR know that the majority of the citizens and taxpayers in the affected areas are vehemently opposed," English said.
Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP interim director, noted, "The Graymont proposal makes no sense, economically -- only a handful of mining jobs would be created -- and will sacrifice public lands for the benefit of a foreign mining company. Residents fear that any short-term economic gain is outweighed by the loss of existing long-term jobs in forestry and tourism industries. The Rexton area supports unique hydrology and biodiversity that must be protected -- including critical karst terrain featured in Michigan’s Natural Features Inventory, globally-rare alvar plant communities, and northern fens (wetlands) supporting the rare Hine's Emerald Dragonfly, considered 'one of North America's rarest dragonflies.'"***
SWUP sent 16 pages of comments to the DNR on Feb. 6, the same day Graymont submitted their newest revision. SWUP, based in Marquette, plans to review the new version and submit more comments. In their submitted comments so far, SWUP expresses serious concerns about the proposal -- both the land and mineral rights transactions -- and doubts about the proposal’s economic benefits given losses for tourism and forestry.
In the introduction to their Feb. 6 comments, SWUP states the following:
"It is outrageous that a comprehensive environmental review process did not require a detailed mining plan or a formal Environmental Impacts Assessment. Multiple revisions to the Graymont Proposal, moreover, create a confusing and ever-shifting focus for reviewers, with little meaningful emphasis on public input, and a striking lack of concern for tribal sovereignty, or federal land concerns which may legally prohibit limestone mining in this area. The unprecedented loss of public land would represent a loss for Michigan’s environment, Michigan’s taxpayers and the Eastern Upper Peninsula’s growing sustainable forest and tourism economies -- and especially Michigan’s environment. Graymont's Proposal threatens endangered species, fragile ecologies, with negative impacts to groundwater, drinking water, and hydrologies."****
Public comments on revised application being accepted
The new Graymont application proposes an increase in the offered royalty payment for the limestone to be mined. Under the revised application, Graymont would pay the state 30 cents for each ton of extracted limestone, up from an earlier offer of 18.75 cents per ton. Those royalties would be deposited into the State Parks Endowment Fund. In addition, Graymont is proposing to develop a regional economic development fund to provide grants for local units of government, schools and/or small businesses. The company has proposed to pay a timber consideration fee on Tract A, limit wetland impacts on Tract E, and has suggested possible routes for the relocation of recreation trails on Tract E. The entire revised proposal, along with maps of tracts under consideration, can be found at www.michigan.gov/graymontproposal.
The transaction had been slated for a decision by DNR Director Creagh at the Feb. 12, 2015, Natural Resources Commission (NRC) meeting in Lansing. However, in order to allow the public and the DNR to thoroughly review this revised proposal, the director will now make a decision on the land transaction no earlier than the March 19, 2015, NRC meeting in Roscommon.
The company has a second proposal pending -- a mineral exchange application -- which remains unchanged from a Jan. 15 application. This proposal seeks to exchange more than 1,700 acres of state-owned minerals under the Hiawatha National Forest in Chippewa County for 1,700 acres of Graymont-owned minerals under state-owned lands in northern Mackinac County. The mineral exchange application will go before Creagh for a decision at the Feb. 12 NRC meeting. The mineral exchange proposal can be found on the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/graymontproposal.
There are multiple ways people can provide comments about these proposals. The public will have an opportunity to make comments at upcoming NRC meetings. The DNR continues to maintain an email address for the public to comment. Interested parties may send comments to DNRGraymontProposalComments@michigan.gov. Mailed comments can be sent to the Roscommon Customer Service Center, ATTN: Kerry Wieber, 8717 N. Roscommon Road, Roscommon, MI 48653.
Comments will be accepted until a final decision is made.*****
* Click here to read the Jan. 15, 2015, Detroit Free Press article, "DNR division heads: Reject massive U.P. land sale."
** Click here to read this Jan. 13 memo.
*** Click here to read about Great Lakes Alvar communities. Karst terrain is an area of limestone terrain characterized by sinks, ravines, and underground streams (according to dictionary.com).
**** Read Save the Wild U.P.'s Feb. 6 comments here.
***** The DNR presentation for the Jan. 28, 2015, public meeting in Newberry on Graymont's earlier proposal, including maps of the area, is available here. An updated Graymont Fact Sheet is available here. Visit the DNR Web page on the Graymont Land Transaction for more information. Click here for Natural Resources Commission (NRC) meeting minutes and agendas.