Thursday, February 12, 2015

Heikinpäivä 2015: new slide show, videos ...

The Heikinpäivä 2015 Parade heads down Quincy Street in Hancock. Participants often wear traditional Finnish or Sami outfits such as these. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- Keweenaw Now offers our readers a new slide show -- Heikinpäivä 2015 -- with photos of the parade, wife-carrying competition, kicksled races, Tori markets, Polar Bear Dive and Community Arts Center art exhibits. Find the slide show near the top of our right hand column and click on any photo to access the slide show.*

Heikinpäivä is the annual Finnish-American mid-winter celebration in Hancock.

Videos of Heikinpäivä Jan. 31, 2015, highlights

Michigan Tech's Pep Band adds a lively atmosphere to the parade on Quincy Street in Hancock:

During the 2015 Heikinpäivä Parade, Michigan Tech's Pep Band is followed by representatives of local Finnish-American and community organizations, Finlandia University and characters from the Kalevala (Finnish epic). (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Riding atop "Big Louie," known in Hancock as "arguably the world's largest kicksled," is the Hankooki Heikki winner for 2015, Reuben Niemistö, who presides over the festivities. Each year someone who has contributed to the preservation and enhancement of Finnish-American cultural life in Michigan’s Copper Country is chosen as Hankooki Heikki. Niemistö, a longtime board member and past president of the Hanka Homestead near Askel, has devoted many of his nearly nine decades of life to sharing Finnish cultural traditions, especially those from the more distant past.

After the parade, the wife-carrying competition, a Finnish tradition, is held on the Quincy Green. This year a couple from Finland came in second place. Here they are in action:

Olli Malinen and his wife, Heli Lehtivuori, of Jyväskylä, Finland, participate in the 2015 Heikinpäivä Finnish-American mid-winter festival wife-carrying contest. Heli was giving visiting lectures at Michigan Tech the week of Heikinpäivä and attended the festival with her family.

Olli and Heli encourage their daughter Pihla to speak to the TV6 reporter after the wife-carrying contest. Their younger daughter, Lumi, was also interviewed (see slide show). Pihla also participated in the kicksled race (see below).

Kids take off for one of the kicksled races. Pihla is second from right in the lineup.

Here is a video clip of the runoff race among top kicksledders ...

The winners of previous races compete for prizes in the runoff Kicksled Race.

For more photos see our slide show.

* You can go directly to the slide show page by clicking here. Then click on "slide show" in the upper left corner.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

County Road 595 a bad idea in wrong place

By Jessica Koski*

Proposed Marquette County Road 595 would irreversibly impact high quality wetlands at the headwaters of several watersheds and foreseeably lead to additional roads that would open up one of Michigan's last remaining wilderness areas to resource exploitation.

Wetlands are a foundation of our nation's water resources and are one of the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth, rivaling that of tropical rainforests. Vital to the health of waterways, wetlands recharge groundwater, absorb floodwaters and filter pollution. They provide essential wildlife habitat, agricultural resources (berries, wild rice), timber production and economic activities. Michigan's economy depends on tourism dollars from hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation businesses enabled by wetlands.

Yet, wetlands are on the frontlines of development and their preservation is vastly underappreciated. Michigan has already lost more than half of its original 11 million acres of wetlands due to filling and draining.

From an Ojibwe standpoint, many culturally significant plants, foods and medicines occur in wetlands and within the County Road 595 project area. These resources are an essential part of Ojibwe lifeway; and tribal rights of access, collection and use are guaranteed through treaties signed with the United States.

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 proposed 21-mile primary county road, running north-south between U.S. Highway 41 and County Road Triple A, was originally intended to connect the Eagle Mine with the Humboldt Mill. (File photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

Last month, the Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) voted to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its "arbitrary and capricious" objection to County Road 595 over two years ago. In reality, the MCRC failed to submit an application consistent with federal Clean Water Act requirements.**

In EPA's objection letter, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) was given detailed requirements to address inadequate wetland minimization and compensation plans, and 30 days to satisfy the objection or deny the permit. MDEQ denied the permit, although the process could have transferred to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority.

Prior to a decision, EPA heard directly from the public in Marquette on August 28, 2012. Many citizens expressed concerns in opposition to County Road 595, contrary to many government officials.

Jessica Koski, author of this article, presents her comments on the proposed County Road 595 during the Aug. 28, 2012, public hearing held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Marquette. (File photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

The lawsuit's price tag is $500,000 and road construction is estimated to cost $80 to $100 million, without additional maintenance costs. Eagle Mine says they won't fund the lawsuit or road. Taxpayers are promised they won't foot the bill. According to local officials, state Sen.Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, is a driving force behind the lawsuit and an assembly of secret private funders.

Casperson's road rage is currently attempting to amend Michigan's Constitution to rob the state's Natural Resources Trust Fund for timber and mining infrastructure. This is contrary to the opinion of Michigan's Attorney General and the original intent of the Fund since 1976 to support environmental preservation and enhance outdoor recreation benefits for the public.

Recent Eagle Mine trucking accidents are undeniably a public safety concern. However, even if MCRC is successful, it would be years before County Road 595 could be a reality. Are there alternative actions to more immediately protect the public from ore trucks? Yes.

In June 2013, the Marquette City Commission asked MDEQ to require Eagle Mine to amend its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regarding transportation. MDEQ denied the request, claiming the city is not within the mine's "affected area."

Marquette County could object to MDEQ's unwillingness to enforce the state mining rules. Part 632 states that an EIA shall define the affected area. Because the company significantly changed transportation from rail to truck after receiving a mining permit, the people of Marquette County were never rightfully provided an opportunity during the permitting process to weigh in on transportation impacts and the now inaccurate affected area.

Eagle Mine can also go beyond regulatory requirements and implement best practices. In fact, their original permit included hard cover trailer tops, but switched to soft cover tarps for easier loading and unloading. Is a convenience for Lundin Mining Corp. more important than public safety?

The company could also reconsider its original rail option. This would create jobs, alleviate stress on public road infrastructure and better protect public safety and the environment.

Rail probably could have saved much wasted investment and headache for the local community. Also, imagine if as much political support and energy exhausted into County Road 595 went toward a truck bypass around the city.

Ultimately, local officials are empowered with zoning and ordinance authority to establish more stringent conditions for how, when and where heavy ore trucks travel through the city.

(Inset photo of Jessica Koski courtesy Native American Political Leadership Program)

Editor's notes:

* Guest author Jessica Koski is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). She is an alumna of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and currently serves as Mining Technical Assistant for the KBIC. This article appeared in the Marquette Mining Journal on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. It is reprinted here with the author's permission.

** See Keweenaw Now's Jan. 28, 2015, article, "Marquette County Board, residents, environmental groups oppose Road Commission vote to sue EPA over CR 595; lawsuit funding sources undisclosed."

Sunday, February 08, 2015

DNR receives updated Graymont proposal for Eastern U.P. land transaction, limestone mining

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.*****

NOTES:

* 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.

Barneløpet children's race is TODAY, Feb. 8, at Maasto Hiihto

Sons of Norway members announce the Barneløpet children's ski race during the Heikinpäivä Parade on Jan. 31, 2015, in Hancock. (Photo by Keweenaw Now).

HANCOCK --The Barneløpet ("Children’s Race" in Norwegian) -- a classic-style cross-country ski event sponsored jointly by the Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club (KNSC), City of Hancock, and the Sons of Norway’s Ulseth Lodge -- will be held at 2 p.m. TODAY, Sunday, Feb. 8 at Maasto Hiihto Trails. Registration is at 1 p.m.at the the Four Seasons Chalet at the trailhead in Hancock (County Fair Grounds).

Kids take off at the start of the 2014 Barneløpet. (File photo © and courtesy The Trail Mutt Reports)

Registration is open for ages 3 through 17 years old. The Barneløpet start is at the Hancock Four Seasons Chalet trailhead on the Maasto Hiihto cross-country trail system with groomed and marked courses of 1, 2, 4, and 6 km, each for children of differing ages/abilities. Start times: 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in age groups. Parents can ski with their children if they wish, to make it a family outing.

This is a noncompetitive event. Ski for time or take your time!

Youth skiers who complete their chosen course receive a large, colorful enameled Participation Medallion and can enjoy the hot chocolate and cookie treats provided at the Chalet for everyone after they finish. A suggested donation of $3 per child or $5 per family, to help defray the costs of the event, is welcome.

To download a registration form, click here.