See our right-hand column for announcements and news briefs. Scroll down the right-hand column to access the Archives -- links to articles posted in the main column since 2007.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Hancock City Council to hold Special Meeting Sept. 12; at-large Councilor vacancy to be write-in

HANCOCK -- The Hancock City Council will hold a Special Council Meeting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12, in the Hancock City Hall for the following purposes:

1. Consider applications received by the City Clerk to fill a vacancy on the City Council due to the resignation of at-large Councilor Jim Hainault, who moved out of the City to Chassell.

According to the City Charter, Section 4.5:  "... a vacancy shall be deemed to exist in any elective office on the day when the officer dies, files his resignation with the City Clerk-Treasurer, is removed from office, moves from the City…."*

Since no petitions were filed to fill the vacancy left by James Hainault, this Office of one Councilor (at large) for a two-year term expiring in 2014 will have to be a write-in.

The last day for write-in candidates to file a declaration of intent form for the November general election is 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26. Any resident of Hancock interested in running for this vacant at-large seat can file this form.

According to City Clerk Karen Haischer, this requirement reflects a change in the law. Write-in votes count only if the candidate has submitted a declaration of intent form.

The following residents have filed nominating petitions (non-partisan) for the office of one Ward Councilor from Ward I, II, and III each for a four year term. These petitions have been certified by the City Clerk and these names will be on the ballot for re-election:
Ward 1 - Precinct 1: William D. Laitila (vote for one)
Ward 2 - Precinct 2: Jeremie R. Moore (vote for one)
Ward 3 - Precinct 3: John Slivon (vote for one)

2. Consider making a Council appoint to fill the open at-large Council seat. The appointment would be good until the November Election (the appointee would sit on the Council for the September and October 2012 regular meetings); therefore, if the person appointed wanted to remain on the Council they would have file a declaration of intent form by Oct. 26 to run as a write-in for a two-year term ending in 2014.**

In order to be considered for this temporary appointment by the Council, a person would need to submit an application of interest for the at-large seat to City Clerk Karen Haischer by 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. 

3. Consider Resolution #8-2012 MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) Project Authorization Resolution for support of the Hancock Transit.

Editor's Notes: 
* Click here to read the Hancock City Charter.

** Click here to read about the Hancock City Council.

Michigan LCV: Casperson bill wants ATVs on conservancy lands

From Michigan League of Conservation Voters Political Week in Review
Posted Aug. 27, 2012 (Reprinted with permission)
By Ryan Werder

Imagine walking down a path that winds through your local nature preserve. Birds are chirping, squirrels are chattering. Walking quietly, you spot a deer just off the trail upwind from you. The sounds of the forest put you at ease, but you suddenly hear a roaring motor rapidly accelerating toward you. The deer spooks, the birds fly away, and you’re splashed with mud thrown up by an ATV as it zips past on the once-peaceful trail.

This could be the new reality for nature conservancies if Sen. Tom Casperson has his way. According to excellent reporting by Bridge Michigan’s Jeff Alexander, Sen. Casperson is working on a bill that would require nature conservancies to allow motorized access in order to qualify for tax exemptions.* Nature conservancies, however, often have covenants prohibiting motorized access that the bill would require them to break in order to continue their tax status.

In the article, Sen. Casperson said that the bill was about public access, but conservancies already allow public access. All you have to do is walk in. This bill, unfortunately, continues language included in other recent bills -- like SB 1238 and the Land Cap Bill -- which attempt to restrict quiet-use areas.** There is nothing wrong with having some areas of public land open to motorized trails, but there is nothing wrong with conserving some areas for quiet uses like hiking and cross-country skiing, either. After all, since when does enjoying nature require a whirring engine?

* Click here to read Jeff Alexander's Aug. 23, 2012, Bridge Michigan article, "Land Wars: Senator targets private land conservancies."

** Click here to read Michigan LCV's Jan. 13, 2012, article on Casperson and the Land Cap Bill.

Read more articles on the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Aug. 27, 2012, Political Week in Review.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship to host Sept. 9 film, forum on persecution of Baha'i faith in Iran

By Michele Bourdieu

HOUGHTON -- The Amnesty International film Education Under Fire, a documentary about the persecution of people of the Baha'i faith in Iran, will be the subject of a Forum hosted by the Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (KUUF) at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, in the Head Start Building in Houghton.

At the Portage Lake District Library last May, Saeid Nooshabadi, right, speaks about the persecution of Baha'is in Iran and answers questions on the film Education Under Fire, which he and his wife, Laleh Vahdat (standing in background and also pictured below), presented to a community audience. Vahdat will show the film at a Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Forum this Sunday, Sept. 9. (Photos by Keweenaw Now

The film tells about the Iranian government’s denial for the past thirty years of the right to higher education for all the members of its largest non-Muslim religious minority -- the Baha’is.

Laleh Vahdat, whose own family has been persecuted for their Baha'i faith, will show the film and lead the discussion. Vahdat and her husband, Michigan Tech Professor Saeid Nooshabadi, showed the film at the Portage Lake District Library last May. 

"It was really a very effective depiction of the struggles and the courage of people determined to practice their faith in spite of being denied their human rights," said Joanne Thomas, a KUUF member who watched the film last May and suggested to KUUF that they invite Vahdat to show the film.

The film and presentation are free and open to the public.

About 300,000 Baha'is still live in Iran; however, since they are non-Muslim, they are not allowed to attend Iranian universities. The film Education Under Fire shows how courageous Baha'i students and teachers founded their own underground university. They continue to educate their own people despite the fact that their schools have been attacked and many of the teachers have been put in jail.

In the film, a doctor who was not a Baha'i, but who had Baha'i friends, said, "They couldn't drink out of the same fountain as Muslim students."

Other people interviewed in the film tell stories of persecution, not only under the present government but also under the pre-Revolution government of the Shah. Some tell stories of the underground university and how assignments were transmitted from student to teacher, sometimes taking months to reach their destination.

The film also shows that Muslim friends often took risks to help Baha'is even though, as Nooshabadi noted, "[Muslims] consider the Baha'i religion to be heresy."

Founded in the 19th century, the Baha'i religion teaches the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family, the oneness of religion and the equality of men and women.

Sundra Moyyad of Atlantic Mine said of the film, "I thought it brought out the human rights issue in a very gentle way."

Moyyad has been a Baha'i for many years. She said she learned about the religion while living and working in Detroit as a public health educator.

Arno Moyyad, Sundra's son, also commented on the film.

"It was really informative, and it showed how much help they need from people from outside Iran," he said.

The KUUF Forum will be held in the Head Start Building, 700 Park Avenue, Houghton (immediately north of Econo Foods). The entrance to the Meeting Room is from Water Works Drive. For more information call KUUF at 906-482-5586.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

NOSOTROS to host free Latin dance Sept. 8

Poster for Sept. 8 NOSOTROS Latin Dance and lessons. Click on poster for larger version. (Poster courtesy NOSOTROS)

HOUGHTON -- NOSOTROS, the Latin students' organization at Michigan Tech, invites the public to join them at their first dance of the season on Saturday, Sept. 8, in MUB (Memorial Union Building) Ballroom A on the Michigan Tech campus. Latin dance lessons will be offered from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Open Floor dancing is from 9 p.m. to midnight. Lessons and dance are FREE.

No partner is needed. Please bring your favorite music to share with others.

UPDATED: Calumet galleries to offer art, music, more for First Friday, Sept. 7

CALUMET -- First Friday in Calumet, Sept. 7, will offer new art exhibits, art activity and music in the galleries.

Copper Country Associated Artists to host "Quilting in Clay"

Visitors to Copper Country Associated Artists in Calumet this First Friday, Sept. 7, will be invited to use red earthenware slabs of clay similar to these for a quilting activity, with the help of artist Miriam Pickens. (Photo courtesy Copper Country Associated Artists)

At the Copper Country Associated Artists (CCAA), First Friday in September will be a celebration of quilting in a most unusual form. In preparation for the Sandstone Piecemakers' major quilt show in Calumet on Saturday, Sept. 15, the CCAA will host a "Quilting in Clay" project from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012.

Miriam Pickens is providing slabs of clay which can be cut into pieces and texturized to form a "quilt" that can afterward be used as a tabletop trivet, or the pieces can be strung together into a wall hanging. This project is suitable for all ages. CCAA will provide all materials, but you can bring your own textures if you'd like.

Pieces will be fired during the week and can be picked up on Saturday, Sept. 15, the day of the quilt show.

The CCAA Gallery and Studio is at 205 Fifth Street in Calumet.

Gallerie Bohème to feature new sculpture by Tom Rudd

Gallerie Bohème will exhibit "Some New Stuff: Sculpture by Tom Rudd" from Sept. 7 through Oct. 4, 2012.

New sculpture by Tom Rudd. (Photo courtesy Gallerie Bohème)

An opening reception will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on First Friday, Sept. 7, in the gallery, which is located at 426 Fifth Street in Calumet. Refreshments will be served.

Vertin Gallery to feature wood carvings by Dave Stimac

The Vertin Gallery will feature the wood carving of Dave Stimac through the month of September. An opening reception will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on First Friday, Sept. 7. Stimac will be present at the reception to answer questions and talk about his process.

Rocking chair. Wood carving by Dave Stimac. (Photo courtesy Vertin Gallery)

Stimac was the last head sawyer at Henry Ford's sawmill located in Alberta, Michigan. Self taught, Dave has been creating custom furniture and art objects for over twenty years. He works primarily in birdseye maple, an expensive and rare wood found in the northern Upper Peninsula, sometimes using accents of other beautiful, local hardwoods such as cherry and walnut.

Dave's furniture -- including a bed, rocking chairs, and tables -- will be featured in the exhibit.

In addition, Vertin Gallery is excited to welcome musician AJ Fisher, who will be gracing visitors with her musical talents throughout the opening.

If you can't make it to the reception Friday, be sure to stop in anytime this month and marvel at the beautiful wood creations on display.

Some of Dave's work can be seen on his website,

Omphale Gallery to exhibit "Teapots and Opposites: New work by Lynne Farris"

At the top of Fifth Street, be sure to stop in Friday evening and see the new exhibit at the Omphale Gallery and Café: "Teapots and Opposites: New work by Lynne Farris."

Check out the Omphale's coffee and gourmet treats. Music will be provided during evening by musician/composer Robin Oye.

Other than First Friday evening, new autumn hours at the Omphale are Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed on Sunday.

The Omphale is at 431 Fifth Street, just a few doors above Gallerie Bohème. Visit the Omphale on Facebook for more information.

UPDATE: Calumet Art Center to host pottery demonstration

The Calumet Art Center will have a demonstration in throwing clay on the potter’s wheel on First Friday evening, Sept. 7. Visit the Center and also tour their performance hall, writing room and library.

The Calumet Art Center is at 57055 Fifth Street. For more information call 906-934-2228.

UPDATE: Ziyad and Co. Gallery to host wood artistry of Bill Wiard

The wood artistry of Bill Wiard will be featured in the September show at the Ziyad and Co. Art Gallery in Calumet. An artist's reception will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on First Friday, Sept. 7, at the Gallery (former Ed Gray Gallery).

Wood art by Bill Wiard. (Photo courtesy Ziyad and Co. Art Gallery)

Wiard's concept of wood turning is to work in harmony with nature. Each block of wood evolves into an adventure revealing the inherent natural characteristics of the wood. Natural elements found in wood, often called imperfections -- such as bark inclusions, distressed areas, unusual figure including birds eye and spalting along with contrasting heart and sapwood colors -- are all employed to achieve striking and unusual character that complement the finished form.

The Ziyad and Co. Art Gallery is at 109 Fifth St. Call 906-337-5970 for more information.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Finlandia Gallery to hold closing reception for "collectors at heART" Sept. 6

HANCOCK, MI – The exhibit, "collectors at heART" is featured at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock, through Sept. 13, 2013.

A closing reception for the collectors will take place at the gallery from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6. A gallery talk will begin at 7:15 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

"collectors at heART" features artwork from the collections of eight Copper Country residents: Phyllis Fredendall, Robert and Christi Grame, Joyce Koskenmaki, Rick Loduha, Denise Vandeville, Christa Walck, and Mary Wright. Artwork media include sculpture, ceramics, paintings, mixed media, digital art, and even a piece made entirely of trash.

Historically, the "patron" has served an important role in the development of fine art, and it’s been said that today’s art patronage is tomorrow’s art history. But what role does patronage play in today’s culture? In these uncertain economic times, who collects art?

The word "patron," from the Latin "patronus," means "protector of clients" or "defender." For these eight Copper Country residents, however, the motivation to collect art grows from the heart. The artworks they have purchased, traded, or been gifted have become treasured parts of their lives.

"As I was visiting homes to help select the artwork for the show, I came to understand how much this artwork means to their owners," notes Carrie Flaspohler, director of the Finlandia University Gallery. "As they shared stories of how each piece was acquired, I sensed that their initial excitement about purchasing the pieces hadn’t diminished, but rather had been transformed into a deep respect for the artwork."

Artist and collector Joyce Koskenmaki considers herself fortunate that she can trade work with other artists. But Koskenmaki also purchases art from artists "whose work I have needed to keep with me to nurture my soul."

For community artist Mary Wright, collecting has become a life mission. "One of the reasons I am on earth is to collect art and support artists," she asserts. "It is truly my belief that artists have great power to move people positively," Wright continues. "When I first see a piece that captivates my heart, I’m done for. I am going to find a way to buy it, whatever it takes."

Wright says that she has acquired the artworks in her collection because she can’t live without them, and that she is happy to share them with others. She encourages everyone to collect art and support artists.

"As an artist, my motivations for buying art may be different from other collectors," notes Denise Vandeville, explaining that she doesn’t buy art simply because its value may increase.

"My collecting practices rely completely on emotion," Vandeville says. "I either know the artist as a person and I want a representation of them in my house (almost like a snapshot), or the form and/or content of the artwork strikes me on such a personal level that I want to live with it and see it every day."

For Phyllis Fredendall, purchasing artwork is a way to support an admired artist.

"I began collecting art years ago when a wonderful painter I knew needed money," Fredendall explains. "I bought three of his pieces, in a way to be a caretaker of the work."

An individual’s goals for art collecting may change as time passes, notes Christa Walck, whose interest in art started with "collectibles" and crafts, then moved on to fine art and design.

"I have been collecting art for over 40 years," Walck says. "I am addicted to beautiful things because they give life meaning, and I collect because I want to support artists and designers."

Walck also purchases art for public collections, including for the VanPelt and Opie Library at Michigan Technological University, Houghton, and the Copper Country Community Arts Center in Hancock.

For Robert and Christi Grame, their art collection "adds rich eclectic verb" to their lives. "We actively seek, trade, and purchase art artifacts (2d and 3d) that embrace a highly quirky narrative," says Robert Grame. "Our art is not necessarily precious, but it is vital."

"Life Without Art is Stupid," claims a popular bumper sticker. "Perhaps that bumper sticker is an overstatement, but I believe it is true," says designer Rick Loduha, proposing that the "faint of heart" could tone it down to "Life Without Art is Empty."

Loduha, who "honestly can’t imagine living without visual art" surrounding him, often barters his design expertise for the artwork of friends who are painters and sculptors.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or by appointment.

Reflection Gallery to host art by Kristin (Wanhala) Stanchina through Sept. 28

HANCOCK -- The Finlandia University Reflection Gallery, Hancock, will host an exhibition of paintings by Upper Peninsula artist Kristin (Wanhala) Stanchina through Sept. 28, 2012.

Artwork by Kristin (Wanhala) Stanchina. (Photos courtesy Finlandia University)

An opening reception for the artist will take place from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the gallery on Thursday, Sept. 6.
The reception is free and open to the public; refreshments will be served.

"I am from" is a collection of work that illustrates Stanchina’s past, present, and future. Stanchina, from Tapiola, Mich, is 100 percent Finnish.

"I was interested in exploring what that means," Stanchina said of her Finnish ethnicity, adding that because Finnish traits include stoicism and a certain level of privacy, she found that collecting family photos and memories was a challenging undertaking.

As she sorted through old family photographs, exploring hazy memories and poking through her family’s history, Stanchina says she discovered a better sense of her past and present, although the journey was not an easy one.

"A lot of family history is lost, or half-recollected, simply because the Finnish are often so fiercely guarded that family secrets are not revealed, even to one another," she says.

To elucidate the snippets of family history she discovered, Stanchina used paint, collage, photography, and repurposed objects.

 Artwork by Kristin (Wanhala) Stanchina.

"I seek to invoke a sense of the past and my imagery is sometimes vague and obscured -- the way a memory often is," she explains of her artwork.

In the exhibit, Stanchina notes that objects, events, and places are all of equal importance "because that’s what our memories consist of: a jumbled assortment of imagery that forms a sense of who we were, who we are, and who we will yet become."

"I am from" includes imagery from a 1970s childhood and from family life in general. Artwork topics include depictions of the 1913 Italian Hall disaster, as well the aftermath. Stanchina’s paintings are in black and white, color, and found patterns of faded fabrics.

Stanchina spent most of her childhood in Houghton and attended high school in Iron Mountain. She holds a bachelor of fine arts, with concentrations in drawing and painting, from Northern Michigan University, Marquette. She has been teaching art at Iron Mountain Public Schools since 2001. Stanchina resides in Iron Mountain with her husband and daughter.

The Reflection Gallery is located on the second level of Finlandia’s Jutila Center campus, 200 Michigan Street, Hancock, MI 49930.

For additional information, e-mail or call 906-487-7500.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Letter: Truck Route alternative to CR 595 would benefit Marquette

To the editor:

The Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) and Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. (KEMC) provided the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a list of Alternate Routes for a new road from the Yellow Dog Plains in northern Marquette County to US 41 in Humboldt. The cost of building whichever route that was to be used would be paid for by KEMC at a cost of $80,000,000 to $100,000,000. This list consisted of 4-5 different routes all in heavily wooded, wetland areas.

However, they did not include a route that utilizes the roads that already exist and would be improved to benefit our community directly. This route utilizes County Road 550, Forestville Road and US 41. This map of the general Forestville route was available at the Aug. 28, 2012, EPA Hearing on CR 595:

This map shows the Forestville Road (in green) and a suggested new truck route that would avoid congested traffic areas of Marquette. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Daryl Wilcox, Powell Township supervisor)

KEMC researched and surveyed the Forestville route. They held meetings with the city and the townships about using this route if the Woodland Road doesn’t get approved. I imagine that one of the biggest reasons for not proposing this is the money KEMC would save hauling their ore to the Humboldt Mill. But another big reason for CR 595 is it allows them to operate "Out of Sight and Out of  Mind" of the general public. 

If the Forestville route were to be used there would be many benefits for the people of Marquette County. A truck route around north Marquette would stop any mining trucks from coming through the heavily populated City. Heavy logging coming from Big Bay and the limestone trucks that currently use Wright Street could use the Forestville route. Trucks going to the new Northern Michigan University Power Plant on the corner of Wright St. and Sugarloaf Ave. (up to 7 loads of wood chips per day) could use it. All the delivery trucks that go to WE Energies could use that route also.

This is a real solution for the truck traffic in north Marquette which has been a problem for the citizens of Marquette for a very long time. A Truck Route and an improved CR 550 would be a permanent for our community and our children and their children would benefit long into the future.

CR 595 is to be built as a Dead End Road ending at the KEMC Mine. The road from Powell Township to the mine, CR AAA, is a Seasonal Road which the MCRC has informed Powell Township that they would not maintain in the winter so that people who live along CR 550 could work at the mine. KEMC did say they would plow the road during the winter so the people on CR 550 could work at the mine as long as it was open. This was verbal commitment and currently no agreement is in writing. In a public meeting with the Powell Township Board, KEMC stated that once CR 595 is built there will be no commercial traffic allowed up to the mine from CR 550. This choice will bring serious economic harm to Powell Township, and that harm has not been addressed in any document or meeting of our county government.

$80,000,000 to $100,000,000 for a Haul Road to a mine that destroys more of what makes the UP special and will be gone within a short time or spend $80,000,000 to $100,000,000 to update our current roads and build a truck route that will be here for the rest of our lives and all of our children's and grandchildren's lives?

Don't let a Foreign Mining Company come in to the Upper Peninsula and tell us what is good or bad. Make up your own mind and support what you feel is right.  
Thank you,

Daryl Wilcox
Powell Township Supervisor
Resident of the UP and Marquette County

Editor's Note: Keweenaw Now received this letter today, Sept. 4, 2012. Mr. Wilcox stated some of these ideas during the Aug. 28, 2012, EPA Hearing on CR 595 in Marquette.

Resolution from Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve to EPA

[Editor's Note: The Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve of Big Bay, Michigan, sent this Resolution to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 in Chicago as part of public comment on the EPA's objection to the Marquette County Road Commission's wetland and streams permit application for the proposed CR 595. The Resolution is reprinted here with permission.]

Whereas: County Road 595 has been officially recognized in County, State and Federal documents as "Kennecott’s haul road," with permitting and construction costs to be paid for by the company,

Whereas: The route for CR 595 was selected by a mining company to serve their needs, with minimal regard for sensitive wetlands areas, nesting habitat, migration patterns, and other environmental concerns,

Whereas: Kennecott has previously identified existing roads as being adequate for their purposes and stated that they would provide for the necessary upgrades,

Whereas: Improvements to existing roads would have substantially fewer negative effects on the environment,

Whereas: Construction of a bypass north of the city of Marquette would relieve truck traffic within the city limits,

Whereas: Arguments that a route must be located west of the Silver Lake Basin in case of dam failure lack support,

Whereas: There is no documented, long-standing need for a new road through this area,

Whereas: The Michigan DNR objected to construction of a south haul route as long ago as 2009, citing a long list of concerns including habitat fragmentation, an increase in secondary roads, negative impacts on birds and other wildlife, disruption of groundwater flow, and an increase in hunting and trapping pressures,

Whereas: The timber industry has operated safely and successfully on existing roads,

Whereas: Running a haul road through an undeveloped wild area would have a negative effect on tourism and quality of life in Marquette County,

Whereas: CR 595 would primarily benefit a private corporation,

Whereas: Federal law requires that environmental impacts from a proposed activity be reviewed on a cumulative basis while Kennecott is seeking permits piecemeal for exploration, mining, milling, extension of electrical, and construction of a haul road,

Whereas: Constructing a major highway in the proposed corridor would result in greater numbers of wildlife-vehicle accidents could potentially increase the number of wildfires and other incidents requiring emergency assistance,

Whereas: The Marquette County Road Commission does not have the resources to maintain another major roadway and needs $200,000,000 to reverse the deterioration of our current roads and bridges,

Whereas: 61 percent of Marquette County roads and 55 percent of bridges are in need of repair,

Whereas: According to a report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, investments in road and bridge repair create 9 percent more jobs per dollar than building new roads or bridges,

Now therefore let it be resolved that the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and their membership of 484 individuals from Marquette County and across the US recognizes that it is not in the public’s best interest to construct a new primary all-season county road to run north-south in the corridor proposed for CR 595.


Editor's Note: In addition to this Resolution from Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, similar resolutions opposing CR 595 have been sent to EPA by the following organizations and groups:  Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, Medical Professionals Against Sulfide Mining, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club Central Upper Peninsula Group, Save the Wild UP and Friends of the Land of Keweenaw.

Letter: National Wildlife Federation comments to EPA on CR 595

[Editor's Note: Michelle Halley, National Wildlife Federation Attorney and Lake Superior Project Senior Manager, sent this letter by email today to Melanie Haveman at the Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 with comments on the proposed County Road 595 in Marquette County. The letter is reprinted here with permission.]*

Sept. 4, 2012

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
77 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60604-3590
RE: Public Notice No. 11-52-0075-P, Marquette County Road Commission

Dear Ms. Haveman:

Thank you for this opportunity to offer formal comments on your agency’s objections to the Section 404 Clean Water Act permit application submitted by the Marquette County Road Commission to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. These comments are submitted on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation ("NWF"), an
international conservation and education organization which is keenly interested in protection of the Great Lakes, including the outstanding wetland and fresh water resources in the basin. In your oversight role, I urge you to maintain your agency’s previously-stated objections to the proposed County Road 595 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, particularly those related to the applicant’s failure to provide meaningful alternatives analysis.

Inadequate Alternatives Analysis

While the application considers numerous routes, it considers only one mode of transportation -- motor vehicle transportation. NWF submits that rail transportation could
serve the stated project purpose objectives much more effectively than motor vehicle traffic in any configuration. The current application in no way demonstrates that the preferred alternative is the least environmentally damaging practical alternative ("LEDPA"). Rail transportation requires a much smaller footprint than a roadway. Rail transportation results in fewer air emissions and requires less fuel than motor vehicle traffic. Rail transportation is far safer than motor vehicle traffic and would allow the route used to maintain its rural character. Using rail would allow for the transport of ore and timber, while not opening up critical wildlife habitat to development and greater fragmentation from secondary development from a new motor vehicle route.

Nowhere in the application are the effects of secondary development addressed. If a new County Road were to be developed between the Humboldt Mill and the Eagle Mine, it would open the area to further residential and commercial development. While NWF believes that the Eagle Mine was wrongfully permitted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, we also recognize that, at least until this road was proposed, the footprint of the mine site was relatively small and confined. If the proposed County Road 595 is built, it will result in a sprawling array of residential development and spin-off commercial development far flung through what is now among the best of the Upper Peninsula’s wildlife habitat. This project will impact the Upper Peninsula on a landscape level, and far beyond the road right of way.

Unaddressed Wildlife Concerns

Even with rail, the applicant must address the endangered species act concerns raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I am personally aware of and have heard and observed Kirtland’s warbler in very close proximity to the preferred route. Canada lynx is also a species known to exist in the area for which the applicant has not addressed potential impacts. In addition to threatened and endangered species, the construction methods proposed for the wetland areas, twenty-five foot embankments, will impede movement of small rodents and amphibians. Last, the applicant must assess secondary impacts from its project. If a motor vehicle route is constructed in a previously wild area, the impacts spread far further than the project footprint due to the likely development that would follow the roadway. Large mammals like wolves, moose and bear are known to live in the project area and require large tracts; impacts on the these animals have been glossed over.

Additionally, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has confirmed the presence of Puma concolor, mountain lion, in the central Upper Peninsula in recent news reports. Due to intense public interest, the exact locations of sightings remain confidential, but at a minimum, EPA should elicit information about the potential presence of mountain lions in the project area and consider impacts to them. The project simply cannot be approved in any configuration until wildlife impacts are understood and satisfactorily addressed.

Rio Tinto Must Assess Cumulative Impacts from Transportation According to Michigan Law; This Information Should Be Made Available to EPA

While I am aware that the application of state law is beyond the realm of EPA’s authority, you should be aware that Rio Tinto has an unmet responsibility under Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Part 632, MCL 324.63201 et al, to assess impacts from "transportation of overburden, waste rock, ore, and tailings" in the cumulative impacts analysis required by Mich. Admin. Rule 425.202(b). It also must, under Part 632’s administrative rules, describe "Roads, railroads, docks, piers, and other transportation infrastructure, and provisions to prevent release of contaminants to the environment from ore or waste rock during transportation." Mich. Admin. Rule 425.203(c)(xviii). While EPA cannot enforce MDEQ’s rules or Michigan statutes, certainly if these Michigan-required analyses were actually performed, they would greatly assist EPA by providing necessary information that is so far lacking in all applications involving transportation of ore.


Last, I must commend Ms. Hyde on her facilitation of the public hearing held in Marquette on August 28. She handled a large and passionate crowd very well. My one
concern about the evening was that while elected officials were invited to speak first, representatives of tribal sovereign nations were left with the dregs until after 10 p.m. This seemed to me a real slap in the face to the tribal nations present that evening.

In conclusion, I appreciate the opportunity to submit these comments. Please contact me at 906-361-0520 if you would like additional information.

F. Michelle Halley
Attorney and Lake Superior Project Senior Manager

* Editor's Note: Today -- Sept. 4, 2012 -- is the last day to submit comments to the EPA on their objections to the Marquette County Road Commission's wetlands and streams permit application for the proposed County Road 595. The public can submit comments by email to Melanie Haveman at

Sunday, September 02, 2012

EPA Hearing on CR 595 permit: Part 1, Questions

By Michele Bourdieu

A crowd of about 400 filled the Ontario, Michigan and Huron rooms in Northern Michigan University's Don H. Bottum University Center on Aug. 28, 2012, for the Environmental Protection Agency's Public Hearing on the proposed County Road 595. EPA has made objections to the wetland and stream crossing impacts in the permit application. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

MARQUETTE -- It was standing room only in Northern Michigan University's Great Lakes rooms for the Public Hearing on County Road 595 held on Aug. 28, 2012, by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The purpose of the hearing was to take comments from the public on the EPA's objections to the Marquette County Road Commission's application for a permit to fill wetlands and construct stream crossings for the proposed CR 595, a 21-mile public road from Rio Tinto-Kennecott's Eagle Mine on CR Triple A to the Humboldt Mill near US 41.

Although the permitting authority is presently the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), the EPA acts as overseer to be sure the permit application is in accordance with federal requirements under §404 Guidelines of the Clean Water Act (CWA). In a letter last April, the EPA sent the MDEQ combined comments from three federal agencies -- the EPA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers -- objecting that the permit application for CR 595 does not follow CWA 404 Guidelines because "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."*

During the informal question session from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. that preceded the formal hearing, staff from EPA's Region 5 in Chicago and from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) gave a brief informational presentation, noting the EPA's objections and preferred alternative routes -- and then fielded questions from the audience.

EPA presents objections to proposed CR 595 

Peter Swenson, EPA Region 5 (Chicago) Water Resources Division, Watersheds and Wetlands Branch chief, presented the EPA's objections and noted public comments would help the EPA determine whether to reaffirm, modify or remove its objection.

Under the CWA 404 Guidelines, the applicant (Marquette County Road Commission) has the responsibility to take necessary steps to avoid and minimize impacts to waters of the United States and must provide mitigation for any unavoidable impacts, Swenson explained.

The EPA also finds that alternative routes exist that would have fewer impacts to aquatic resources.

He displayed this map showing the Road Commission's preferred route, CR 595, and two alternative routes preferred by the EPA -- Mulligan Plains East/Sleepy Hollow and Red Road/Sleepy Hollow:

This map shows the Marquette County Road Commission's proposed CR 595 (green route) and two alternative routes preferred by the EPA -- Mulligan Plains East/Sleepy Hollow (brown route) and Red Road/Sleepy Hollow (red route).

Swenson also summarized the agency roles under the CWA with this slide:

This summary of the state and federal agency roles under the Clean Water Act applies to Michigan, one of two states (New Jersey is the other) in which CWA permitting authority is relegated to the state unless EPA objections are not resolved within a designated timeline. If, after the comment period on this application, EPA retains or modifies objections, MDEQ and the applicant will have 30 days to resolve them. If they do not, the Army Corps of Engineers will become the permitting authority.

Swenson pointed out reasons for concerns about wetlands, noting their functions include improving water quality, providing for floodwater storage, providing fish and wildlife habitat and representing a productive environment biologically.

"It's also important to note that Michigan has lost over half of its wetlands historically," Swenson said.

Most of the wetlands that would be impacted by the 595 route (75 percent of them) are high quality forested wetlands that are hard to replace, Swenson noted. He pointed out the important characteristics of northern forested wetlands with this slide:

One reason for the EPA's objection to the proposed CR 595 is that most of the wetlands it would impact are high quality forested wetlands, which are difficult or impossible to replace.

This chart gives a comparison of the wetland and stream impacts, as well as the costs, of the three roads:

In this chart, the figures for CR 595 have been updated from the original application. The Mulligan Plains East route would cost more than either of the other two routes because it would entail the construction of an expensive bridge.

Swenson also pointed out the differences in quality of wetlands in the EPA's recommended alternative routes:

In comparing the quality of wetlands potentially impacted by the three routes, the EPA concluded the Mulligan Plains East / Sleepy Hollow route would impact 35 percent less acreage of wetlands than CR 595 -- wetlands of similar quality. The Red Road /Sleepy Hollow route would have 25 percent less wetland impact than CR 595 while the impacted wetlands would be of lower quality than those potentially impacted by CR 595.

The federal agencies have also found the applicant's proposed mitigation for both wetlands and stream crossings to be insufficient. However, the Road Commission recently sent a revised mitigation plan, which the EPA and MDEQ are now studying, Swenson added.**

The EPA will prepare responses to the comments received by the deadline of Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. They will continue to review information provided by the applicant before making a decision. If EPA maintains its objection, the MDEQ would have 30 days to issue a permit that addresses EPA's concerns or to deny the permit. In that case the Army Corps of Engineers would become the permitting agency. Should EPA withdraw its objections, the MDEQ would issue the permit.

Questions from the public

After Swenson's presentation, members of the audience asked questions ranging from clarification of the choice of alternative routes to monitoring and enforcement to the stated purpose of the road and more.

In this video clip, questions pertain to mitigation, monitoring and enforcement, timeline for decision making, and CR 550 and 510 as alternatives. Members of the panel responding to questions include Tinka Hyde EPA Region 5 Water Division director; Peter Swenson, EPA Region 5 Water Division's Watersheds and Wetlands Branch chief and, seated at the table, from left, Melanie Haveman and Sue Elston, both of EPA Region 5 Water Division's Watersheds and Wetlands branch; Ginny Pennala, MDEQ Water Resources Division Upper Peninsula assistant district supervisor; and Steve Casey, MDEQ Water Resources Division Upper Peninsula district supervisor. (Video clips by Keweenaw Now)

More questions ...

In this video clip, questions include the timeline for the EPA decision, Humboldt Township's concern that CR FX is in a populated area, pollution other than wetland impacts, and clarification of permitting if EPA requires changes to address their objections.

Several questions from the audience concerned CR 550 and CR 510, which are presently being used by Rio Tinto-Kennecott, but have not been considered as alternative routes to the proposed CR 595 because the purpose of 595, as stated in the revised permit application (July 24, 2012) is the following:

"The purpose of the proposed CR 595 project is to construct a primary county north-south 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 the County’s population centers."***

One question from the audience asks about the 510 alternative connecting CR 510 with US 41. See blue route on the map below:

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 510 alternative in blue avoids the city of Marquette, but still passes through populated areas, including Negaunee and Ishpeming. 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)***

In their questions, members of the audience express concerns about the reasons for the EPA's choice of alternative routes.

In the following video clip, Gabriel Caplett of Headwaters News asks why the EPA changed its objections from their previous objection to the Woodland Road proposal (in the same general vicinity, with similar wetland and stream impacts), in which Rio-Tinto-Kennecott was applying for a private road and EPA did not mention impacts to "population centers" as a concern.

Caplett says, "Rio Tinto or the Road Commission or whoever Rio Tinto uses to get the road pushed through can decide what their project purpose is in order to limit it to the exact geographical area where they want a project, so that really sort of restricts the EPA in what it can consider because it needs to basically consider what the applicant wants it to."****

Here Gabriel Caplett questions the project purpose as restricting the EPA. Others ask about the total number of wetlands in the area, and whether the applicant would have to submit a new application in order to substitute an alternative route. 

Noting that the Army Corps of Engineers, in commenting on the Woodland Road project, found the stated purpose of that road deceptive, Catherine Parker of Marquette asked why the EPA has not considered comments by the Army Corps of Engineers to look at existing roads as a viable alternative.

A resident of Wright Street, making a statement rather than a question, added his concerns about additional traffic on Wright Street (where traffic is already heavy) should CR 595 not be approved and existing roads through the city of Marquette continue to be used.

EPA staff members' replies seemed to accept the project's stated purpose, in spite of the fact that it does not mention the road is intended to be a haul road for Rio Tinto-Kennecott -- a fact which is evident in the text of the application.

Final questions in this one-hour session preceding the hearing ask for further clarifications on whether existing roads could be an alternative. Another question concerns the permitting procedures should the EPA retain its objections. 

The last day to provide written comments to EPA on their objections to this permit application for CR 595 is Tuesday, Sept. 4. Email comments to Melanie Haveman at

This is Part 1 of a two-article series on the Aug. 28, 2012, EPA Public Hearing. Watch for Part 2, on the formal hearing, coming soon.

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

** Click here for the (draft) revised wetland mitigation plan, dated Aug. 21, 2012.

*** Click here for the July 24, 2012, revised permit application.

**** Gabriel Caplett has written several articles on the CR 595 issue. Click here to read his May 6, 2012, article, "EPA Caving on Kennecott Road?" in Headwaters News.