Pacific Legal Foundation joins local officials in 595 appeal

MARQUETTE — Pacific Legal Foundation on Thursday joined with Marquette County officials in appealing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s veto of a local road project, Marquette County Road 595.

Representing the Marquette County Road Commission free of charge, PLF attorneys filed an appeal with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking reversal of a district court ruling last year that agreed with EPA’s claim that the courts could not review its road veto.

“We are joining with local officials and the residents of Marquette County to fight back against destructive overreach by federal regulators,” said Mark Miller, a PLF managing attorney from PLF’s Atlantic Center in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in a news release. “This case is about winning local residents the right to construct a road that will benefit the environment, help the economy, and enhance traffic safety.

“But it is also about the rule of law. EPA’s contention that it is not accountable to any outside authority for its road veto cannot be allowed to stand. When unelected bureaucrats issue edicts that impact people’s lives, those decisions must be subject to review by the courts for their consistency with the law.”

At issue is County Road 595, a proposed 21-mile route that would provide a shortcut for heavy trucks, allowing them to bypass busy city streets in Marquette County. As planned and approved by state officials, it would reduce air pollution, increase safety and save over 450,000 gallons of fuel yearly, PLF said.

The north-south all-season road would run between Marquette County Road AAA in Michigamme Township and U.S. 41 in Humboldt Township, providing a route for truck traffic much shorter than the 120-mile round trip from the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill.

Yet even though state environmental officials signed off on the plan — and it has been endorsed by the Michigan Legislature — EPA regulators intervened and imposed a roadblock, with a claim that CR 595 would adversely impact wetlands, according to the PLF.

“EPA hasn’t provided clear details to justify butting in,” Miller said. “Meanwhile, they have balked at working out a cooperative solution. No matter what proposals and concessions the local government agency offered, the feds refused to budge. This kind of inflexibility is unacceptable.

“Even more unacceptable is EPA’s arrogant claim that its action isn’t subject to judicial review,” Miller continued. “As we will point out in our appeal to the 6th Circuit, EPA can’t set itself up as its own judge and jury. As the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, in last year’s landmark PLF victory in Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes, when the feds declare property to be wetlands, there is a guaranteed right to seek a second opinion from the courts.”

In a statement underscoring the environmental need for the new road, Jim Iwanicki, engineer for the Marquette County Road Commission, said in a news release: “When trucks can travel 22 miles one way rather than 50-plus miles one way, that’s a savings of almost 500,000 gallons of fuel annually.

“On top of that savings of fossil fuel, County Road 595 would significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide those trucks are putting out, since they’d be driving 1.5 million miles less a year.”

Miller said the EPA’s “inflexible” position puts public safety and sensible local planning at risk. “PLF will not allow federal regulators to escape judicial review when they abuse their power and cause harm to communities.”

The case is Marquette County Road Commission v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More information, including the notice of appeal, explanatory blog posts, photos and a video can be found at: www.pacificlegal.org.

PLC’s

In December, a U.S. District Court judge denied the county road commission’s motion for reconsideration in its legal battle against the EPA regarding the construction of County Road 595.

According to court documents, the order denying reconsideration was filed by Judge Robert Holmes Bell after a motion hearing Dec. 12.

Save the Wild U.P., a local environmental group that has a long history of voicing its opposition of the proposed road, told The Mining Journal that Bell’s decision to deny the motion for reconsideration was reassuring.

“It’s really good news to us, our organization,” said Alexandra Maxwell, then SWUP director. “We feel that it is too dangerous to really vital watersheds and wetlands found in the area between Eagle Mine and the Humboldt Mill, and I think this decision continues to show support of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Service) that said this area was just too beautiful to ruin.”

In December, SWUP and and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition completed a year-end merger, resulting in the formation of a Mining Action Group within UPEC.