MARQUETTE - Opponents and proponents of the Woodland Road are voicing their reaction to a recent decision by the group to withdraw its permit application.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment was set to decide last Friday on whether to issue permits for the 22-mile $50 million road project, which would provide a haul route for gravel, timbering and mining interests in the region, including the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company.
Woodland Road LLC officials have been working to address concerns raised earlier this year by federal agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Michelle Halley, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation said, "Kennecott's temporary withdrawal of the Woodlands Road permit is another example of them playing the system."
"As they applied for it, the project was simply too harmful to be permitted. Now, they're buying time to figure out the bare minimum of required protection (for) wetlands, amphibians, deer and other wildlife," Halley said. "Once again, Kennecott demonstrates that it is really about its bottom line and therefore, doing the bare minimum for people and the environment. In other permit processes, they have not even done that."
Woodland Road consists of A. Lindberg and Sons, the Michigan Forest Products Council, John Jilbert Properties and Kennecott. Group officials said they remain committed to the road project and withdrawing the permit application was the best idea for now. They plan to resubmit the permit later this year.
The withdrawal was communicated by letter to the DNRE. Earlier this year, U.S. EPA officials were joined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a federal objection to the DNRE issuing a permit for the project - mainly for issues related to wetlands mitigation and alternate route analysis. Woodland Road LLC had 90 days to address concerns before the DNRE was set to rule on the permit.
The proposed new road would wind south from Marquette County Road AAA in Michigamme Township to a point along U.S. 41 West in Humboldt Township. Along with providing a means to truck timber and gravel, Woodland Road would give Kennecott a new way to connect its Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains with an ore processing facility at the former Humbodlt Mill.
Proponents say the Woodland Road would be shorter, more economical and pollute less than existing alternatives. Increasingly, the route has also been viewed by local municipalities as a solution in easing truck traffic along the busy U.S.-41 corridor between Marquette and Ishpeming, and along Marquette County roads 510 and 550.
"We recognized early on that truck traffic was a real concern for folks - a top priority for the community," said Kennecott General Manager Jon Cherry. "Our effort so far on Woodland Road has been expensive and our success at getting the road permitted is still far from certain, but the community wants us to find a better answer and (so) we are going to stick with it."
Kennecott - which would fund construction of the Woodland Road - estimated that without the Woodland Road, an additional 100 trucks daily would pass through Marquette once Kennecott's nickel and copper mine began producing. The original route Kennecott proposed for the mine was via County Roads 510 and 550, which runs into Marquette from Michigamme Township.
"While I do not wantKennecott ore trucks or the associated traffic passing by my home anymore than anyone else, I felt that the Woodland Road would have destroyed too much in an effort to accommodate Kennecott Minerals," Pryor said. "Kennecott, before they make the attempt again, better look to the law of Part 632 (non-ferrous mining law) which states that any change to their approved permit requires an amendment which should include an environmental assessment, public comment and a public hearing."
Pryor said the EPA and Army Corps are indicating they would like to see a "holistic" approach to this permit - showing all of Kennecott's plans linked together - mine, haul route and ore processing plant.
"That is what Part 632 was supposed to provide.The applicantwas supposed toreveal all their plans, do the necessary assessments and impact analysis - giving a total view of the projectto regulators and citizens alike," Pryor said. "Kennecott is tryingto piecemeal things in,and in doing so, bypass the requirements ofPart 632.Kennecott absolutely knows this."
Marquette County Board Chairman Gerald Corkin said "the region needs the additional infrastructure Woodland Road would bring to serve our long-term economic needs, which must include our natural resource-based employers."
Corkin, too, said the road would alleviate the long-standing issue of truck traffic in populated areas.
"The need for Woodland Road transcends the interests of any one of the Woodland Road LLC members," Corkin said. "So we are pleased the group has made it possible for us to continue pursuing the project."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.