MARQUETTE - Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co.'s recent decision to truck ore from its Eagle Mine through the city of Marquette drew a strong negative response from Marquette city officials Monday.
"I have zero intention of allowing those trucks to rumble through this town," said Mayor John Kivela.
Kennecott recently announced it was abandoning a plan to build a north-south haul route from the mine in northern Marquette County to a processing facility in Humboldt Township. Instead the company proposed to upgrade and use existing roads, including Marquette County Road AAA, County Road 510, County Road 550 and Wright Street - which runs through the city - to get to U.S. 41 and the Humboldt facility west of Ishpeming.
"To run 80 trucks a day through the heart of Northern Michigan University, by residences, by a school, dumping out into the busiest corridor in the U.P. ... that has disaster written all over it," Kivela said.
Commissioner Johnny DePetro said Kennecott's truck traffic through the city and Marquette Township was "unacceptable." He said school buses frequently stop on Wright Street to drop off or pick up children and bicyclists often use the street's bike lanes.
Kennecott officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Kennecott's original plan was to use existing roads to haul its ore. After concerns were raised by environmentalists and others, it twice proposed to build new north-south haul routes - first the Woodland Road and then Marquette County Road 595. Federal regulators objected to both proposals over wetlands destruction and other issues. Kennecott cited those objections, timeline problems, costs and public concerns as the reasons for abandoning those routes.
Commissioner Jason Schneider said Kennecott and its parent company Rio Tinto have poor human rights and environmental records and the commission should be hesitant to deal with the company.
Commissioner Don Ryan said he opposed ore trucks in the city but supported the mine and the jobs it has already created and will create in the future. He said the city should work with Kennecott to find a solution.
City Manager Bill Vajda said city officials would wait and see how the state and federal process plays out concerning the haul route before taking further action. He encouraged Kennecott and The Marquette County Road Commission to work together to find the right solution.
The commission as a whole has not gone on record either supporting or opposing the mine itself. Kivela said he and Marquette Township Supervisor Dennis Liimatta, backed by their respective boards, sent a joint letter to federal agencies supporting the Woodland Road and subsequently CR 595.
"We did that as two communities, not to say 'this is support for the mine.' We did it because we were supporting quality of life in our communities. That's what this board is elected to do," Kivela said.
During public comment, Marquette resident Ava Miller said Kennecott was using the route through the city as a scare tactic to pressure residents and elected officials to support the company's CR 595 project. She said Kennecott has other options, including building a railroad spur to connect to the Lake Superior and Ishpeming railroad north of Marquette.
Catherine Parker said part of Michigan's mining law says a local unit of government may enact and enforce ordinances, regulations or resolutions regulating the hours mining operations may take place and routes used by vehicles in connection with mining operations.
"I'd like to suggest that, at the very least, the commission consider enacting ordinances regulating decibels, emissions and hours of operations for Kennecott's haul trucks," she said.
According to the law such regulations have to be reasonable in accommodating mining operations.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is email@example.com.