MARQUETTE - Representatives from local governmental units said Thursday they're determined to push "as hard and as fast as we can" toward development of Marquette County Road 595 - a north-south road project the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. said recently it would have to abandon.
Proponents want the 22-mile road built to realize a range of benefits including shorter, more economical trucking routes for timber, aggregate and mining; tourism and economic development; jobs; recreational access; and improving safety by diverting an expected peak flow of 80 trucks per day from Kennecott's Eagle Mine off the busy U.S. 41 traffic corridor between Marquette and Humboldt.
"We're going to push it as hard and as fast as we can," Marquette County Board Chairman Charles Bergdahl said.
Groups pursuing the project are backing its development as a public road built by the Marquette County Road Commission, hoping permitting issues can be resolved and Kennecott would eventually reinstate a pledge to fund the estimated $50 million to $80 million project cost.
On Thursday, delegates from the county board, Lake Superior Community Partnership, Marquette County Road Commission and Champion, Humboldt and Michigamme townships met with U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, and state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, in Marquette.
Bergdahl said both lawmakers are behind the project and pledged to help enlist the support of others, including downstate Congressional districts and Gov. Rick Snyder. Bergdahl said he believes if that support could be acquired, the effort to resurrect County Road 595 could be successful.
"I feel we can push hard," Bergdahl said. "I think we can push it through."
LSCP CEO Amy Clickner said her organization has recently been to Lansing talking to lawmakers and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
"I don't think there's any other option for our community but to get this done," Clickner said.
Last month, Kennecott announced that after investing more than $8 million and nearly five years into developing County Road 595 and a Woodland Road precursor, the company was forced to shift its resources into upgrading a route previously considered. That route - through the city of Marquette via County Road 550 and Wright Street - has been widely opposed by residents and local units of government.
"We decided to make a very difficult decision to go back to our original transportation route identified in 2006," said Matt Johnson, Kennecott manager of external affairs.
Federal regulators, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, opposed the County Road 595 project and the Woodland Road for several reasons, most notably wetlands destruction.
Originally, a review of the Woodland Road project was requested by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, which brought federal regulators to Michigan to analyze the project.
At a meeting in December, EPA officials remained opposed to County Road 595 though the wetlands acres impacted, compared to Woodland Road, would be decreased from 27 to 22.
Facing that opposition, a construction timeline and cost concerns, Kennecott decided to focus attention away from County Road 595.
"We need to make a business decision today to ensure for the community and the company that there is a safe transportation route that can be completed by the end of 2013," Johnson said.
Kennecott officials said they like the County Road 595 concept, but that is now a road commission pursuit.
"Many local governments, as well as others, have expressed their support for the County Road 595 project, which Kennecott agrees is the best overall option, provided permit approvals could be obtained on a timely basis and construction costs controlled," said Andrew Ware, Kennecott acting project director. "Unfortunately, these are no longer the circumstances."
Humboldt Township Supervisor Joe Derocha said he understands Kennecott/Rio Tinto would have to work with regulators on the road project, should it become viable.
"Taking on that fight (with the EPA) may not be in Rio Tinto's best interest," Derocha said. "But it's in the public's best interest."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His e-mail address is email@example.com.