MARQUETTE - In an effort to generate support and call attention to Tuesday's public sessions on the proposed Marquette County Road 595 roadbuilding project, the Marquette County Road Commission moved logging and aggregate truck traffic today through parts of Marquette.
If the new road is not built, increased truck traffic from the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine is planned to move along Marquette County roads AAA, 510, 550, Sugarloaf Avenue, Wright Street and U.S. 41 West to connect the mine west of Big Bay with its associated ore processing center in Humboldt Township.
The new 21-mile, north-south County Road 595 would run in a direct route from County Road AAA in Michigamme Township to U.S. 41 in Humboldt Township. In addition to hauling nickel and copper for the mine, logging and aggregate trucks would also use the roadway.
A convoy of trucks gets ready to turn from Marquette County Road 550 onto Sugarloaf Avenue today demonstrating truck traffic from the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
Shortly after 8 a.m. today, a convoy of five trucks and a pilot vehicle moved from Marquette County Road 550 down Sugarloaf Avenue, then along Wright Street to U.S. 41 West and back again during the trucking demonstration.
"If we can get the trucks off of 550 and the 41 corridor, that's better," said Marquette County Road Commission Engineer-Manager Jim Iwanicki. "Better for public safety and the traveling public and that's really what we're trying to bring awareness to and to get people out to the public hearing to support getting the trucks off."
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requested the U.S. EPA hold the hearing after the federal agency raised objections to the state issuing permits to the road commission for the project.
Construction would affect 25.81 acres of wetlands and require building 22 stream crossings.
The DEQ has the authority to issue wetlands fill permits under the Clean Water Act, but the EPA retains oversight authority to object to proposed projects that do no comply with federal guidelines. A state DEQ permitting decision is slated for Oct. 1.
The DEQ has also asked the EPA to make its decision by Oct. 1 on whether the road commission has satisfied the agency's objections.
Specifically, the EPA "raised questions as to whether there are practical, alternate routes which would have less impact on aquatic resources. EPA also noted the Commission's proposals to mitigate damage to wetlands and streams would not fully compensate for the loss of aquatic functions."
The informational EPA presentation and question and answer session will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the University Center at Northern Michigan University. A formal public hearing to record comments for the record will follow at 7 p.m., with the facility closing at 10 p.m.
Bill Hennigan, a forester for Holli Forest Products in Ishpeming, took part in the demonstration convoy today. The convoy included logging and aggregate trucks, similar in size to the mining trucks.
"We want people to understand there's a lot of truck traffic through Marquette now coming from the northern part of the county going to various points and once the mine starts, there's going to be even more truck traffic going through Marquette," Hennigan said. "And obviously, going through residential areas, going right by the university, out there by Target and Wal-Mart it's a very busy (area)."
Hennigan said County Road 595 is an important alternative to get all kinds of trucks over to the western part of the county, out of the population areas.
"Right now, we've either got to come 550 through Marquette or an alternative that the EPA is proposing is come down 510 - well now you come down through Midway location in Negaunee Township, another population area - or they are recommending cut across and you end up coming out in Ishpeming by the cemetery and the county (road commission) shop, another population area," Hennigan said. "So 595 is really the only good option to get this truck traffic away from the population centers of the county. That's what we're trying to do."
Iwanicki said he hopes people in Marquette and those living along County Road 550 who do not want increased truck traffic will attend the hearing.
For those who can't attend Tuesday's public sessions and would still like to offer some input, a comment period will remain open until Sept. 4. Send written comments to Melanie Haveman, U.S. EPA (WW-16J), 77 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604-3590 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.