With state and federal regulator decisions expected soon on the Marquette County Road Commission's permit application to build County Road 595, we want to voice our support for the $82 million project, which would help bring jobs, economic development and improved access to resources in northwestern Marquette County.
In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a federal objection to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality issuing a federal Clean Water Act permit for the project, because the EPA -along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers- thought some route alternatives required further exploration and proposed wetlands mitigation was lacking.
Since the objection was levied, the road commission has been working with the EPA and DEQ to try to satisfy the agencies' concerns. Within the past couple of weeks, the road commission proposed a new solution to wetlands mitigation, which would create a preserve aimed at replacing the wetlands filled in building County Road 595 at a ratio of 26.6 acres preserved for every 1 acre filled.
The rectangular piece of land proposed for the "Dishno Creek Headwaters Wetland Preservation Area" would measure 2.5 miles by 1 mile and would include Section 13 Lake and the North Branch of the Dishno Creek.
Preservation of the parcel would limit activities through conservation easements and could extend the federal lands adjacent to the McCormick Wilderness.
The preservation area would also include 22,900 linear feet of stream distance. Mitigation for stream impacts includes replacing undersized culverts as part of road construction and a bridge to replace three culverts and stream bed reconstruction within the Salmon Trout River.
We think this is a creative alternative that the EPA should take a good look at. The land is currently owned by timber companies that would be compensated for divesting the land. The road commission has said Rio Tinto, which has also pledged to fund construction of County Road 595 if the project is begun by next May, would pay for the land purchase, though no formal contracts have been inked so far.
In addition to providing more readily accessible places to fish and hunt, County Road 595 would also provide improved access for firefighters, rescue vehicles and create a way to reach the developing northern part of the county, west of the Dead River.
The road would also significantly shorten the length of travel for mining, timber and aggregate haulers, and reduce the number of those vehicles traveling though populated areas.
There are important questions remaining about how maintenance on the road would be funded and what would happen to the road once the Eagle Mine is closed, that need to be answered. But for now, those are questions for the future.
Right now, we await the decisions from the EPA and DEQ on the permit application and we hope this latest mitigation proposal by the road commission breaks the loggerhead and opens up the way for this important project for Marquette County.