MARQUETTE - Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant reiterated his stance Monday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should remove its formal objection to the state issuing permits for proposed Marquette County Road 595.
Wyant wrote a letter in September to the EPA saying the Marquette County Road Commission's permit application had been closely examined by his agency's staff over the past eight months. Wyant said the road commission has been responsive to the concerns expressed by the state and the EPA.
On Monday, Wyant said several state agencies, including the DEQ, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development all approve the latest proposed modified version of the plan, which minimizes environmental impacts.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant discusses proposed Marquette County Road 595 Monday in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"The (Gov. Rick) Snyder Administration supports this road," Wyant said. "The environmental concerns have been considered and minimized."
The proposed new 21-mile, north-south County Road 595 would run from County Road AAA in Michigamme Township to U.S. 41 in Humboldt Township. Among the uses and benefits cited for building the road include providing a more direct route for Rio Tinto (Kennecott) to truck ore from its Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains to its Humboldt Mill processing center in Humboldt Township.
Recently, a deadline for making a state permit decision - and an EPA ruling on its objection - was extended until Dec. 1 after road commission officials consulted with EPA officials, who said they needed additional time to review and consider more than 400 comments received during an Aug. 28 public hearing in Marquette and an associated public comment period which expired Sept. 4.
In January, the road commission applied for a wetlands fill permit for the roadbuilding project from the DEQ under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Sections 301 and 303 of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.
Under an agreement, the DEQ can issue permits on behalf of the federal government, unless the EPA objects. In April, the EPA filed such an objection, after consulting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The basis for the EPA's objection is the presence of feasible alternative routes with fewer aquatic impacts; impacts to aquatic resources with the project are significant and proposed mitigation would not sufficiently compensate for impacts.
Since the objection, road commission officials have worked to try to rework the proposal to satisfy the EPA's concerns. In late August, a new proposal was announced for mitigation which would preserve 1,576 acres, including 647 wetland acres, near the McCormick Wilderness.
In addition, the road commission originally proposed filling 25.8 acres of wetlands and constructing 22 stream crossings in the building County Road 595. The county now plans to fill 24.3 acres of wetlands, replace 19 steam crossings and build seven others.
Wyant said the EPA typically recommends a 10:1 to 12:1 ratio to mitigate the loss of higher quality wetlands. He said the road commission project, with revisions to include the land preservation, provides a ratio of replacement mitigation acres of nearly 27:1.
Wyant said several other issues required by the state have been improved under the revised plan including long term monitoring and removal of invasive species, a mitigation schedule, a long term management plan, narrowing of the roadway footprint and improved wildlife crossings.
If the EPA maintains its objection, the DEQ has 30 days to issue a permit addressing the objections, or deny the permit. After that, authority to issue a Clean Water Act permit would fall to the Corps of Engineers. The application process would restart.
Wyant said the DEQ will ask the EPA for feedback prior to the Dec. 1 deadline and if the EPA has questions the DEQ stands by ready to address concerns.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.