MARQUETTE - U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, is among seven lawmakers urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove its federal objection to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality issuing permits to build Marquette County Road 595.
Benishek wrote a recent joint letter - along with other Michigan Republican U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga, Dave Camp, Fred Upton, Tim Walberg, Mike Rogers and Candice Miller, all from downstate districts.
"Families and small businesses in northern Michigan are hurting right now. Good paying jobs are hard to come by. The unemployment rate in northern Michigan is well above the national average, yet bureaucrats in Washington are preventing the creation of new jobs in our region," Benishek said in a news release. "I'm urging the EPA to remove its objections to the road as soon as possible and allow this job-creating project to move forward in a timely manner."
According to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, the September unemployment rate for Michigan was 9.3 percent, compared to 7.8 percent nationwide. The Upper Peninsula jobless percentage was 7.2 percent; 8.7 percent for the northeast Lower Peninsula and 7.8 percent for the northwest Lower Peninsula.
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 to truck ore from its Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains to its Humboldt Mill processing center in Humboldt Township.
Marquette County Road Commission Engineer-Manager Jim Iwanicki recently authorized the DEQ to extend the permit decision deadline until Dec. 1. Iwanicki said the deadline extension was provided after consultation 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 that expired Sept. 4.
The DEQ later urged the EPA to remove its objections. The lawmakers' letter was dated Nov. 1.
"As elected representatives of the state of Michigan, we are fervently committed to preserving our state's pure air and clean water. Notwithstanding our commitment to a pure Michigan, we believe this is one instance where legitimate environmental concerns can be fully addressed even as we take steps to bring new jobs to our state," the letter sent to the EPA by the seven lawmakers stated. "We stress that all relevant stakeholders in Michigan have articulated their support for this project and have requested that it move forward. The U.S. EPA alone is blocking the commencement of this important project."
In January, the road commission applied for a wetlands fill permit for the road-building 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 been reworking the proposal to satisfy the EPA's concerns. In late August, a new proposal was announced for mitigation that 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 of County Road 595. The county now plans to fill 24.3 acres of wetlands, replace 19 steam crossings and build seven others.
Benishek and the other six lawmakers said the road project has been extensively analyzed by the DEQ, EPA and road commission.
"We can't let good paying jobs be blocked by federal red tape and bureaucratic roadblocks. Our citizens are struggling and they need jobs now. I'm pleased to be taking a lead in this effort and I thank my colleagues in the House for their support on this critical issue," Benishek said.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is email@example.com.