MARQUETTE - With the Marquette County Road Commission saying it will compromise on plans for road improvements on county roads 510 and AAA, attendees at a meeting in Ishpeming Tuesday urged the agency to delay its decision altogether.
The road commission has scheduled a meeting for 6 p.m. Monday at the Ishpeming Township Hall, when a decision could be made on the $20.8 million project.
The work to upgrade the road segments to an all-season standard is proposed to take place over a total of about 11 miles, including improving County Road 510 from County Road 550 south to County Road KAA, and from that intersection south and west across county roads KAA and AAA to the Champion-Michigamme township line.
The road work would end near the entrance of the Eagle Mine, which is owned by the Lundin Mining Corp. Nickel and copper production is expected to begin late next year and the company is largely funding the road improvements - and numerous others ongoing along County Road 550 - under a $44.4 million contract with the road commission.
Kristi Mills, who runs a small recreational business in Big Bay, urged the panel to take more time to review public comments, possibly holding another public forum.
"It has been a rush job," Mills said. "Lundin is under a production schedule. We all know that. The state of Michigan is most likely snapping at your butt to get this thing going, but there are a lot of people here who only saw that map just a little while ago and this is affecting a lot of people."
Margaret Comfort of Michigamme agreed.
"There needs to be more time for discussion, examination of all sides and inclusion of all parties equally and not going after greed of the almighty dollar," Comfort said. "Because while it may seem that Marquette County prospers, you in fact are driving a stake through the soul of many of the business people of Big Bay, of the people that live on the Triple A and 510. I, as a citizen of this great state, will not put up with that."
Mills and others had strong objections to the road being built for a 55 mph speed limit.
"We've swallowed the bitter pill that there may be this mine and that there's going to be a haul road coming down off that mine," Mills said. "But what it looks like should be up to us and this should be something that we can all be proud of. It can still be a scenic road. It doesn't have to be ... (a) mining road 55 miles an hour down the mountain. This is up to you to make this decision for us, not for the mining company."
Others wanted the road built along its same alignment, rather than removing curves and tree canopy.
"This isn't an upgrade to the road, this is essentially a brand new road," said George Lindquist, who lives along County Road 510.
"You've got a chance to come up here with something that's going to last, you can make a hell of a road," Lindquist said. "But make it solid, make it to last, make it low impact. That's the type of road that the (formerly proposed) Woodland Road was actually talking about being."
Lynn Swanson owns property along both sides of County Road 510 where it meets County Road 550. She said she is probably the "landowner most personally affected by this whole scheme" and owns the only home directly located along the proposed route.
"Do not take an extraordinarily lovely woodlands road and ruin it for all of us forever," Swanson said. "In the fall and winter especially it is an enchanting ride for tourists and locals alike."
Richard Sloat from Iron River said: "The planned acquisition of private property to build this road for a private company, especially a foreign-owned company, basically really rubs me raw."
Sloat and others suggested a 35 mph speed limit.
"What is the hurry to get this ore to the Humboldt Mill," Sloat asked. "In fact, this is a proposed mine, Eagle Mine, there may not even be any extraction of ore there at all and I don't think there is going to be."
Charlotte Loonsfoot of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, who was one of the organizers of protests at Eagle Rock in May 2010, suggested Tuesday more protests could be coming with the new road project.
"If this road keeps going the way it is, there's going to be some resistance, so, just so you know," Loonsfoot said. "And I'm not scared to get arrested, I already did that before and there's a lot of college students who (are) against this road too. There'll be a lot of people there."
Road Commission Vice Chairman Dave Hall said prior to Tuesday's meeting, the agency has held two meetings in Powell Township and the board and some community members drove the route to be worked on.
"We're hearing what you're saying. I understand the frustration. We hear the frustration. We know that this is your home," Hall said. "And we're taking all that into consideration so don't think that when we walk out of here tonight that you're being blown off cause that's not the case.
"There has to be some compromise, give and take. It isn't going to be all one way or all the other. There's going to be some compromises made so it isn't going to be one side wins everything."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is email@example.com.