Groups oppose Graymont project

MARQUETTE – A group of area environmental organizations, tribal officials, residents and others have sent a joint letter to Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh opposing a land transfer request by limestone-mining company Graymont in the eastern Upper Peninsula.

Graymont – which is the second-largest producer of lime in North America and is headquartered outside Vancouver, British Columbia – is interested in acquiring limestone and dolomite mining privileges on 10,357 acres of state land in Mackinac County.

The mining company hopes to develop three limestone mining projects that would be located near Rexton, about 15 miles southeast of Newberry.

“The Michigan Department of Natural Resources must manage and conserve public lands for public benefit,” the groups, led by Save the Wild U.P. of Marquette, said in the letter. “The Graymont proposal includes lands currently open to the public for hunting and recreational trails, lands supporting wildlife and lands managed for timber – contiguous forest lands considered some of the most productive forest land in the eastern Upper Peninsula.”

The signatories of the letter cited several reasons for their opposition to the project, ranging from access for Native American tribes to protecting biodiversity and plant communities.

“The forfeiture of this public land – 10,000 acres – would be a terrible loss for Michigan taxpayers and the eastern Upper Peninsula’s growing sustainable forest and tourism economies, but it would be devastating for Michigan’s environment,” the letter states. “This sale would sacrifice public land for the benefit of a foreign mining company.”

Creagh approved a minerals exchange in February for 1,700 acres associated with the project. He could make a decision at the March 19 meeting of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission on whether to approve the remaining land transfer application.

Graymont provided an initial land transaction proposal to the DNR in November 2013, which was then revised in October and January.

In January, DNR division chiefs recommended Creagh not approve Graymont’s revised land transfer application, citing seven items of “significant concern.”

The concerns included royalty rate and minimum annual royalty payment; lack of consideration of timber and non-limestone and dolomite mineral value; final decision authority on land use and infrastructure including roads, trails and mining structures on all parcels; inclusion of a particular land tract in the application; adequate wetlands protection and trail easement assurances in a particular parcel; failure to agree on a process for land exchanges; and uncertainty involving the scope and timing of economic benefits to local communities.

In February, Creagh said Graymont’s most recent modification to its proposal had “come a long way to address the (DNR) concerns … (but) there are some things that need to be tightened up though before we say yes.”

Under the revised application, Graymont would pay the state 30 cents for each ton of extracted limestone, up from an earlier offer of 18.75 cents per ton. Those royalties would be deposited into the State Parks Endowment Fund.

In addition, Graymont is proposing to develop a regional economic development fund to provide grants for local units of government, schools and small businesses.

The company has proposed to pay a timber consideration fee on Tract A, limit wetland impacts on Tract E, and has suggested possible routes for the relocation of recreation trails on Tract E.

“Out of the 10,000 acres, there’s about 2,000 acres that would be for sale,” Creagh said. “And that’s more of the open pit. Seventy-five hundred of that really is underground. The state still retains management authority over that. There’ll be no loss of access. There’ll still be recreation, still be forestry on those. And so, through that type of a situation, I think that we can benefit both the community and the natural resources.”

Among those signing the letter were the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw’s Board of Directors, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, the Central U.P. Group of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Students for Sustainability of Northern Michigan University, Northwoods Native Plant Society, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Against the Rexton Project, Concerned Clergy of Marquette, the Marquette Unitarian Universalists Social Action Committee and some individual property owners from Trout Lake.

The Graymont proposal is available online at www.michigan.gov/graymontproposal.