Semco easement, harvesting of timber OK’d

From left, Marquette County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Joe Derocha; Chairman Gerald Corkin and Commissioners Karen Alholm, Bill Nordeen, Stephen Adamini and Johnny DePetro discuss a proposed easement and timber harvest on county forestland for Semco Energy Gas Co.’s Marquette Connector Pipeline. At Tuesday night’s meeting, the board OK’d the 5-mile easement through county forestland, as well as the timber harvest. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Tuesday night unanimously approved a 5-mile easement in county forestland for Semco Energy Gas Co.’s Marquette Connector Pipeline, as well as the harvesting of timber along the route.

The portion of the pipeline on county forestlands would run parallel to the western side of the Canadian National Railroad tracks in Sands Township before briefly running parallel along the west side of M-553 in Sands Township. Then, at the Forsyth Township border, the pipeline would angle west, intersecting with the East Branch of the Escanaba River.

The board was initially set to consider only the harvesting of timber along the route at Tuesday’s meeting, as state, county and Semco officials were in agreement about the proposed route, but the determination of timber and easement value had not yet been finalized.

However, Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch said at Tuesday’s meeting that county staff had worked with officials and a value in the amount of $99,900 had been presented that day for the board’s consideration.

“The last issue sitting there was the value because we had asked for an increase in the value, but we didn’t realize that we would end up having to share this value (with the state) … and today, I am pleased to provide you that we do have that number to present to the board,” Erbisch told commissioners. “And so, in addition to actually approving the harvesting of the trees, you could potentially also approve the easements going forward if you so accept this.”

Board Chairman Gerald Corkin expressed his support for approval of the easement and timber harvest at the meeting and made a motion to consider the approval.

“We have a recommendation authorizing the harvesting of the timber and also final approval of the easement with a value of $99,900 which was better than what we were hoping, so it looks like an excellent deal,” Corkin said. “The project is important to Marquette County — the Semco Energy project for bringing gas into the county for industrial use particularly. It will also go into Baraga County and help them because we don’t have any redundancy in Marquette County for gas, so it will be a pretty important project.”

Complications surrounding the valuation of the easements and timber stemmed from unforeseen issues with needing the state’s approval for the easement and the state’s own fee structure for easements and timber, something county officials were not aware of until after initial discussions with Semco took place, Erbisch said.

Semco had first accepted the county’s proposed increased in easement valuation from $50,500 to $75,775. They also accepted indemnity language proposed by the county and agreed to provide funding for replanting and future reharvesting of trees in the temporary work areas. That figure was later increased to $99,900.

State approval was needed because the county forestlands were given to the county by the state, and can only be used for the specific purposes of forestry and public use. If the lands were used for other purposes, they would revert back to state ownership, Erbisch said.

“Per the Municipal Forest Act, the county is not authorized to grant easements solely through these lands,” board documents state. “The state noted that it would also collect the payment for the value of the easement. (Public Act) 217 lands were given to the county for forestry use. If the use changes, then the reverter clause kicks in.”

To address the situation, the state proposed the county approve the entire easement route and the state would then approve the easement(s) within the PA 217 lands, according to information provided to the board.

According to board documents, the state of Michigan would collect payments for the easement through the PA 217 lands, but the county would retain the timber value of the trees harvested, funds for replanting and all easement payments for fee simple land.