By Howard Meyerson
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A Canadian mining company, Graymont Inc., has submitted a revised proposal to mine limestone on state land in the Upper Peninsula. Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials say the request is now under review and the public is encouraged to submit their comments and concerns.
“We are getting a lot of conversation from the public. The reactions are all over the board,” said Bill O’Neill, Michigan’s state forester and chief of the DNR’s Forest Resources Division. “We don’t know the exact date, but we plan to hold a public meeting, probably in the first half of December. It will be up in that neighborhood. (Meanwhile) the public can tell us what they think by letter and email.”
Graymont is proposing to:
- Buy 1,005 acres of state land for a surface mine;
- Exchange 1,630 acres of other, yet unspecified land for an equal amount of state land where a second surface mine will be developed;
- Buy 7,250 acres of subsurface mineral rights under state forests for an underground mine;
- Pay the state 18.75 cents per ton of extracted limestone, money that would go to Michigan’s State Park Endowment Fund.
The surface lands over the underground mine would continue to be owned and managed by the DNR. Public access would continue to be allowed. The public would also be allowed to access areas around the surface mine that are not actively being mined. And the DNR would reserve a permanent easement for any existing trails on those lands.
Local residents in the proposed mining area in Mackinac County have expressed mixed opinions, according to O’Neill. Some think it will be good for the economy and bring jobs. Others are concerned about the disturbances that would likely follow.
O’Neill called it a “100-year proposal” that deserves a thorough review and added it is worth “hundreds of millions of dollars” to the state.
“Many local townships and county people think we should do it,” O’Neill said. “Other residents, who retired and moved there for quiet and solitude, don’t want the change.”
Forest advisory group rejects the proposal
The DNR’s Forest Management Advisory Committee recently reviewed the proposal and sent a Nov. 5 letter to DNR Director Keith Creagh recommending the proposal “be rejected” due to the absence of information in which to make a fully-informed decision, including:
1. Lands proposed for acquisition as a result of an exchange of state-owned lands have not been specified;
2. Extent, use, and the details of a mining plan of the lands proposed for surface easement have not been specified, and;
3. The reclamation plan must include several important elements such as public safety, invasive species, and recreation.
Amy Trotter, Michigan United Conservation Clubs resource policy manager, and a member of the FMAC, said the revised proposal is better than the original 2013 proposal in which the company proposed to purchase 11,000 acres of state land outright. Much more land would remain in state ownership under the revised proposal, and the company has identified what it would pay the state.
But, numerous things remain of grave concern, she said. One is the “uncertainty” involved with what the state gets in exchange for lands it gives up. Others involve larger policy questions.
“We have a question about whether 1,000 acres can just be declared surplus,” Trotter said. “And my biggest concern is reclamation.
“We aren’t looking for pre-settlement natural resource conditions, but we think recreation values should be part of the conditions (for exchange).”
Trotter also expressed concern about the ambiguity in the proposal about what the state would get in exchange for lands it would give up.
O’Neill said DNR legal staff is looking into the “surplus” designation question. The lands being sought by the company have had many “traditional uses,” he said, like hunting and snowmobiling. They contain some deer yards and wetland areas, which would be sought in any swapped lands.
Foot in the door?
Marvin Roberson, forest ecologist for the Sierra Club, and a member of FMAC, said, “The Sierra Club opposes it. Period. We know enough already to say ‘No!’ We don’t want to sell 1,000 acres of state land.”
Roberson worries that the Graymont proposal is the “harbinger of a wholesale land selloff,” that it will be the foot in the door that opens it, and that other big land projects will follow.
“This is a huge land sale and we are concerned about the precedent it sets,” Roberson said.
O’Neill said the Graymont proposal would be the largest DNR land transaction he has seen in 30 years. That it involves so much state land is reason to go slow and review its impacts and benefits thoroughly. He added that the DNR does have an interest in the commercial sale or development of natural resources, when and where it can be done responsibly.
“We did a threatened and endangered species review and nothing popped up there,” O’Neill said. “It gets a lot less use than the Pigeon River Forest, but it is someone’s favorite place. There is a lot of limestone there. It is a product we all use. If we can do it responsibly and not degrade the environment, it would put a significant amount of money in Michigan coffers.
“The department is still evaluating it.”
To comment on the proposal, send an email to: DNR-GraymontProposalComments@michigan.gov
© 2014 Howard Meyerson
This story appears in Michigan Outdoor News