By Howard Meyerson
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A newly updated proposal from Graymont Inc., the Canadian mining company seeking to buy state land for a limestone mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was submitted to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources late last month. State officials say it currently under review and a final decision has been postponed.
“Because we got a late revision, we need time to digest the changes they made,” said Bill O’Neill, Michigan’s state forester and chief of the DNR’s Forest Resources Division. “The customers and interested public also need time. This will give everyone a chance to understand the change.”
DNR director, Keith Creagh, was to decide the fate of the proposed land purchase at the February 12 Natural Resources Commission meeting in Lansing. That decision was pushed back until March at the earliest. Creagh, however, approved a second Graymont proposal for a 1,717.6- acre exchange of mineral rights. The company proposed swapping mineral rights it owns under state land for minerals the state owns under U.S. Forest Service land. State officials say the exchange was desirable.
“The mineral exchange unifies surface and mineral rights for the state, which meets one of our public land and mineral management goals,” said Ed Golder, public information officer for the DNR. “The exchange does not guarantee that mining will take place. Graymont will have to work through the Forest Service if it plans to undertake mining on those minerals.”
Graymont has revised its proposal three times since it initially sought approval in 2013. The current revision still seeks to purchase 9,062 acres of land with an option on 535 acres of land to develop a 55-acre transportation easement. It also seeks to exchange 820 acres of land for an equal amount of state land that will be used for a surface mine.
The company upped its offer to the state, saying it would pay 30 cents per ton of limestone it extracts, a 60-percent increase from the18.7 cents per ton original offer. The royalties would be deposited in the State Park Endowment Fund.
“Their offer to go to 30 cents does change our mind,” O’Neill said. They definitely moved the needle. My back-of-the-matchbook calculations says that’s about $21,000 per acre. The potential here is for a significant amount of money.”
Six DNR chiefs, including ONeill, did not support the Graymont proposal a month ago. They urged DNR director Creagh to reject the proposal. O’Neill said the revisions change the playing field.
“At that point we didn’t think the public was being compensated enough for the limestone and timber value,” O’Neill said. “We weren’t crazy about the dispute resolution and didn’t feel we had enough say. We also wanted more economic detail. We’re continuing to have discussions with Graymont. They’ve responded to the concerns we identified.”
Graymont has offered to create a community fund for local economic benefits that can be used for schools or other purposes, according to O’Neill, but further discussion is needed about “a tangible economy.”
“People say they want jobs out of this. We want them to provide more information about jobs and the economy that will come of it,” O’Neill said.
“We are comfortable that we can find lands to exchange. We know the attributes we will be looking for. If there are high quality deer yards, we would be interested. If there are areas with public access and recreation, or that offer connectivity for snowmobiles or pathways, those might be a priority.”
© 2015 Howard Meyerson
Appears in Michigan Outdoor News.