Strong Public Opposition to CR 595 at Hearing
On Tuesday night atNorthernMichiganUniversity, the U.S. EPA held a public hearing at the request of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to hear comments about the EPA’s objections to issuing a permit to build County Road 595. County Road 595 is a project that has been put forth by the Marquette County Road Commission. The proposed road would begin near Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine and end near Rio Tinto’s Humboldt Mill. In 2009, Rio Tinto applied to have a road almost identical to CR 595 built called theWoodland Road. State and federal agencies then issued objections to the road project and the company withdrew their permit. Within a year, the road was put forth again by the Marquette County Road Commission as a “public road” that would serve mining, timber, aggregate, and increased recreation for Marquette County. Many of the original objections were again made by permitting agencies due to the sensitive nature of the area and substantial impacts on aquatic resources.
While the MDEQ has the authority to approve or deny permits of this type, the EPA still has oversight if the project is expected to cause extensive harm to aquatic resources under the Clean Water Act. In a letter to MDEQ, the EPA stated several reasons for their objection to this permit. For instance, the EPA did not find the application from the Road Commission to have demonstrated that 595 was the least environmentally damaging. Also, the purpose of the project was so narrowly defined that it effectively eliminated any alternative routes other than the route the applicant wanted. Click on the link to read more from the EPA: http://epa.gov/region5/water/cr595/pdfs/20120423-CR595-EPA_comment_letter.pdf
During the hearing, over 100 people came to the front to address the U.S. EPA and MDEQ. The first hour was filled with statements supporting the project from elected officials, including state, federal, and local township representatives. One such support statement was from Michigan Senator Tom Casperson. His comments began with support for CR 595 but were cut off by an incensed crowd after he stated he was speaking on behalf of his constituents. The only politician that did not speak favorably about the project wasPowellTownship’s supervisor. He stated that there would not be economic benefit or increased services to his community if this road were built. He also stated that Rio Tinto would stop funds for winter maintenance on a local road leading fromBigBayto the mine site called CR AAA if CR 595 were built. This seems contradictory however, since one of the project’s purposes was to increase access by emergency services to this area. Not funding winter maintenance would effectively cut off the closest emergency responders fromPowellTownship, which would actually reduce the access by emergency services to the area.
Once elected officials were done commenting, the general public began and took up the remaining time. The majority of the public who made comments was not in favor of CR 595 and encouraged the EPA to uphold their objections to the project. This was a stark contrast for those attending to witness. On one hand were the elected officials supporting the project. On the other hand were the citizens ofMarquetteCountywho opposed the project. It was a good thing the community did not rely on their political representatives to speak for them.
There were many excellent points that community members brought up. In response to the claim that this road would increase emergency services, oneBellHospitalemployee stated that all trauma injuries go to Marquette General for treatment, and that this road would not be any better than taking existing roads to improve emergency access. In response to whether this project was something the county could afford, several community members commented that when they approached the Road Commission about fixing existing roads in their community, they were met with statements of funding being unavailable. Those people wondered how the Road Commission was going to maintain a new road when they are not able to take care of the roads they already have. Some were concerned that their roads would receive even less attention if CR 595 was built, since 595 would be a higher priority since it would serve Rio Tinto’s mine. As for comments regarding environmental concerns, several people noted that destroying wetlands and rebuilding wetlands elsewhere was not adequate to preserve the high biodiversity of a naturally occurring aquatic habitat. Also, a former Department of Transportation employee was concerned that added salt and sand from road maintenance would negatively impact water quality.
There were many more comments that were well stated and YDWP did testify that they encouraged the EPA to uphold their objections to this detrimental project. YDWP will be submitting detailed comments to the EPA on behalf of their members, along with a formal resolution opposing the project. If you would like to make comments, you can send them to Melanie Haveman until September 4, 2012.
Comments can be mailed to:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
77 W. Jackson Blvd.
Or emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org