Mine Opponents Comment on Woodland Road Plan

MARQUETTE – Environmental opponents of the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company mine on the Yellow Dog Plains are critical of plans and justifications for the Woodland Road, a 22-mile route which would allow the company to truck ore from the mine to the Humboldt Mill.

“Kennecott’s response documents leave many questions unanswered,” said Michelle Halley, an attorney and Lake Superior Project manager with the National Wildlife Federation.

The Woodland Road would run from Marquette County Road AAA in Champion Township south to U.S. 41 in Humboldt Township and is proposed to include 24 stream crossings, 79 culverts and direct impact to 27.1 acres of wetlands.

The $50 million road would be paid for by Kennecott, but the company is only one of four partners included in Woodland Road, LLC. The other entities involved include A. Lindberg and Sons, the Michigan Forest Products Council and John Jilbert Properties. Woodland Road officials contend the road is a multi-use project.

Last month, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials sent a letter to the Land and Water Management Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment responding to the Woodland Road LLC permit application.

The letter included comments from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Each agency was critical of the proposed project and a federal objection was made to the DNRE issuing a permit for the project.

Woodland Road has 90 days to adequately address concerns. Representatives sent a response to the EPA last week, which mine opponents were critical of. They see the road as being built for and by Kennecott.

Woodland Road officials said that route is the best option, rejecting an originally proposed mining route over Marquette County Road 550. An alternative of Marquette County Road 510 was also rejected.

“The (mining law) Part 632 permit transportation issue is still unaddressed,” Halley said. “On one hand, this latest letter states that the CR 550 route is not practicable, but on the other hand, that is precisely the one and only route allowed by the mining permit as issued.”

Kristi Mills, director of Save the Wild U.P., agreed.

“They don’t have a concrete transportation plan,” Mills said. “There’s so many problems with it.”

Federal objections were also noted on wetlands and wildlife issues.

“It’s important that the feds finally took a look at this and said something’s wrong here,” Mills said. “We appreciate that. The state is not going to look at it and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment does not have the expertise.”

Teresa Bertossi, a member of the cititzens group Keepers of the Water, said “under long-standing federal law, Rio Tinto’s (Kennecott’s parent company) mining, milling and road project has to be reviewed as one single project, in order to best protect public health and wildlife.”

“Pretending the road would be a single-lane country road, as they do prominently on their Web site, and claiming the road isn’t directly related to the mine and mill is a joke and doesn’t come close to meeting very basic and clear legal standards,” Bertossi said.

“It’s shameful that Michigan regulators aren’t requiring these minimum standards of the company and that Rio Tinto is incapable of meeting them.”

Bertossi said it’s clear the Woodland Road is for Kennecott.

“Rio Tinto is paying for the entire cost of this road that would go directly from their proposed Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill. It’s absurd for them to suggest this is anything other than a mining road,” Bertossi said. “Rio Tinto’s partners should be embarrassed for going along with the company’s dishonest PR scheme.”

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His e-mail address is jpepin@miningjournal.net.

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