Eminent domain use in road issue is dangerous | Gene Champagne

Guest op-ed | The Mining Journal

People far and wide, familiar with Upper Peninsula residents, speak admirably of their independence and individualism. This individualism demands adherence to personal liberties and rights for all. We are portrayed as ardent defenders of free speech, Second Amendment rights, and private property rights. This view may need to be reconsidered.

At the last Marquette County Road Commission meeting on Feb.17, the MCRC made the decision to pursue eminent domain proceedings against the owners of private property to satisfy their current road plans to upgrade County Road AAA in Northern Marquette County.

Eminent domain is a legal process allowing government to seize private property (with compensation) if it can demonstrate an overwhelming and necessary public good from doing so. The MCRC has declared that the AAA Road upgrade is for the public good.

The construction of the Eagle Mine was done with nary a traffic incident. This included much heavier traffic that the actual operation of the mine will witness.

All shapes and sizes of equipment were safely transported. The road does not need to be widened so excessively, even as an all-season road, to remain safe. The realignment should not necessitate eminent domain.

Apparently the MCRC must have missed a few points the public made at a good number of public meetings. The public overwhelmingly told the MCRC that they did not want: 1) an overly widened road, as depicted in current engineering designs; 2) eminent domain proceedings against private property owners; 3) a 55 mph speed limit; and 4) a fragmented design and construction process. These meetings were well attended by local citizens who use this road for a wide variety of purposes and will continue traveling these roads when the Eagle Mine trucks start rolling next fall.

Throughout the entirety of the meetings, there was only one person spoke in support of the MCRC plan. Apparently we have another case of the government knowing what is best for the people who are too uninformed and cannot be trusted to make good decisions on their own.

One family has had the gall to say “No!” to selling their property, hence the eminent domain proceeding. Who has the money to fight a costly eminent domain case in the courts?

Not many I imagine. The MCRC has in the neighborhood of $100,000 set aside for such legal processes and proceedings. The money came from Eagle Mine, a wholly owned subsidiary of a foreign mining company, Lundin.

Jim Iwanicki, the engineer-manager for the MCRC, admits that the county would not be building – excuse me – “upgrading” this road without the money from Lundin and Eagle Mine paying for the entire cost.

Would that not make this project a private convenience and not an overwhelming public good?

The permit for Eagle Mine does not mention the need for realignment or upgrades, nor does it cite safety concerns. This “upgrade” has led us to the slippery slope of eminent domain for the convenience of a private foreign corporation.

This use of eminent domain will set a very dangerous and ominous precedent for the future of U.P. residents. If the travesty of taking away private property in this fashion is allowed then any foreign or domestic corporation may simply give a pile of cash to a willing government agency, tell them what they want done, and have the agency use a similar broad brush and declare for the public good; thus giving them the power to seize private property.

Personally, I like the members of the MCRC and the engineer-manager, but collectively they have made a decision that would make Putin proud.

So what shall we do? If seizing private property in this manner is just fine with you, then do nothing. Your silence will allow the process to move forward. Just hope that you are not next.

If there is something about this process that bothers you, and it should regardless of your views about this particular mining project, then demand that the MCRC drop any eminent domain proceedings and re-engineer their plans accordingly.

The next MCRC regular board meeting is 6 p.m. March 17 at the main office in Ishpeming.

We can continue our U.P. tradition of individualism and private rights, or we can go along quietly as our constitutional rights are slowly taken away and given to those with the ability to purchase them.

Editor’s note: Gene Champagne is a resident of Powell Township.

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