MARQUETTE - The federal Environmental Protection Agency's steadfast refusal to allow construction of a proposed 21-mile road that would connect the Eagle Mine with its ore processing facility at the Humboldt Mill is drawing fire - and a lawsuit - from local supporters.
The Marquette County Road Commission announced last month that it has filed a lawsuit to challenge an EPA decision that blocks construction of County Road 595. Filed in U.S. District Court, the lawsuit seeks to allow construction of the road, which would shorten the circuitous route between the mine and the mill by 78 miles. The north-south road would divert about 100 mine-related commercial vehicles away from the streets of the cities of Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming, and save some 464,000 gallons in fuel consumption annually.
“Instead of doing its job and approving the project, the EPA has instead opted for political theater,” said State Sen. Casperson (R-Escanaba). “By blocking County Road 595’s construction, the EPA is doing nothing to improve the access of emergency, commercial, industrial, and recreational vehicles to a key area of northwest Marquette County. From elected officials at the state and local levels, to job providers and labor organizations, to conservationists, public safety officials and the general public, nearly everyone agrees County Road 595 would improve the way of life of county residents."
Building trades union members were the beneficiaries of hundreds of jobs over the past several years building the Eagle nickel/copper mine in wilderness about 20 miles northwest of Marquette, and renovating the Humboldt Mill to process the metal, about 20 miles south of the mine. Mining company Lundin owns the operations.
Environmentalist put up a strong fight against the construction of the mine, and the EPA's main objection to the new road is that it would displace wetlands. The Marquette County Road Commission has offered to preserve 26 acres of wetlands for every one acre affected by construction of the road.
“We believe our position that they (the EPA) did not follow the law will be upheld and we will be given a chance to build a very important road for Marquette County,” Jim Iwanicki, engineer manager of the Marquette County Road Commission, told reporters.
Lundin has said it will not contribute to the funding of the road, although during the mine and Humboldt construction the mine's owners funded road and electrical grid improvements that benefited the entire community. They also cleaned up hazardous waste at the Humboldt Mill site.
"Some of the concerns that I have," said Upper Peninsula Construction Council Executive Director Tony Retaskie, "is that there are several mining companies looking to relocate into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And they're all going to need roads. The way I look at this we may not be able to build another road to a logging company or a mining facility in the Upper Peninsula with the way this EPA objection stands. I think quite likely it is hurting the economy in the Upper Peninsula, if the EPA looks at the U.P. and says we can't build a road to our facility, why would they locate here?"
Retaskie is part of a group called Stand U.P., which is using private dollars to fund the lawsuit. Supporters want to build a new Class A road over the existing dirt road. “We will raise as much money as it takes to win our case in front of a court because that is what we need to do,” said Stand U.P. Chairman Debbie Pellow to the Upper Michigan Source. “We need to stop this arbitrary kind of stuff happening from regulatory agencies of the federal government.”
Stand U.P. is urging supporters of the road to go to www.595facts.com and consider contributing to the lawsuit.
"The road will not only help move the trucks out of the cities, it will improve recreational opportunities," Retaskie said. "Plus building the road is going to create about 200 construction jobs."