Environmentalists call lawsuit against EPA ‘child’s tantrum’

Environmentalists call lawsuit against EPA ‘child’s tantrum’

MARQUETTE — Last week it was announced that a few selected members of the Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) will be forming a non-profit organization to set up the legal process for accepting donations to fund a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The formation of “Stand U.P.” sought support from elected officials and various members of the community.

Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), a grassroots environmentalist organization, has been an outspoken opponent of the construction of County Road 595 since the idea was born. “This region contains endangered and threatened plants and animals. The potential damage is too great,” said Alexandra Maxwell, director of SWUP.

“The pending lawsuit being brought against the EPA by the MCRC is certainly shocking and feels more like a child’s tantrum than anything that has legitimate standing in a court of law,” said Maxwell. “The EPA’s objections to the construction of this road were valid and protective of one of the world’s largest sources of freshwater.”

The projected road would pass through the Dead River and Yellow Dog Watersheds, the Mulligan Plains, the Voekler Creek, and Wildcat Canyon. “The EPA, Army Corp. of Engineers, and the US Fish and Wildlife have all objected to the construction of this road, let alone the residents and property owners of the area who want nothing to do with a mine-traffic road passing their once-isolated and serene camp,” said Maxwell.

“The introduction of the 501(c)(4) Stand U.P., which will be raising money for this lawsuit is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They will be able to accept corporate donations without ever having to reveal their donors.”

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Officially, the word from the mine is neutrality. Although the road’s main purpose is to connect its processing plant to the mine site, various areas of the Lundin Code of Conduct prohibit official company donation into political projects similar to a lawsuit against the EPA. “Eagle is neither for nor against the Commission’s decision. Our operations are dependent upon current infrastructure.”

Proponents of the road say it’s important to keep government agencies in check, and advocate that the road opens up the area for development.

In its permit application, mine officials said the construction would affect nearly 26 acres of wetlands and require 22 stream crossings. Nearly 100 semi-trucks and contractor vehicles travel the 120-mile round trip every day from the mine to Humboldt along a route that includes portions of County Road 550 and other local streets.

wildcat_canyon_595_corr_jee2 (1)

Wildcat Canyon in the potential CR 595 corridor. The proposed 21-mile primary county road, running north-south between U.S. Highway 41 and County Road Triple A, would connect the Eagle Mine with the Humboldt Mill. (Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

The Commission was seeking a wetland fill permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in order to build the proposed County Road 595. The DEQ denied the permit, citing EPA findings that construction would adversely affect local wetlands.

Democrat State Representative John Kivela and Republican State Senator Tom Casperson have introduced House Resolution 13 and Senate Resolution 9, respectively, in support of the Marquette County Road Commission’s appeal of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to deny approval for the building of County Road 595.

John Kivela claims County Road 595 is supported by groups of interests, individuals, stakeholders and elected leaders, including “all the U.P. legislators, U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and retired U.S. Senator Carl Levin.”

The resolutions are not legally binding over an EPA prohibited project, so the purpose of the bills is unclear. In a joint statement released by Kivela and Casperson, they claim it displays bipartisan support of the road. “Building this road would reduce the heavy traffic on Marquette streets and cut fuel consumption by creating a shorter route for trucks to travel from the Eagle Mine to its processing plant in Humboldt,” said Kivela. “This is a win-win situation for everyone, and the EPA should get on board and allow this road to be built.”

“I applaud the Road Commission’s decision to appeal the EPA’s arbitrary and unreasonable refusal to permit the construction of County Road 595,” said Casperson.

However, locally, not everyone agrees. The Ishpeming City Council debated this topic at its meeting last week, but the council was split on how to move forward. Some are worried about heavy trucks creating pavement damage, and expressed concerns for the dangers to small cars and motorcycles.

Others felt this was a good alternative to having those heavy trucks on US–41.

City boards in Ishpeming and in Marquette are split on the issue. During a January meeting of Marquette County Township’s Association in Negaunee Township, representatives only of about half of the 19 townships voted to support the Road Commission’s resolution.

“Every step of this proposed road construction has been flawed,” said Alexandra Maxwell. “And at every flaw, Save the Wild U.P. will stand with a neon arrow, alerting the public to the transgressions of the extractive industries and fraudulent policies that greenlight projects like this.”