Marquette County Takes on EPA

EPA 'knew they were going to reject the road project from the very beginning'

In the midst of an Upper Peninsula winter, the thoughts and hopes of many local officials and residents of the Marquette area are centered on Grand Rapids. That’s where Judge Robert Holmes Bell of the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan is presiding over the case known as Marquette County Road Commission v. United States Environmental Protection Agency.

On July 10, 2015, the road commission filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s decision to block construction of a 21-mile-long county road (CR 595) that would shorten the route between the Eagle Mine and its ore processing facility at the Humboldt Mill.

According to Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, the court proceedings have brought to light information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealing that the EPA never intended to give the project a fair hearing.

“What we’ve found out from the EPA FOIAs is consistent with what we know they told Sen. Barbara Boxer," Casperson said. (Boxer, a Democrat from California, was the chair of Environment and Public Works Committee of the U.S. Senate at the time in question.)

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“They had clearly made up their minds ahead of time to block the road from being built. The EPA knew they were going to reject the road project from the very beginning.” 

“What’s worse, the EPA let everyone who supported putting the road through continue to diligently work out every minute detail, step by step, trying carefully to do everything they could to make sure the project was being done right,” Casperson continued. “Just as they have done with their power and energy plans, the EPA had no respect for the process. It intended to dictate the result all along in pursuit of its politically motivated agenda.”

Supporters of the project point out that County Road 595 would shorten the round trip between the mine and the mill by 78 miles. As a result, they say, it would divert nearly 100 commercial vehicles per day from local roads, including those near schools, reducing fuel consumption by more than 464,000 gallons each year.

Tony Retaski, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, said that he’s with a group of local residents who are very supportive of going forward with the road.

“There are a lot of people who are in favor of constructing the road,” Retaski said. “It’s about the economy. There are about 200 jobs at stake. Without the road the only direct way to get there is by snowmobile or ATV.”

Retaski was asked if he’s concerned that the road would hurt the environment.

“Without the road a lot more fuel would get burned and that means more emissions going into the air,” Retaski said. “You could build a house and someone could always say it has some negative impact on the environment. It’s the same with a road.”

The Michigan Legislature has given its bipartisan support to the Marquette County Road Commission in the dispute. Senate Resolution 9, sponsored by Casperson, and House Resolution 13, sponsored by Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, backed the road commission. Each resolution was passed by its respective chamber. Several federal officials from Michigan have also expressed their support for the road commission, including Rep. Dan Benishek, a Republican whose district includes the Upper Peninsula; Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat; and retired Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat.

Casperson’s mention of a communication from the EPA to Boxer draws on a Nov. 28, 2012 letter from Marquette area environmental activist Laura Farwell to Lynn Abramson, then a senior legislative assistant for Boxer, and Thomas Fox, the senior counsel of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asking them to weigh in on the issue. Farwell's letter mentions a meeting on Aug. 30, 2011, at which Denise Keehner of EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds definitively reiterated EPA’s position and stated that the haul road [CR 595] would not happen.


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