A controversial Upper Peninsula land deal appears closer to approval.
A Canadian mining company wants to buy land and mineral rights on ten thousand acres of state land in the Upper Peninsula.
Graymont wants to mine limestone in the area northwest of St. Ignace. The company plans surface and underground mines.
Top Department of Natural Resources officials initially opposed the land deal.
But Graymont made changes to the proposal, including increasing royalty payments to the state and promises of greater wetland protection.
DNR department heads now support the plan which is likely to be approved next week.
Environmentalists and others fear the mining operation will cause irreversible damage to the region.
Marvin Roberson is with the Sierra Club.
He says the DNR should give people 30 days to review the latest proposal before taking any action. He says Graymont has submitted multiple revisions to its proposal since the beginning of the year.
“They’re coming so fast and so new that nobody’s got the opportunity to finish the old one before we see the new one,” said Roberson. “Nobody’s got any idea what’s in these proposals.”
Bill O’Neill is the chief of the DNR’s Forest Resource division.
He says that there will be people who won’t accept Graymont getting the land and mineral rights.
“I’m not sure there is anything we can say that would make those folks come around,” O’Neill.
The Graymont land deal is supported by many people in the Upper Peninsula who see it as a chance for jobs. The company won’t make any specific job commitment. However, Graymont has promised to create “a regional economic development fund to provide grants for local units of government, schools and/or small business.”
Below is a list of the changes in Graymont’s proposal:
· Royalty rate on limestone mined and minimum annual royalty payment: Graymont has increased the proposed royalty rate for limestone from 18.75 cents per ton to 30 cents per ton. The company has proposed a minimum annual royalty to begin in 2020 and has committed to creating a regional economic development fund that will provide $100,000 a year for five years starting in 2015. Department officials find the royalty rate and minimum royalty acceptable.
· Consideration of timber and mineral values: Graymont has now included timber value in the purchase price of Tracts A and E. Lands to be offered in exchange for Tracts B and C will include equal or greater forest values in addition to land value. Non-royalty minerals were valued at $10 an acre. Department officials find the language acceptable.
· Final decision authority on land use and infrastructure such as roads, trails, mining structures, etc. on all parcels: Graymont has addressed this concern by including consultation, mediation and arbitration language to recognize public and DNR input in land use decisions. Department officials find the language acceptable.
· Effects on a neighboring facility: Graymont has included language to address potential impacts to a facility adjacent to Tract C. Department officials find the language acceptable.
· Adequate wetland protection and trail easement assurances in Tract E: Graymont has included language to ensure impacts to wetlands in Tract E are minimized and trail easements for public use are provided. Department officials find the offered wetland concept and trail easements acceptable.
· Process for land exchanges: Graymont has revised the process for land it was offering in exchange for land it seeks to acquire in this proposal. If this LTA is approved, the state will immediately begin to work with the applicant to compete the exchanges. Department officials find the process acceptable.
· The scope and timing of economic benefits to local communities: Graymont is developing a regional economic development fund to provide grants for local units of government, schools and/or small business. Department officials find this approach acceptable and expect further detail on the local economic benefits prior to director decision.