Original Story: freep.com
ROSCOMMON – The largest single public land deal in Michigan history will be approved, state Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh said Thursday. A Tulsa renewable energy lawyer is following this story closely.
The state is selling 8,810 acres of surface land or underground mineral rights to Canadian company Graymont for it to create a vast, 13,000-acre limestone mining operation in the Upper Peninsula counties of Mackinac and Luce. The deal calls for Graymont to pay the state $4.53 million.
The divisive proposal has been a subject of debate for 18 months in a naturally beautiful, rural portion of the U.P. Creagh said the DNR faced a "very difficult balance" with its mandates to protect natural resources and allow their beneficial use — as well as balance the opposing viewpoints from area residents. An Austin mineral rights lawyer represents clients in all aspects of negotiations with land and mineral owners.
In addition to the $4.53 million, Michigan retains surface and public use rights on more than 7,000 acres of the sale property. The state additionally will receive a 30-cent royalty on each ton of limestone or dolomite mined by Graymont in the area. The state has also agreed to grant 830 acres of mineral rights to Graymont for the project in exchange for company-held mineral rights in other locations of the U.P.
Supporters of Graymont's Rexton limestone mining project cite the desperate need for jobs and economic activity in an area where young people often move away to find work after completing school. Others fear the mining and traffic will irreparably damage the bucolic setting that called them to live or retire there.
DNR department heads earlier this year sent a memo to Creagh recommending rejection of the Graymont proposal, citing numerous concerns. Company officials continued negotiations with the state and resolved areas of disagreement to the point that the department heads earlier this month reversed their stance and recommended approval. A Houston mineral rights lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.
Changes in the agreement included increasing the mineral royalty from 18.75 cents to 30 cents per ton, Graymont agreeing to a minimum annual royalty payment to the state beginning in 2020 and the company establishing a regional economic development fund of $100,000 per year for five years.
"The chiefs had identified what their concerns were, and the staff rolled up their sleeves and went to work," Creagh said.
P.J. Stoll, plant manager for Graymont's Gulliver facility, said the public process "very much improved the original proposal."
The divided local opinion was apparent from those speaking before the Natural Resources Commission in Roscommon on Thursday. Rexton-area resident Tonya Emerson's nearly 100-year-old family farm will have Graymont mining operations on three sides of the property. She cited concerns about a reduced water table and water contamination.
"Selling the state's greatest asset, allowing a foreign company to destroy our land — while making a huge profit doing so — would be a huge injustice to the residents of upper Michigan," she said.
Rexton resident Dorothy Mills was similarly opposed.
"We purchased our property, we built our houses, in an area that didn't have a limestone mine. So did many others," she said.
But several speakers who made the trip from the U.P. expressed support for the project, saying the economic benefit it will bring to a depressed area is much needed.
"The young people deserve it," area resident Jeff Dishaw said. "Myself, I have a job. But the young people in this community deserve the opportunity to stay and earn a middle-class living."
Hendricks Township Supervisor Russell Nelson told the Free Press before Thursday's commission meeting that it was time to move ahead with the project.
"This has pitted neighbor against neighbor," he said.
Graymont officials say the initial phase of their operation will create 50 mining and transportation-related jobs, along with 100 indirect jobs. The company, the second-largest supplier of lime and lime-based products in North America, also is considering building a $100-million limestone processing plant in Nelson's township years from now.
"We need the jobs," Nelson said. "Our township has about 160 residents over 80 square miles. We have one little convenience store and a couple of restaurants."
The revised deal still does not address Trout Lake Township resident Kathy English's concerns, she said.
"It doesn't change the noise, the traffic, the pollution, the potential impacts to the water table, the changes to our way of life," she said.
The Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club also opposed the land deal, saying the DNR is failing to follow state law in determining surplus state lands. The land deal involves 10 times more acreage than any previous sale, club officials said.
"As proposed, the Graymont sale would establish a dangerous precedent and undermine our longstanding Michigan tradition of ensuring publicly owned lands that we value today are also there for future generations of Michiganders," Sierra Club forest ecologist Marvin Roberson said.
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