BARAGA - The Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region held its 44th annual meeting Monday night at the American Legion Foucault-Funke Post 444 in Baraga.
In addition to a presentation reviewing the organization's economic impact on the area, a second presentation from a special speaker explained a mining project that could also have significant economic impact.
Lori Hauswirth, associate planner with WUPPDR, filled in for executive director Kim Stoker, who was at a meeting in Chicago. She detailed how WUPPDR has been accomplishing its mission of "fostering stable and diversified economies in the Western Upper Peninsula."
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
The 44th Annual Meeting of the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region was held Monday at the American Legion Foucault-Funke Post 444 in Baraga.
"For the last five years we're looking at, for every dollar invested in WUPPDR, we're turning that into $91," she told a group of several dozen community leaders. "Your money is going a long way."
Seventy-seven percent of WUPPDR's $832,539 annual budget comes from grants and programs, and Hauswirth noted that the $52,956 in membership funding plays a key role in matching grants.
Hauswirth acknowledged several projects WUPPDR has been working on in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw, Gogebic and Ontonagon counties, including the Michigan State Housing Development Authority Rental Assistance Program, which serves 355 low-income households in the five counties. It provides $1-1.7 million in rental and utility assistance.
She also detailed the Geographic Information Systems Department, which helped lead to a five-county ORV trail map through the Michigan Trails and Recreation Alliance of Land and the Environment.
Hauswirth also highlighted transportation planning, the America's Byways Grant Program, a Brockway Mountain project, the "Get Around the Western U.P." transportation website (getaroundwup.com), the Community Adjustment & Investment Program Grant, UPlink, Baraga County strategic plan, Davis-Bacon compliance, emergency management projects and countywide recreation planning.
For more information on WUPPDR, visit wuppdr.com.
Simon Nish, a spokesman for Rio Tinto, followed Hauswirth's WUPPDR update with an update on the Eagle Mine in northwest Marquette County. Nish will offer a similar presentation at a 6 p.m. Sept. 26 community forum at the American Legion Post 144 in L'Anse.
"We want to demonstrate through this project that we can open new mines in the highest regulatory environment, under the greatest environmental and regulatory scrutiny, under a high level of community scrutiny," he said, noting Rio Tinto has operations all around the world, but few in the United States. "Fairly and squarely it is a showcase mine that will help us hopefully open new doors."
Nish said the mine's goal is zero harm to people, and while that goal has not been reached, Eagle Mine has had 137 straight injury-free workdays while drilling about a mile underground on the mine's tunnel.
He explained the mine's journey to date and future seven-year operation expectations once mining operations officially start in 2013 after an intensive construction phase.
He noted the mine's 70 percent local hire goal and Rio Tinto's AccelerateUP program, which will invest in local entrepreneurs after the mine is done operating, to prevent the "boom-bust" effect on the economy.
Nish acknowledged the Eagle Mine will feature a new monitoring format "never applied anywhere," above and beyond the state of Michigan's environmental regulation.
The Marquette Community Foundation will have a five-member governing body, comprised of a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member, a chairman, a general community member, somebody with specific mining knowledge and another with environmental knowledge. That body will act as an independent go-between with Rio Tinto and the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust.
"It's a really good intent on our side and very high capacity on the community side where a benchmark can be set in the U.P. for mining regulation," Nish said.
He also explained a community scorecard that will allow the community to evaluate the mine every six months at community forums, including the Sept. 26 forum in L'Anse.
Nish and an audience member noted those who are for, against or unsure about the mine are welcome to take a tour of the mine, which can be arranged through Rio Tinto's Marquette welcome center by calling 906-273-1550. More information can be found at riotintoeagle.com.