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County moves to remove former air base from conservancy status

EAGLE RIVER — The Keweenaw County Board approved a motion by Sandra Gayk to authorize the county zoning administrator and the county attorney to meet with the Eagle Harbor Township Board to discuss changing the existing zoning classification of Mount Horace Greeley at the regular November meeting Wednesday.

Currently, the former Calumet Air Force Station, located on Mt. Horace Greeley in Eagle Harbor Township, is zoned as conservancy.

“I tried to check about it,” said Gayk during the meeting, “and it seems like a good thing to start to move towards, because it’s currently zoned as conservation, which doesn’t allow for any uses, really, and we’re trying to do something with (Mt.) Horace Greeley. At this time, we don’t know what, but I think it’s a great idea to start to move in this direction.”

Board Chairman Don Piche, agreed, commenting that he does not know how the Calumet Air Force Base ever got into a conservation district in the first place.

Gayk said Eagle Harbor Township has its own zoning, which necessitates moving forward with the motion. The motion passed unanimously.

County Attorney Chuck Miller circulated and email in September on the topic, which was presented at Wednesday’s meeting. In the email, Miller agreed with Piche, stating in the email that “to put it politely, it is difficult to see how this designation was adopted.”

The Eagle Harbor Zoning map places the air base in a Conservation Environmental Protection (CEP) district, states Miller’s email.

“The CEP has been created to account for land designated as part of an open space system to preserve total environmental character, particularly in connection with conserving significant natural resource characteristics found within the township and encouraging multiple use recreation and forest activities where appropriate,” states Section 4.3.6 of the Eagle Harbor Zoning Ordinance. Lands include those that are currently, or are soon to be, held in conservancy ownership, public lands (or soon to be) that have been identified for preservation and compatible recreation, indevelopable coastline where preservation is in the best public interest, and those lands where owner intention has indicated future conservation efforts.

“The only permitted uses in a CEP are forest management and ski slopes,” Miller’s email states. “I am recommending that next month’s (Board of Commissioners) agenda include a new business discussion of filing a petition to re-zone the property to something more appropriate.”

Currently, the former air base is classified as Brownfield site. In 2017, the Air Force conducted tests for contaminated groundwater. There is asbestos on the site and lead-based paint, as well as oil spills. The Air Force has been denying any responsibility for those materials, saying they were not used in the construction of the facility.

In spite of that, there is a renewed interest in the site, as Mount Horace Greeley is under consideration for a facility for launching low-orbiting satellites by the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA).

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