Country board approves KORC resolution
EAGLE RIVER — The Keweenaw County Board last Wednesday approved a resolution of support for the Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Coalition (KORC), as it prepares to submit a grant to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Before the resolution was approved, there was much discussion on what impact KORC’s actions would have on the county.
Coalition Executive Director, Jim Vivian III, said KORC is currently working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish potential lands on Keweenaw Point to acquire.
“We’re looking at acquisition of lands,” said Vivian. “At this point, we’re looking at properties on the tip of the Keweenaw.”
Commissioner Del Rajala raised concerns over whether lands purchased by KORC would be removed from the county tax roll.
“We’re working with the Department of Natural Resources,” Vivian replied, “and the property would be under their management, so it would not be on the tax roll.”
The county, he said, would receive Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) from the state. This would be a similar process to how the county received PILT money from the Federal Government for Isle Royale, said Board Chairman Don Piche, but rather than the federal government, the state would pay the county.
County Treasurer Eric Hermanson said the State Tax Commission would assign the property a value that would be submitted to (Grant) Township, and the township would bill the state. The value would be approximately $4 “and some change” per acre, he added.
Rajala responded that his concern was for the property to remain on the tax rolls, and not slip into conservancy.
Vivian said he did not see how the property could slip into conservancy if the DNR is the landowner.
“I’ve never heard of DNR lands reverting into the conservancy,” he said.
While most properties owned by various conservancies in Keweenaw County are open for public use, the conservancies are created as non-profit. Under that status, properties they own are exempt from taxes. Additionally, in many instances, conservancies place heavy restrictions on land usage. Some may prohibit hunting and/or fishing on their properties, or prohibit or severely limit the use of motorized vehicles. Restrictions and rules vary from landowner to landowner.
Gina Nichols, a KORC director, said the requested resolution was for more than just land acquisition.
“KORC is doing a bunch of projects,” she said, “with the state, and other people, to improve amenities.”
Projects, she said, will range from land acquisition to easements, installing toilet facilities, or trash bins and and trash pick-up. Road repair and construction is also included.
“It’s not just for land acquisition,” she emphasized. “Right now, we’re a grass-roots startup. We don’t have enough money to do anything with land acquisition, but we are working on facilities, out on the tip (of the peninsula).”
Nichols said KORC would maintain the facilities and improvements to the land, once it is acquired.
“The state wants us to do it,” she said. “So, we are working with Brad Carlson, with Bob Wild (DNR), and doing projects that are mutually agreeable. And KORC’s doing them, and KORC’s funding them.”
Board Chairman Don Piche asked from where the money for maintenance personnel would come, to which Nichols replied KORC is raising money.
“So, we need your support to write grants, and to bring in other partners, and your endorsement, basically — because this is about Keweenaw County, this is not somebody else from somewhere else, making a plan. It’s Keweenaw County making a plan for Keweenaw County.”
The first project that is going to happen, she said, is trash at High Rock; trash receptacles and a person to collect it every other day.
“That’s already been permitted by the DNR,” she said. “That’ll happen this year.”
The next step will be a vault toilet system, also at High Rock, followed by campground management, additional toilet and trash management, as other projects come into focus.
KORC was organized in late 2019 for the very purpose of securing permanent public access to at-risk lands in the county, particularly those vulnerable to the potential loss or degradation of the vast landscapes found in county.
“It’s not just forestland that could be lost,” the KORC website asserts, “at risk is our way of life.”
KORC was founded to form a coalition of individuals, businesses, and outdoor recreation, conservation, and community organizations to achieve these goals.