Criticism voiced at public hearing

DNR, Keweenaw Land Association targets for mineral rights proposal

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources received harsh criticism from attendees of a public hearing Wednesday on the proposed leasing of 10,000-plus acres of mineral rights across public lands in multiple Upper Peninsula counties to the Keweenaw Land Association. In the public comment period of the hearing, opposition to Keweenaw Land’s lease proposal was unanimous, and was critical of both the DNR and the KLA.

Matt Fry, manager of the DNR Minerals Management Division, said the public hearing was to discuss the metallic minerals direct lease application for 10,631 acres of state-owned mineral rights. The application was filed by Keweenaw Land Association, Limited (KEWL), of Ironwood, Michigan. The lands are located in Baraga, Dickinson, Iron, Marquette and Menominee counties.

Ken Babcock, analyst with the Minerals Management Division, described the minerals direct leasing process in the application submitted by KLA.

If approved by the DNR, the lease would grant KEWL exclusive rights to pursue exploration or development of metallic minerals in the described areas, Babcock said.

“A lease alone does not grant the lessee the right to mine,” he said. “Further permissions would be required from local, state and/or Federal authorities, before any invasive exploration or any developmental activities could occur.”

The DNR’s authorization to enter into contracts for the taking of state-owned minerals comes from Section 3 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Babcock continued.

Carrie La Seur, legal director for For Love of Water, in Traverse City, commented on the legal standards applied to all Michigan agency decisions, including mineral leasing, DNR’s obligations with water and the plain English of the Michigan’s mineral leasing rule.

“Michigan’ constitution,” said La Seur, “does not allow state legislators or regulators to neglect their environmental protection duties.”

According to Article 4, section 52 of the Michigan Constitution, she said, the conservation and development of the natural resources of the state are hereby declared to be paramount to public concern, in the interest of the health, safety and general welfare of the people.

“The legislature shall provide for the protection of the air, water and other natural resources of the state, from pollution, impairment and destruction,” said La Seur.

Citing constitutional laws, Supreme Court decisions and other environmental laws, particularly the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, she said, For Love of Water urges the DNR to expand its review to acknowledge these broader obligations to the public under Michigan Law.

According to the Ironwood Chamber of Commerce, Keweenaw Land owns and manages 167,800 surface acres in the U.P., 1,700 in northern Wisconsin and 401,801 acres of both severed and attached mineral rights.

Nicole Biber, tribal citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and resident of East Lansing, commented that she was disheartened over the DNR’s presentation at the beginning of the hearing focused on the revenue aspect of the leasing process.

“It seems that in any discussion about natural resources, it’s through this lens of ‘what can potentially be profitable,’ and if that’s the way decisions are going to be made, it’s already been made.”

Biber said she would love to see that stop with the DNR and similarly with the EPA.

“Just have it be where you’re not just a rubber stamp for what industry wants, what profit demands,” said Biber.

Brian Noell, with the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, in Marquette County’s Big Bay, joined La Seur and FLOW in urging the DNR to reject Keweenaw Land’s mineral lease application.

“The company already owns more than 400,000 acres of mineral rights in the region,” said Noell, “so this attempt to control over 10,000 more ought to be seriously evaluated.”

The DNR, said Noell, should remember its responsibility to steward taxpayer resources, and before issuing a lease, should consider how mineral development would impact sensitive areas in that much acreage.

“This stage of the process (the public hearing) are the only one in which citizens have a voice,” Noell said. “There has been very little accountability once a lease has been issued since permits for on-the-ground activities were given by EGLE (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy), and as a matter of course, in being proprietary, are not subject to public scrutiny.”

Keweenaw Land Association, Noell went on to say, appears to be grabbing as many acres of mineral rights as possible to eliminate future competition in what its Board sees as a potential mining bonanza in the Western U.P.

The Question and Comment period remains open until May 1, 2024 and can be submitted via email to DNR-LeaseManagement@michigan.gov or in writing to DNR, Minerals Management Section, P.O. Box 30452, Lansing, MI 48909.


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