The Marquette County Road Commission, led by Jim Iwanicki, in Michigan’s upper peninsula, wants to build a road through some undeveloped land to create a short-cut for heavy-duty trucks transporting ore from a local mine to its processing facility. The state environmental quality agency agreed, but the federal EPA vetoed the county’s permit application for vaguely stated “environmental reasons” even though the county planned to protect 26 acres of wetlands for every one acre of wetland filled by the project.
Marquette County, Michigan, proposed to build County Road 595 across a 21-mile undeveloped route to allow large industrial trucks transporting nickel and copper ore from the Eagle Mine to a refinery. The new route would bypass busy city streets and the edge of the Northern Michigan University campus by replacing an existing route that is three times as long as proposed CR 595. As planned and approved by state environmental quality officials, it would cut air pollution, increase safety, and save over 450,000 gallons of fuel yearly. Yet federal EPA regulators are blocking the plan, purportedly because the road would adversely impact wetlands. Agency officials never provided the kind of details that would allow their concerns to be objectively assessed, and they stuck to their objections tenaciously.
Worse, the EPA regulators refuse to work with the county to develop a creative, win-win agreement: When local officials offered to protect 26.6 acres of wetlands for every one acre of wetlands filled by the planned road, the EPA demanded more. No matter what the local government agency offered, the EPA and the Corps of Engineers refused to budge. To add insult to injury, the EPA also claims that its stubbornness does not represent a “final” agency decision that could be reviewed in court under the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., which guarantees property owners the right to go to court to challenge a wetlands determination.