Humboldt Township rail spur reactivated

HUMBOLDT – Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh has approved a land transaction, allowing for a railroad spur-turned trail in Humboldt Township to be reactivated.

Returning that section of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail to active rail line will provide the Lundin Mining Corp. with a means to haul ore concentrate from its Humboldt Mill to a nearby railroad line. The mining company will pay for relocation of the trail segment.

The roughly 2 miles of rail line being reactivated was the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad’s North Lake Branch Extension. The transaction involves just over 35 acres of land.

“The rail reactivation will enable renewed use of the railroad corridor for material shipment, while the trail relocation will keep the Iron Ore Heritage Trail in one piece,” DNR division chiefs said in a recommendation to Creagh that he approve the transaction.

Creagh approved the transaction at last Thursday’s meeting of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission in Muskegon. The Land Exchange Review Committee reviewed the transaction in June and also recommended approval.

Railroad corridors that would otherwise be abandoned can instead be “railbanked,” which allows the corridors to be used for trails on an interim basis, while preserving the rail lines for potential future use.

The request by the Mineral Range Inc. railroad to reactivate the spur in Humboldt Township is the first time a reactivation request has been made of the DNR, which has railbanked 11 railroad corridors, covering 150 miles, since 1998.

DNR officials said working with Humboldt Township and various railroad and mining interests, “an arrangement evolved.” Under that arrangement, Humboldt Township will own the reactivated rail corridor and will come to agreement with Mineral Range for construction, operation and maintenance of the spur.

The township will also own the new trail segment and will provide a 50-foot-wide easement to the DNR. That trail easement will be for multi-use purposes, dedicated for public use and administered by the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division. No hunting will be allowed from the trail and no use of vehicles wider than 65 inches will be permitted, with an exception for trail maintenance, emergency and law enforcement vehicles.

Lundin plans to truck ore from its Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township to the Humboldt Mill -which was acquired by Rio Tinto in 2008 – for crushing before putting the concentrate produced on rail cars headed to Canada for further processing.

Cliffs Natural Resources owned the rail spur from 1952 until 2004. In 2005, the tracks were removed and the spur was railbanked.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.