Road improvements are altered based on public’s concerns

ISHPEMING – The Marquette County Road Commission voted unanimously Monday to approve a revised alignment plan – which will include several provisions sought by the public – for construction improvements to Marquette County roads 510, KAA and AAA.

The roughly 11 miles of roadway being upgraded, costing $20.8 million, will connect County Road 550 with the Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township.

The Lundin Mining Corp., which is largely funding the construction, will use the route to truck ore from the mine to the Humboldt Mill.

Road commission engineer-manager James Iwanicki recommended the board approve the revised plan and hold a public information meeting when engineering plans are 70 percent complete.

“The board has been listening to you folks and we will continue to do so,” road commission Vice Chairman Dave Hall said.

Among the most significant changes to a plan released about a month ago included limits to tree cutting from County Road 550 to the “Blind 35” area. Trees will be cleared 10 feet away from each side of the road.

“We believe there is some clearing that needs to happen so that we can build an adequate road cross-section, but we’re going to do that all within the road right-of-way and on the existing road footprint,” Iwanicki said. “That was probably the biggest change there.”

Some members of the public wanted those alterations made to preserve the tree canopy for fall color touring and the rustic feeling of the country road.

“The other change that was made was on the western end where the plains are,” Iwanicki said.

There, the planned centerline was changed. Originally, a small divider of trees would remain between the new road alignment and the current road or all of the existing roadway would not have been used.

That centerline plan has now been changed to keep all the existing footprint of County Road AAA with the least amount of land in use.

The dual road layout with the tree divider is currently in evidence near the Eagle Mine entrance where another road improvement project – previously approved using state funding – is under way east to the Michigamme Township border.

Heading into Powell Township, the dual alignment will be blended into the existing roadway under the revised plan, Iwanicki said.

At the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River, the original plan to remove three culverts and replace them with a bridge remains in place.

Along County Road 510, the alignment and tree-cutting plan approved would accommodate the Big Bay Sportsmen’s Club, whose members feared removal of some club features and reduced parking on its 120 acres.

Monday’s vote to approve the alignment provides a guideline for planners.

“That gives us on the engineering side some chance to work the design and to know what parameters we’re using in that design so that we’re spending the money wisely and so that we’re not doing it five or six different times,” Iwanicki said. “The alignment is a big deal because there’s 50,000 different ways you could do the alignment and until a decision is made, you could have 50,000 different designs.”

Some alignment modifications could be made as the process moves forward. In addition, no physical work is expected to be done on the route until the public weighs in, with some of the project likely to be considered in segments.

“I think the board wants me to have public information meetings prior to starting additional work,” Iwanicki said. “That’s how I took it and that’s the intent. Before we start moving dirt, cutting trees, clearing or whatever, that the public be given ‘Here’s the plan’ and some Q and A there.”

Several of the roughly 45 people attending the meeting Monday thanked the road commission for making alterations to its plan in consideration of public concerns, but expressed the need for more changes, including the planned design speed of 55 mph.

Richard Hendricksen of Marquette, who owns a camp along County Road 510, said even the modified plan would have negative affects.

“I’ve studied the stretch around the sportsmen’s (club) property,” Hendricksen said. “Ten feet would take the canopy, if you went 10 feet each side of the road. So the beauty of that would be gone.”

George Lindquist, who lives along County Road 510 and is a Region I vice president for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, urged the panel to make considerations for wildlife by providing corridors and in culvert and bridge designs. He also urged consideration for snowmobiles and off-road vehicles, as well as bicycles and pedestrians.

“This is (a) major recreation area along with industrial, timber,” Lindquist said. “We all have to work together.”

Some of those commenting wanted the road commission to continue to take more time to make decisions on the road. Other concerns remained over potential use of eminent domain, winter truck travel and alignment.

“There’s still way too much of that, that is a new road,” Carla Champagne of Big Bay said.

Several of those commenting suggested the road not be paved and ore hauling only be done seasonally.

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