by Bruce Walker
Two Upper Peninsula legislators are protesting the Michigan Department of Natural Resources scuttling of a plan to repurpose a dormant mine in the Upper Peninsula’s Dickinson County.
State Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp.) (pictured left) and State Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) (pictured right) issued statements in response to the DNR’s determination to terminate a lease with Saucon Minerals for a project located at the Groveland Mine.
“Saucon Minerals had violated the terms of its leases with the state seven times in seven years,” DNR Public Information Officer Ed Golder told The Center Square via email.
“The company then wanted to re-negotiate the leases at a time when doing so would have significantly reduced the payments the company would be making to the state for use of this public land. Given that history with this particular company, the DNR thought there may be a better long-term use for the land,” Golder said.
The lease was terminated three years early.
Saucon projected the plan would add 100 jobs to Dickinson County, which, according to 2018 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, is home to 25,239. The county’s median income is $48,996 and per capita income is $28,020. The percentage of people living in poverty is just under 11 percent.
The company projected its mining project would represent about $71 million in investment in Dickinson County.
Saucon’s plan was to use 100 million to 900 million tons of tailings from the shuttered iron mine, which is now state-owned land, near Iron Mountain.
Using technology developed in collaboration with Michigan Technological University, Saucon planned to produce products for the iron and mineral industry as well as agricultural use. The company projected it could produce 510,000 tons of iron ore concentrate and 548,000 tons of organic fertilizer and soil re-mineralizer material each year.
The company also provided plans to remediate the area once the tailing supply was depleted.
According to McBroom and LaFave, however, the DNR opted to terminate the lease in order “solicit proposals this year for leasing the Groveland Mine property to a potential solar power developer, such as a utility or a private company that would sell the electricity. Gov. Whitmer has made expanding solar projects in the state a high priority of her administration.”
McBroom provided comments on the DNR’s action.
“The DNR refused to renew a lease for the Groveland Mine in Dickinson County with Saucon Minerals, a company with locations in Dearborn and Lapeer in April,” McBroom said in his statement.
“Saucon’s innovative plan for the Groveland Mine would have brought about 100 jobs to the area, both construction and operational, and it would have restored the property to its natural habitat as it cleaned up waste products from the previous operation,” he said.
“The company had reached out to the DNR in February to discuss renegotiating the leasing agreement, before the annual payment was due, and instead of having discussions and answering the company’s questions, the department issued a termination letter in mid-April.”
LaFave also expressed his dismay.
“The department’s handling of this matter was both disingenuous and shameful, all because department bureaucrats were more interested in what they view as potentially a bigger fish on the line,” LaFave said.
“I know one thing, I would be real cautious entering into a leasing agreement with the DNR when they do not even properly communicate with its partners – one day you have an agreement, and the next you’re being kicked to the curb for the department’s potential newest shiny object,” he said.
LaFave said the project was worth waiting for, “but the department stands to attain more state revenue with the solar project and decided to cut bait.”
McBroom said the decision shows a lack of leadership within the department.
“Saucon Minerals believes our project has substantial merits including creation of over 100 jobs, reclaiming the minerals deposited in the tailings ponds, remediating the site to its original habitat and producing an organic fertilizer that will increase crop yield, and reduce usage of chemical fertilizers,” Rodney A. Apple, Saucon president and CEO, told The Center Square.
“The Saucon Mineral partners support the development of solar power. But it is not in the best interests of the environment or the economy to cover up the valuable minerals at Groveland with solar panels effectively eliminating 100 jobs and the agricultural and environmental benefits of the products that we will produce,” Apple said.
“We think both projects can be accomplished. There are many open areas in the U.P. better suited for solar development. So we believe the best alternative is to do both projects. It’s a win-win solution for the local community, the state and the environment,” he added.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.
Photo “State Sen. Ed McBroom” by Sen. Ed McBroom and “State Rep. Beau LaFave” by Rep. Beau LaFave.