My wife Anne, who lived in St. Louis, Missouri when we met, often tells people that I “wooed her with Michigan”. And it’s true. Michigan has so much to offer from big cities to secluded forests and everything in between. We have over 19 million acres of forested land, about 4 million of which is state-owned. This immense amount of land provides habitat for animals, recreational opportunities for our residents and tourists, and natural resources like timber and oil & gas when the lands are leased.
However, the state of Michigan is preparing to sell of vast amounts of this land to private companies.
First, there’s a relatively smallish sale of 120 acres being contemplated for a natural gas operation in Gwinn in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
A much larger proposal is being considered for selling up to 13,000 acres to Walther Farms to grow potatoes. They operate a 3,700-acre site in Windsor, South Carolina and are authorized to pump up to 9.6 BILLION gallons of water from a nearby river, which has sparked considerable concern.
The proposed site in Michigan is three and a half times larger than the South Carolina farming operation. You can read more about their operation in South Carolina HERE.
Finally, the state is considering selling an astonishing 11,000+ acres to Graymont, Inc. to mine limestone in underground mines and a nearly 1,700-acre open pit mine, as well. The company would pay the state for every ton of limestone removed over the next 100 years from the site near the town of Rexton in the Eastern U.P.
The Department of Natural Resources describes the process for approving this sale in detail HERE. Here are some facts and figures from their description:
Graymont wants to purchase the state-owned land which includes both the surface and the limestone. Graymont wants 7,888 acres to develop an underground mine; 1,665 acres of the Hendricks mine area for a surface (open pit) mine; 1,410 acres for a processing plant, with a buffer around the actual plant; and 160 acres of the Wilwin area would be the location of a surface mine.
Review of the 11,123-acre Graymont project is actively happening now and it has received little attention. In an op-ed in the Lansing State Journal, Sierra Club Forest Policy Specialist and forest ecologist Marvin Roberson made these comments:
Michigan may be poised to sell off significant parcels of public land. The state has received an application from a limestone mining company, Graymont, asking the DNR to sell them more than 10,000 acres of state forest land. That’s 15 square miles of land belonging to all of us that the state might sell to a private company. Most of the media coverage has focussed on the effects of this proposal on local residents. However, a land sale of this magnitude should be of concern to all Michiganians.
Not only is this an extremely large piece of land to consider selling (more than 20 times larger than any previous sale), it is also prime forest land. During a previous DNR planning process, DNR staff identified this very piece of land as some of the most valuable land in the state for both habitat and timber purposes. We should not be considering selling it.
Once an application is received, the DNR has a formal review procedure used to evaluate the merits of an application, and that is where the process is now. One of the criteria for selling land is whether or not it is “surplus.” Declaring land “surplus” means it has met previously established conditions for land the DNR does not want.
This piece of land meets no previously established definition of “surplus land.” In fact, if the most valuable 15 square miles of timber and habitat in the eastern UP is “surplus,” it is difficult to imagine which parcels of state land are not “surplus.” Could this be the beginning of wholesale disposal of state land in Michigan?
State officials are currently receiving public comments and assure us that they will review the case very carefully.
I spoke to Roberson about this new effort to sell off huge amounts of Michigan public lands, lands that are, in effect, owned by ALL Michigan residents. He told me that the state is required by statute to maintain a list of so-called “surplus” land but the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not require prospective buyers to choose from sites on that list. And, as he points out in his op-ed, the land Graymont is interested in isn’t on the list. Neither are any of the others I’ve mentioned.
“It’s like if you went to a garage sale,” Roberson said, “And you didn’t see anything you wanted. But then you saw a nice television inside the house and decided you wanted that, instead.”
Roberson said that, in the past, the discussion has always been about how we manage our public lands, not about how we should get rid of them. “If we are managing a forest area and decide that we want to grow different species of trees or manage it in some other way, we can do that in a relatively short time,” he said. “But if we sell it to a private company for some other use, we lose that ability. Once it’s sold, we can’t change it.”
The state of Michigan has a website regarding the Graymont proposal HERE. That site contains a great deal of information including maps and details about the proposal. As I’ve mentioned, they are currently receiving public comments on the proposed sale of over 11,000 acres of prime forest land to be used for limestone mining. If you’d like to give your comments, you can send them to:
Comments and input are also accepted at Natural Resources Commission meetings and the DNR has committed to host at least one public meeting in the eastern Upper Peninsula prior to DNR Director Keith Creagh’s final decision.
Please take a moment to share your thoughts on this sale. It’s one thing to sell of land that’s not useful to the citizens of our state or beneficial to our state’s ecology — land considered “surplus”. It’s entirely another thing, however, to sell off prime forest land to corporate interests. It’s a short-sighted approach to generating revenue that, once done, cannot be undone.
[CC photo by Scott Smithson | Flickr]