County abstains from opining on St Marys-Fisherman’s Island State Park land swap concept


Benjamin Gohs

News Editor

Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners Chairman Joel Evans (R-District 4) told several folks at the Wednesday Feb. 26 county board meeting that any potential land swap involving Fisherman’s Island and the St Marys [sic] Cement company is between St Marys and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

According to Evans, a “citizen” brought the commissioners a resolution that, if approved, would have signified the county board’s support of the land-swap as proposed by St Marys.

“We also had another resolution that was brought in that wanted us to pass the resolution for us to do research on this project,” Evans said. “Right now, that’s premature. We’re not going to do anything until the DNR … (or) St Marys comes to us asking us for a resolution to approve or disapprove.”
He added, “This is not really part of this county commission’s business.”

Before the board decided not to vote on the matter, several people—including long-time environmental activist Jo Anne Beemon of Charlevoix—spoke out against the proposal that would trade 220 acres of St Marys property for 190 acres of Fisherman’s Island State Park property.

“We’re really concerned about that because we were hearing rumors that we were going to be given a new entrance to the state park and given some land, and it was all this positive stuff,” said Beemon. “There wasn’t a lot of information that they were going to quarry Bells Bay Road out—which is our access to the state park. And, there wasn’t a lot of information about how they wanted to take 190 acres (total) of land on either side of Bells Bay Road.”

Beemon said the property St Marys wants to give the park in return is “scrub shrub field.”

“They want to take our prime 190 acres of mushrooming, walking, hunting, bird watching,” she said. “But, the thing that kills me the most … for 15 years we have worked to bring the county, the city, the township, snowmobilers, high school kids, everyone together to do a lake-to-lake Charlevoix trail.”

Beemon said the effort to someday have that trail has culminated in a $285,000 grant from the State of Michigan and substantial pledges from the City of Charlevoix, Charlevoix Township, The Charlevoix County Community Foundation and others.

“Everybody was on board. We did everything right to make a trail to Bells Bay Road,” said Beemon, who added that, if the land swap occurred, the trail would end at a gravel pit instead of park land.

“It’s like trading a box of chocolates for a Dum Dum sucker,” she said. “We are not dumb-dumbs and we do not want you to do that.”

According to St Marys Cement’s tentative proposal:

• Some rezoning and changes to Charlevoix Township’s Master Plan would likely be necessary to make the swap;

• None of Fisherman’s Island State Park’s shoreline would be affected;

• The contact boundary between the park and St Marys would be reduced from 3.8 miles to 2.2 miles;

• There are no archaeologically sensitive sites on the property St Marys seeks to utilize;

• The land St Marys is offering would significantly increase the park’s wetland habitat in addition to 4,000 feet of McGeach Creek;

• There would be no abandoned mine on the property given to the park;

• And, there would be no negative tax impacts on Charlevoix Township.

According to St Marys’ plan, there would be no reduction in the number of campsites in Fisherman’s Island State Park; a new road, welcome station, turnaround and parking area would be erected at St Marys’ cost—and with no interruptions of service to park users.

St Marys would benefit from the land swap by decreasing fuel costs, since part of their mine is in Norwood Township, on the other side of Fisherman’s Island State Park, and by eliminating the mine’s operational exposure to residential neighbors.

“We would go from having neighbors to having no neighbors,” said St Marys Cement Operations Manager Dirk Cox. “Even though people know a mine is there they don’t like mines by them because of all the impacts we do—blasting, backup alarms, light.”
He added, “No neighbors are better than neighbors … from our perspective and theirs.”

So far, St Marys has not submitted any formal requests for the land swap to the State of Michigan.

“This is a concept,” Cox said. “There’s been no application to the state because this concept affects a variety of stakeholders: the townships, our employees.”

St Marys employs 130 full-time employees, has a payroll of more than $13 million and pays $1 million in taxes.

“We’re going to be here one way or another,” Cox said. “But, with regulatory burdens becoming more and more, it makes sense, strategically, to be less obtrusive.”

He added, “I believe, down the road, that the more isolated we are and the less obtrusive we are on the community around us, the more secure our future is—that’s really the basis of the whole thing.”

Cox said the tentative proposal has nothing to do with recent efforts by Norwood Township to make its regulations on mining more stringent.

“We’re grandfathered in and can do business as we do now,” he said.

For those concerned about the quality of the St Marys piece of property, Cox said a biologist has been retained to perform a diversity index on both parcels.

“The habitat is better on the property we’re giving up,” he said.

St Marys Cement officials will present the proposal during a public meeting on the matter at 7 p.m. on Monday March 10 at Charlevoix Township Hall, 12491 Waller Road.

“I’d like to encourage people to get the facts before making up their mind, and give us input,” Cox said.