Officials hope greater public involvement will increase the likelihood of St Marys Cement’s proposal to swap a nearly 220-acre parcel of its land with 190 acres of Fisherman’s Island State Park.
Following a public presentation, back in March, to the Charlevoix Township Board of Trustees, St Marys has made plans to create a citizen’s advisory committee, and given detailed explanations to questions and comments made by members of the public about the proposal.
“People ask ‘What’s in it for us?’” said St Marys Cement Operations Manager Dirk Cox. “We listed real facts because there’s a lot of stuff that’s being promoted that just isn’t true.”
In order to better educate the public while giving people a greater sense of buy-in on the proposed project, a citizens advisory committee is in the works that will allow for objective citizens to look at the plan and decide if, in the long-run, it will be beneficial from all angles.
“Anyone can ask to participate,” said Cox. “It will begin soon and continue through May and June to allow summer residents the opportunity to say they want to be on the committee.”
St Marys has yet to submit an application for the land swap proposal to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for several reasons.
Cox said the citizens advisory committee will need time to consider the matter; and, St Marys wants to complete and consider two studies on the properties in question.
According to Cox, a biological study assesses the diversity of the vegetation and the habitat quality; an archeological study is to make sure there are no Native American sites on the state land that St Marys is interested in.
“The phase I study was completed and said there were not any sensitive sites,” said Cox. “St Marys wants to make absolutely sure of this because it’s the right thing to do out of respect for both the Grand Traverse Bay and Little Traverse Bay Tribes heritage.”
St Marys is taking many precautions and deciding where the community stands on this issue before making any major moves.
“It’s a six to 12 month review for these applications and it’s quite exhaustive what they look into so it’s hard to say—when the application is submitted—when St Marys can continue with the proposal,” Cox said.
According to St Marys Cement’s tentative proposal:
Some rezoning and changes to Charlevoix Township’s Master Plan would be necessary to make the swap legal;
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.
A popular, though incorrect, concern is that the land St Marys is offering in trade has been mined.
“Those in opposition to the land swap concept have falsely said that the land we propose to trade with the state has already been quarried,” Cox said. “But the truth is that the state land we are looking at has been partially mined—ours has not.”
Another of the major concerns about the proposed land swap include the fate of the Lake Charlevoix (Ferry Beach) to Lake Michigan trail.
According to St Marys Cement, the Lake to Lake Trail surface improvement ends at the intersection of US-31 and Bells Bay Road, and from this intersection trail traffic shares Bells Bay Road into the current entrance to the state park. No trail construction is planned on Bells Bay Road.
St Marys Cement gave over 15 acres of its railroad spur to help complete the trail back in 2013.
None of the trail’s investment schedule for 2014 will be impacted by any land swap and no money that has been invested in the existing trail surface would be lost.
If the land swap were applied for and approved, and if the trail route needed to be redirected, St Marys would construct—free of charge—the necessary extension.
Some have charged that St Marys will engage in fracking—the use of forcing pressurized fluid into the earth to extract natural gas—in Fisherman’s Island State Park.
St Marys said they do not engage in fracking as they only manufacture cement.
Some are worried about traveling farther to get to the park should the entrance be relocated.
According to St Marys, relocating the entrance to Block Road—as an example—would add an additional 3.3 miles round-trip for those coming from Charlevoix.
An entrance off of Witmere Road would add an additional 6.9 miles round-trip for those coming from Charlevoix.
Concern over the quality of property St Marys is offering was also addressed by citing that the DNR has a process for reviewing parcels of property to determine whether they are comparable in value for trade.