County expects to close on Gratiot River purchase by Dec. 15
AHMEEK -- Keweenaw County is likely to close on the purchase of 100 acres, 4,000 feet of Lake Superior shore and 3,000 feet of the Gratiot River,
from International Paper/Lake Superior Land Company by December 15, 2001, at the
latest. The closing could occur before the county decides whether or not to
accept federal funding to match the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant
that is to fund 75 percent ($441,000) of the $588,000 purchase.
This aerial view of the mouth of the Gratiot River shows part of the area
that could soon be a Keweenaw County park should the county purchase land along
the river and Lake Superior shoreline from International Paper/Lake Superior
Land Co. (File photo by DNR pilot Neil Harri)
The county has been working for more than a year to acquire the parcel for a
park providing public access for hunting, fishing, primitive camping and other
recreational activities. The Trust Fund board has extended the deadline for the
purchase several times to allow the county to acquire the 25 percent match and overcome
certain obstacles, including a proposed easement on the property. Local
community groups -- including the North Woods Conservancy, the Copper Country Chapter of
Trout Unlimited and the Copper Country Audubon Club -- were
successful in applying for a North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA)
grant of $147,000, which could provide the 25 percent match for the Trust Fund
grant. However, the Keweenaw County Board of
Commissioners has not yet voted to accept the federal NAWCA grant, since some of
the commissioners believe the federal funds impose regulations that are too
County Board Chairman Frank Stubenrauch and Commissioner Don Keith met with
NAWCA representatives on Nov. 28 in Harvey (near Marquette) and discussed four issues that the
county needs to address in order to accept the NAWCA grant without violating its
- The cabin existing within the property must be removed, since the grant
does not allow permanent structures in the recreation area.
2. The county must resolve, in writing, the
issue of who owns the mineral rights in the area.
3. The easement across and through the
property designated for the park, to allow landowners in Section 12 to access
their property north of the river, must be withdrawn or mitigated.*
4. The Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners must
document in writing their intentions concerning future development within the
The NAWCA representatives at the meeting told Stubenrauch and Keith they
would extend to Jan. 10, 2002, the deadline for the county's decision on whether
or not to accept the federal grant. However, IP/LSLC wants
closure on the sale of the property by Dec. 15, 2001, according to Walt Arnold,
the company's director of marketing and sales.
"We have to do it before Dec. 15, or it's not going to happen with us.
That's our final deadline," Arnold said on Nov. 30. "I would suggest
that the county should close (on the sale) and then negotiate on the NAWCA
Arnold said IP/LSLC would work with the county to help them meet the grant
requirements. He noted the cabin issue was being addressed.
Stubenrauch said he thought the county could close by Dec. 15 as long as the
state (Trust Fund Board) is satisfied with not owning the mineral rights and
with IP/LSLC's efforts to remove the cabin, which was the last outstanding issue
for the Trust Fund grant.
"I'm sure we can close by Dec. 15," Stubenrauch said on Nov. 30.
"The big issue is whether the state will let us close (by then)."
Jim Wood, manager of the Resource Protection Section of the Michigan
Department of Natural Resources Grants Administration Division, said removal of
the cabin was the only remaining obstacle to their awarding the Trust Fund grant
money for 75 percent of the purchase. On Nov. 30, Wood said neither the easement
nor the mineral rights would be a problem.
"We're not going to require the county to get those (mineral
rights)," Wood said. "If the county requires additional time, we can
Stubenrauch said he would ask Wood for written assurance that he's satisfied
with the first three issues and then the county would close on the sale.
The County Commissioners would then have two meetings (Dec. 11 and Jan. 8) to
decide on whether to accept the NAWCA grant or to spend the county's own money for
the 25 percent match of the Trust Fund grant.
Stubenrauch said he has received several phone calls from residents
expressing opinions on both sides of the issue of the NAWCA grant.
"It's about split evenly on the phone calls I've gotten," he said
on Nov. 30.
Asked whether he would vote to accept the NAWCA money, Stubenrauch said,
"I'm not sure. I'm really not sure. There are restrictions -- in the NAWCA
grant -- on what the county can do on that property."
Stubenrauch said some residents object to the fact that NAWCA limits toilet
facilities to outhouses and doesn't allow wells or permanent structures.
"But for the near future we couldn't do much development,"
Stubenrauch noted. "There's no power down there. Maybe people would be
comfortable with leaving it primitive ... But maybe some would want more
The mouth of the Gratiot River is a favorite spot for fishermen, hikers and
kayakers. Some would like to see it preserved as it is, or minimally developed
to permit outhouses and primitive camping, in order to prevent impacting the
environment and to preserve its natural tranquility. Others oppose accepting
federal funds that limit the amenities for campers and other visitors. (File photo)
The county could take the NAWCA money now, Stubenrauch added; and in the
future, if there were enough of a demand for amenities and people felt more
development was worth it, the county could return the money.
"The county isn't in that great a shape that we could just give up that
money (now)," he said.
County Commissioner Jeffrey Turnquist said he objects to accepting the NAWCA
grant because he feels it is too restrictive in its language about preserving,
enhancing and protecting wildlife.
"I feel anything you call public had better be
handicap-accessible," Turnquist said. "Private industry is subject to
handicap laws. I feel that public property should be open to handicapped people
also -- wheelchair accessible."
County Commissioner Don Keith, who, along with Stubenrauch, attended the Nov.
28 meeting with NAWCA administrators, said he supports accepting the
NAWCA grant. Keith said the meeting included representatives of the seven
partners in the grant, whose projects total more than $3.5 million in federal
funding for the Upper Peninsula. Keith said if Keweenaw County turns down its
share of the grant, that could affect some of the other projects as well as
Keweenaw County's chances for future federal funding.
"Turning it down, in all likelihood, would preclude Keweenaw County from
participating in Phase Three (of NAWCA) and /or future grant opportunities from
federal agencies," Keith said.
Keith noted that Barbara Pardo, regional joint venture coordinator of the
United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, and Randy
Wilkinson, Upper Peninsula coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
held the Nov. 28 meeting with the NAWCA grant applicants to resolve
problems and issues still outstanding.
Keith said the NAWCA grant requirements include limiting access-road
improvements to unpaved road, prohibiting permanent structures and keeping
camping facilities "primitive." The grant does allow trash barrels,
picnic tables and pit toilets (which must be periodically filled and relocated).
The access road on the south side of the Gratiot River, leading to the mouth
of the river, is presently passable with four-wheel-drive vehicles. Keweenaw
County intends to improve the road for the proposed park. (Sept. 15, 2001, file photo)
"The camping must be primitive camping only, with stone fire rings that
should be periodically relocated to reduce the impact on the property,"
He said the easement (which is expected to be part of the purchase agreement
with IP/LSLC), if not withdrawn, would have to be reduced from 66 feet to 40
feet and declared for private use only by existing property owners in Section
In late September, IP/LSLC prepared papers to add to the purchase agreement the easement and
a bridge to allow several property owners in Section 12 to access their property on the north side of the river for development.
However, because property owners in Section 13, objected that the easement could
jeopardize both the Trust Fund grant and the NAWCA grant for the county's
purchase of the mouth of the Gratiot property, the two groups arrived at a
compromise in October: The owners of Section 12 agreed to sell their properties (at full, with-access appraised value) directly to a unit of government, or to an intermediate buyer who will convey the properties to a unit of government, for use as a public park.
Upon completion of the sales, the owners of Section 12 will withdraw their request for an easement from
IP/LSLC to access Section 12 from the south and across the Gratiot River. In
return, the owners of Section 13 agreed to grant an easement providing full unlimited access to the owners of Section 12 across Section
13, on the north side of the river.*
John Griffith, president of the North Woods Conservancy, who did much of the
work involved in applying for the NAWCA grant for Keweenaw County, was also
among the 14 persons who attended the Nov. 28 meeting for Upper Peninsula NAWCA
partners. Griffith said the purpose of the Trust Fund grant is entirely
consistent with NAWCA and that both provide for public access, including hunting
"I appreciate the patience that the Trust Fund and Lake Superior Land
have shown," Griffith said. "It looks like we're over all the hurdles
as far as the Trust Fund grant is concerned. The NAWCA grant is really at this
point up to the county. For a variety of reasons, I like the idea of taking the
NAWCA money and, if at some point in the future the conditions of the NAWCA
grant are violated, then the money can be returned."
Griffith said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the County Board
would vote to accept the NAWCA grant.
The Copper Country Chapter of Trout Unlimited and other local volunteers
participated in a Sept. 15, 2001, beach clean-up at the Mouth of the Gratiot,
leaving this empty trash barrel for future visitors. The 11 volunteers collected
150 pounds of litter, filling 20 bags. Initiated by the North Woods Conservancy,
whose members did a similar clean-up at Seven Mile Point, the event was part of
the Michigan Coastal Cleanup effort, led by the Lake
Michigan Federation and sponsored by the Michigan Department of
Environmental Quality, in conjunction with a world-wide beach cleanup effort led by the
Ocean Conservancy. (Sept. 15,
2001, file photo)
Bill Deephouse, president of the Copper Country Chapter of Trout Unlimited (CCCTU),
said Keweenaw County also contributes to the other partners in the NAWCA grant
by using the Trust Fund grant as the county's match. He said CCCTU has been very
committed to the mouth of the Gratiot purchase. CCCTU members have planted coaster brook trout in the Gratiot River since
"We assist and partner with the Michigan DNR (Department of Natural
Resources), Fisheries Division, who make the ultimate decision on whether or not
to stock fish," Deephouse said. "Our members help get the fish down to
the river and scattered throughout the lower mile of the river. Michigan Tech
University is also involved with their coaster research on the planted
Before the NAWCA grant was offered to the county, CCCTU also raised $35,000 among their members nationally to contribute to the match for the Trust Fund
"We've spent a lot of time promoting this -- time, money and
effort," Deephouse said.
Partnering with Keweenaw County for its portion of the NAWCA grant are the North Woods
Conservancy, which has contributed grant coordination and writing; Copper
Country Audubon, which has offered labor and materials to construct a
variety of nest boxes for waterfowl such as wood ducks; and CCCTU, which has
given about $1,500 to facilitate details such as appraisals.
*Editor's Note: For details on the easement and the mouth of the
Gratiot purchase, see: Easement, bridge may jeopardize grants for mouth of Gratiot purchase
(Oct. 8, 2001) and Compromise on Gratiot River easement may increase land for public access
(Oct. 10, 2001). See also John Griffith's Oct. 10, 2001, column, Property
owners agree to expand public ownership of Gratiot River area.
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