Conservancy plans purchase of Gratiot River North
MOHAWK -- A permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental
Quality (DEQ) for a bridge to access private land near the mouth of the Gratiot
River in Allouez Township may soon be unnecessary if a purchase agreement
between North Woods Conservancy (NWC) and Section 12 landowners is finalized in
the next month as planned.
During the DEQ's Jan. 29 public hearing on the bridge application at the
Mohawk School, John Griffith, representing NWC, and
Glen Tolksdorf, applicant for the bridge permit, again shook hands on a
tentative compromise to solve a lengthy conflict over property rights and access
to land north of the Gratiot River. The acreage is adjacent to the recent Keweenaw
County land purchase for a county park at the mouth of the river.
|At the Jan. 29 Michigan Department of Environmental
Quality hearing in the Mohawk School, North Woods Conservancy (NWC)
President John Griffith, second from right, announces NWC's tentative
purchase of Section 12 land north of the Gratiot River and adjacent to Keweenaw
County's recently established park at the mouth of the Gratiot in
Allouez Township. Glen Tolksdorf, far right, confirmed that
he and the other five Section 12 owners have agreed to sell the properties
to NWC for nearly $1.7 million. The hearing,
to provide information on Tolksdorf's permit application for an access
bridge over the river, was conducted by Cary Gustafson, far
left, with support from Jim Caron -- both environmental quality
analysts for the DEQ Geological and Land Management Division in Crystal
The purchase agreement with NWC, signed by Tolksdorf and the other five
Section 12 landowners, would allow the conservancy to buy the 495 acres in
Section 12, including 4,989 feet of Lake Superior shoreline, for $1.7 million.
Since October 2001, NWC has been negotiating the purchase of Section 12 for resource protection and public access.
"The next big step in preserving the Gratiot River Watershed is underway!"
According to Griffith, the property, to be called Gratiot River North, will be open to the public for non-motorized recreation 365 days a year.
With a loan from Superior National Bank in Hancock, the sale is expected to
close in about a month. NWC has three years to retire the debt and expects to raise 25% ($425,000) in cash and the balance with various state and federal grants.
After announcing the purchase agreement, Griffith noted acquisition of Section 12 by
NWC will eliminate the need for the bridge planned to access the Section 12
"As it looks now, the Section 12 will be sold to the NWC in late February, and the bridge issue will just disappear!" Griffith wrote in a Jan. 30 email to NWC members.
"We didn't want to build a bridge across the Gratiot River. It was our
only route of access," Tolksdorf said at the hearing. "We're probably
99 percent there as far as NWC owning Section 12," he added. "I just feel
relieved that there is a compromise after the long road that we've been
Unless Tolksdorf withdraws his permit application for the bridge, the DEQ
will continue the permit review process, said Cary Gustafson, environmental
analyst for the DEQ Geological and Land Management Division in Crystal Falls.
Gustafson conducted the hearing with the support of Jim Caron, who is also an
environmental analyst from the Crystal Falls office.
hope it's finally settled," said Keweenaw County Board Chairman Frank
Stubenrauch, who was among about 40 residents attending the hearing, along with
County Commissioner Don Keith.
Keith said the County Board has not yet taken a position on the proposed
"The issue will be placed on the Keweenaw County agenda and debated and
voted," Keith said. The Board's next regular meeting will be at 7 p.m. on
Feb. 12 at the Courthouse in Eagle River.
|Keweenaw County Commissioner Don Keith carries trash
during the Gratiot River beach cleanup held in Sept. 2002. County
officials joined Copper Country Trout Unlimited members and local
residents in cleaning up the site of the county park The cleanup was
funded by a grant from the Department of Environmental Quality. (Sept.
2002 photo courtesy Copper Country Chapter of Trout Unlimited )
Keith noted NWC's plan to purchase the Gratiot River North acreage is one of
many new proposals for land acquisition in Keweenaw County.
"There are some serious efforts being made by local government entities
and conservation groups for additional land acquisitions for public recreation
and access," he added.
Gustafson said the DEQ will be accepting further written comments on the
bridge permit application until midnight on Feb. 13.
The permit application is under Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA451, as amended.*
Tolksdorf's proposal is to install over the Gratiot River a 12 ft. x 70 ft. bridge, which will connect with the county road on the south side of the river and permit road access to the properties north of the river.
The bridge is planned to be located within the area of the county park,
a recent 100-acre land acquisition at the mouth of the Gratiot River, including 4,000 feet of Lake Superior frontage and 3,000 feet of river frontage. At the time of the county's closing on the property, purchased from Lake Superior Land Co. (LSLC), a subsidiary of International Paper
(IP), an easement for road access and utilities was added by LSLC for the benefit of
the Section 12 landowners.
Keweenaw County received more than $400,000 from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and a
$132,000 grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) to
purchase the Gratiot property.**
|The proposed bridge across the Gratiot River could be
built just around the bend in the river in the center of this photo, about 700 feet from Lake Superior at the mouth of the river in Allouez
Township. Keweenaw County recently purchased 100 acres of this area for
a public park. An easement added to the land sale from Lake Superior
Land Co. allows building a private road and bridge for access to Section
12 properties. (Sept. 2002 photo courtesy Copper Country Chapter of
Trout Unlimited )
The bridge proposal had raised some concerns that Keweenaw County would have
to return the NAWCA funds should the bridge be approved, because of possible
impacts to wetlands in the area.
Griffith said a January 14, 2003, meeting of the NAWCA partners revealed that
these funds would not have to be returned even if a bridge were built, according
to a decision made by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
DEQ, Army Corps request more information on bridge project
Gustafson noted at the hearing that the USFWS is aware of the bridge
application, as is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In interviews with Keweenaw Now on Dec. 5, 2002, and on Jan. 30, 2003,
Rich Gutleber, regulatory field officer for the U.S. Army Corps in Marquette,
indicated the Corps had not made a determination on its jurisdiction because of a need
for more information.
"If the project was to go forward as planned, there still would be a
need for additional information to determine the extent of Corps
jurisdiction," Gutleber noted on Jan. 30. "If it is determined that
the Corps has jurisdiction, the applicant would have to provide additional
information regarding the complete scope of the project."
Gutleber said he and Gustafson visited the proposed bridge site with
Tolksdorf on Jan. 17, 2003, and discussed floodplain, wetland and jurisdictional
issues with him.***
In a Dec. 11, 2002, letter to Tolksdorf, Gustafson asked him for more
information about the proposed bridge project.
"The application is lacking a detailed feasible and prudent alternative
analysis documenting that environmental impacts have been avoided and
minimized," the letter states. "The analysis should address what
alternative routes were considered and why the proposed route and need for a
bridge at this location was selected over the other alternatives."
The DEQ letter adds that the analysis should include discussion of impacts to
regulatory wetlands that would be impacted by the chosen route as well as the
alternative routes. Gustafson notes in the letter that if wetland or flood plain
impacts are unavoidable, the project would need permits under Part 303 (Wetland
Protection) and Part 31 (Floodplain Regulatory Authority) of PA 451.
Gustafson noted Tolksdorf had not yet sent him a written reply to the letter.
For the official DEQ hearing record Griffith gave several reasons for NWC's
opposition to the proposed bridge. These included the following:
formal wetlands delineation has not been performed (including soil and
botanical survey). Newly completed Keweenaw County soils maps are available showing that the easement
route is nearly all wetland. Much
of Fractional Section 11 is forested wetland.
Studies have not been performed to determine the effect of the proposed bridge upon
the hydrology of the Gratiot River and how any changes to the hydrology
might affect the structural integrity of the proposed bridge and the natural
resources of the river.
Studies have not been performed to determine the effect of construction and
operation of the proposed bridge upon endangered and threatened plants and
animals and the coaster brook trout.
The size and design of the proposed bridge have not been shown to be sufficient
for its purposes or to avoid impacts to the river and wetlands.
No impact mitigation plan has been provided.
The hand-drawn image of the proposed bridge is entirely insufficient. An actual engineering blueprint with appropriate scale and detail is
The Mouth of the Gratiot River Park was purchased with public funds for the public
good. Any harm to the park in general and construction of a bridge in particular would degrade the public
benefit of the acquisition and controvert the public support for the acquisition.
A bridge would increase the burden upon the county road to
the mouth of the Gratiot and therefore upon the Keweenaw County Road
The conservation values and other reasons for which the Mouth of the Gratiot
River Park was proposed, supported and acquired will be damaged or lost.
This includes impacts from construction and use of the proposed
bridge to the river itself, coaster brook trout, wetland, wildlife, hunting,
fishing, aesthetics, serenity and public enjoyment.
Trout Unlimited members oppose potential bridge
NWC, as a partner in the NAWCA grant project, and the Copper Country Chapter of Trout
Unlimited (CCCTU), whose members have been working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to plant coaster brook trout in the Gratiot River,
both worked hard to raise funds for the county purchase of land at the mouth of
Three CCCTU members -- President Bill Deephouse, Ray Weglarz and John
Parsons, spoke at the hearing of the group's opposition to the proposed bridge.
Deephouse noted the NAWCA grant helped fund the county purchase for the park
because 70 of the 99 plus acres are considered wetland.
|Bill Deephouse, president of the Copper Country
Chapter of Trout Unlimited (CCCTU), collects trash during the Sept. 2002
beach cleanup at the mouth of the Gratiot River. CCCTU and Keweenaw
County applied for a DEQ grant to help fund the cleanup. CCCTU members
have worked with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to plant coaster brook trout in the Gratiot
River. (Photo courtesy CCCTU)
"That's something that should be taken into consideration in the future (if
the bridge application is not withdrawn or goes in again)," he said.
Deephouse also pointed out an article in the North Woods Call indicating
that taxes from residential development often are insufficient to pay for
services needed (a fact often mentioned during the meetings of Keweenaw County
township land use planners).
Allouez Township resident Weglarz expressed concern about the potential
impact of a bridge should there be a sudden flood similar to one he witnessed in
1988 when "the Gratiot River rose five feet overnight" and
"re-routed itself in many places."
Weglarz added he believed it would be impossible to build a bridge without
putting sediment into the river. He said sediment is pollution and is one of the
leading reasons for trout degradation.
Parsons, a 22-year resident of Keweenaw County, said the Gratiot River is one
of a few rivers included under the Coaster Brook Trout Recovery Act.
"That makes the Gratiot River very unique," he said.
Written comments on this bridge permit application should be addressed to Cary
Gustafson, DEQ Geological and Land Management Division, 1420 U.S. 2 West,
Crystal Falls, MI. 49220. Concerned citizens may contact Cary Gustafson by phone
at (906) 875-2071 or email him at email@example.com.
Comments may also be faxed to Gustafson at Fax # (906) 875-3336.
NWC launches fundraising campaign for Gratiot River North
NWC launched its fundraising campaign for Gratiot River North on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2003.
"We need $20,000 to close in late February, and about $25,000 per quarter for three years thereafter to pay the interest," said Jane Griffith, NWC co-founder with her husband John Griffith.
Anyone who would like to join North Woods Conservancy or support the Gratiot River North acquisition may send a tax-deductible donation to: NWC, PO Box 124, Calumet, MI 49913. For more information on the Gratiot Watershed project or levels of NWC membership, please call Jane or John Griffith at 906 337-0782 or e-mail
*Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, requires a permit for certain activities impacting wetlands, including dredging or filling bottomland; constructing a structure on bottomland; and structurally interfering with the natural flow of an inland lake or stream. ("Bottomland" means the land area of an inland lake or stream that lies below the ordinary high-water mark and that may or may not be covered by water.) Visit
Legislature Web site for details on Part 301.
**Documents concerning the bridge proposal -- the Aug. 23, 2002, application as well as drawings, photographs and correspondence between the DEQ and Glen Tolksdorf and the (Nov. 2, 2001) private road and utility easement granted to the Section 12 owners by Lake Superior Land Co./International Paper -- are posted on
Chuck Buck's Keweenaw Liberty Library
(Click on What's New) and on a DEQ Web site
in pdf format (Adobe Acrobat Reader can be downloaded for free to read pdf
***Rich Gutleber said anyone with questions regarding this bridge
project or the U.S. Army Corps regulatory program in general may call him
at (906) 228-2833.
For background on Keweenaw County's land acquisition at the mouth of
the Gratiot River see DEQ permit for Gratiot River bridge proposal allows public comment until Nov. 27,
expects to close on Gratiot River purchase by Dec. 15" and "Compromise
on Gratiot River easement may increase land for public access."
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