Natural Resources Committee hears testimony of U.P. resident in dispute with U.S. Forest Service

Sen. Tom Casperson

Sen. Tom Casperson

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday took testimony from concerned residents regarding the policies and actions of the U.S. Forest Service relating to the Hiawatha National Forest.

“I often hear about natural resource and land use issues from constituents who share concerns about policies the U.S. Forest Service has implemented or proposed,” said the committee chairman, Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.

Casperson invited Manistique residents Roy and Julie Hinkson to offer testimony before the committee on an issue related to their private property.

Roy Hinkson owns land that is surrounded by the Hiawatha National Forest, upon which his family’s deer camp has been located for more than 60 years. As far as Hinkson and his family knew, the camp structures were on his 40 acres of land. Unbeknownst to him, the USFS resurveyed the property and determined that the Hinkson camp structures were partially on federal forest land.

On opening day of Michigan’s 2014 firearm deer season, Hinkson testified he was approached, unannounced, by USFS and Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials about the location of his camp. Casperson’s constituent was informed his camp was on forest land and that it must be removed and the land restored, at his expense. Hinkson received two citations and faces criminal charges for the claimed encroachment which he has spent significant time and money fighting. Federal court proceedings are scheduled again on March 20 and 21. Additionally, his personal information, including social security number, was released publicly in a Freedom of Information Act request, causing him more expense, headache and stress.

Hinkson’s interaction has led to a costly multi-year dispute that Casperson said is unnecessary.

“This is an overzealous and unwarranted treatment of a very honorable private property owner whose land borders the Hiawatha National Forest,” Casperson said in a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary-elect Sonny Perdue. “Roy Hinkson’s situation is extremely troubling, and it has adversely impacted him, his family and a community that cares about him.

“I am requesting U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary-elect Sonny Perdue or others in the agency to review this matter quickly and expeditiously and to work with Mr. Hinkson on a reasonable resolution as this is a situation that did not need to be taken to the point of criminal prosecution.”

More information is available in the letter Casperson submitted to the USDA, which may be accessed by clicking this link.

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U.P. legislators come together to pass bill easing regulatory burdens on small copper mines

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would ease burdens on small mining companies to harvest native Michigan copper, while maintaining environmental protections.

Although Senate Bill 129 was sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, it was a bipartisan, bicameral effort from the entire Upper Peninsula legislative delegation that helped ensure the bill’s swift passage in the Senate.

The bill proposes to make many technical changes to existing law to provide a streamlined regulatory program for smaller native copper mining operations in the state. The bill addresses renewed interest in copper mining in the western U.P., brought on in part by increasing global demand for copper.

Casperson and state Reps. John Kivela, Scott Dianda, and Beau LaFave commented on the bill’s approval:

“This bill will benefit our entire state economically, but it will provide an especially welcomed and undeniable boost to the economy of the western U.P., particularly to Ontonagon County, which is where investors are preparing to site the first mine permitted by this legislation,” Casperson said. “While the first mine may ‘only’ bring with it five jobs to that county, those five jobs would comparatively be equivalent to 2,200 jobs in the city of Detroit — imagine the fanfare that such news would receive with an enormous economic benefit to Detroit. Consequently, this news should be equally embraced and celebrated for its economic significance to the western U.P., which is starved for new, well-paying jobs.”

“It was through thorough debate and detailed negotiations that I am happy to now support the legislative compromises included in SB 129,” said Kivela, D-Marquette. “This legislation now incorporates language that alleviates several environmental and local control concerns that were discussed during the legislation process. Senate Bill 129 now creates the proper framework for small native copper mines to operate responsibly within our region and to create much-needed jobs in the Western Upper Peninsula.”

“By allowing small native copper mines to operate, Senate Bill 129 is an important investment in western U.P. counties and will show other businesses that our communities are a good place to locate and grow,” said Dianda, D-Calumet. “These small mines will be a huge boost to our local economies. The jobs they create will help fund local government services and our schools and will help our local businesses thrive.”

“Technological advances have made it possible to explore and extract native copper from places that have long been considered inaccessible,” said LaFave, R-Iron Mountain. “The Upper Peninsula has historically been a leader in copper mining, and it can be once again. With this bill, we have an opportunity to harness Michigan’s essential natural resources to reignite an important part of our economy and create jobs while, importantly, ensuring environmental protections.”

Metal mines have been regulated in Michigan since 1970, with the Reclamation of Mining Lands Act, which was recodified in 1994 as part of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

To address environmental concerns over larger-scale mines, the act requires mines to provide detailed and comprehensive baseline analyses, environmental impact assessments, and alternative evaluations. They must implement extensive measures to prevent and control acid mine drainage, long-term water monitoring, contingency plans, and high levels of financial assurances.

SB 129 would establish regulatory controls specifically for small native copper mines, which do not pose the same risks as large scale mines, but are currently overseen by the same strict standards. The bill would help small native copper mines overcome burdensome regulatory hurdles, while maintaining necessary environmental protections and public health and safety.

If enacted, Michigan would join four other states that have passed similar laws for small mining operations.

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