The director of Michigan's Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday night that he has agreed to a $4.5 million deal to sell land to a company that hopes to develop a limestone mining operation in the eastern Upper Peninsula.
Graymont Inc. wants to obtain 2,614 acres through purchases or swaps. It also is seeking to buy 7,026 acres of state-owned mineral rights.
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Department Director Keith Creagh announced the decision after a meeting of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission in Roscommon.
Environmentalists, tribal governments and some neighbors oppose the deal, saying the mine would damage the natural surroundings. Supporters say it would boost the economy and create jobs.
"The many public comments we received regarding this proposal have helped shape positive changes to the initial land transaction application we received from Graymont," Creagh said in a statement. "Because of those changes, the final proposal resolves many issues and improves the outcome for Michigan citizens."
The department said it will work with Graymont to complete the sale of 1,781 acres it wants to buy. Additional acres will come through land swaps.
"Graymont will identify specific lands to be offered in exchange for the 830-acre parcel," spokesman Bill O'Neill said in a statement. "These parcels will be thoroughly reviewed by DNR staff and will be available for public review and comment prior to the director making a decision about the acceptance of these parcels."
O'Neill said the value of land rights involved in the deal, including land value, timber and mining rights, is at least $4.5 million. The state's proceeds from the sale will go to purchase other public lands, he said.
The proposed mine will be on a 10,360-acre site in northern Mackinac County, near the unincorporated community of Rexton. Graymont has agreed to pay the state 30 cents per ton of limestone it mines.
Marvin Roberson, a forest policy specialist with the Sierra Club, said the deal sets a bad precedent by selling public property that had not been regarded as surplus. DNR staffers have described it as some of the most valuable and productive timber land in the Upper Peninsula, he said.
"It opens up the door for other large-scale sales of state land for private development," Roberson said.
Project details: www.michigan.gov/graymontproposal