Couple raises concerns over stamp sand dredging



SCHOOLCRAFT TOWNSHIP – Marie and Nick Muschal have a house on Big Traverse Bay, and they’re concerned about a proposal to dredge stamp sand, possibly very close to their home.

Hinsdale, Illinois-based Torch Lake Industries, Inc. has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Water Resources Division for a permit to dredge and transport to Illinois stamp sand over a period that could last up to five years.

Among other things, the Muschals think the use of heavy machinery so close to their house and the houses of their neighbors might cause damage to the houses, their wells and their septic systems.

Marie Muschal said the stamp sand deposit, which starts about 10 or 12 feet from their house, and is maybe four feet deep, drifted down Lake Superior from Gay where the copper it comes from was processed. The stamp sand extends about 200 feet from their property to the water’s edge.

The stamp sand near their property isn’t toxic like the stamp sand around Torch Lake and other areas, Marie said. There are trees and other plants growing in it.

Marie said she and Nick first learned about the proposal to dredge the stamp sand when they got a letter at the end of May informing them of a public hearing on the proposal that was held Thursday in Lake Linden.

She and Nick bought their house on Big Traverse Bay in 1990, Marie said, but they didn’t live there fulltime until after they retired from their jobs in the Chicago area.

“The summer of 1996, we moved here year round,” she said.

Nick said the deposit of stamp sand between their house and the lake acts as a buffer from both heavy waves and drifting ice, such as happened this past spring.

“(The stamp sand) definitely protected us,” he said.

Marie said she and Nick attended the June 24 public hearing in Lake Linden, but after DEQ and company officials read information about the proposal, they were told there was not enough time for questions. She did, however, express her concerns about the proposed project.

Marie said she’s concerned about what the condition of the shoreline will be after the dredging is done.

“How are they going to leave it?” she asked. “It would amount to strip mining.”

Linda Hansen, DEQ environmental regulator in the agency’s Baraga office, said she was at the June 24 three-and-a-half hour-long meeting, where 54 people heard information about the proposed project.

“We tried to answer as many questions as possible (with the reading of the information),” she said.

Hansen said the permit review process involves herself, DEQ staff at the Marquette district office and in Lansing, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fish and wildlife divisions, to determine what, if any, effect the project might have on fish and wildlife. The federal Army Corps of Engineers will also review the application.

Hansen said there is a difference in the stamp sand from Gay and the stamp sand deposited around Torch Lake. The Gay stamp sand went through a single stamping process. The Torch Lake stamp sand went through a double stamping process, during which chemicals were added to extract copper.

The review process for the proposed Torch Lake Industries dredging project includes a public comment period, which ends Saturday, Hansen said. The current deadline to have a decision to approve or deny a permit is Oct. 11, but that could change.

Hansen said a Lake Linden-based company, GreenSand Corp., is also applying to dredge Gay sand in the same general area as Torch Lake Industries, but no public hearing date on that application has been set, yet.

Tom Logue, president and founder of Torch Lake Industries, said if the permit to dredge is granted, it’s uncertain when the work will begin. If it doesn’t start this autumn, it would be next spring.

One of the first actions taken if the project is approved will be to dredge the stamp sand out of an ancient river bed in Lake Superior, which Logue said will benefit the whitefish and lake trout spawning grounds on Buffalo Reef.

“We will have effectively stopped a lot of the stamp sand infiltration on Buffalo Reef,” he said.

Besides the stamp sand onshore, Logue said he’s seeking to dredge sand 100 feet into the lake from the water’s edge.

Logue said he doesn’t expect the dredging process will cause damage to property owners’ houses, wells or septic systems.

“I don’t think there’s any chance of that,” he said.

A temporary road will be constructed on the stamp sands for trucks to haul the dredged material to the former coal dock pond at Gay, Logue said, where the material will be loaded on barges once every week or two weeks, and taken to the Chicago area.

“The barges aren’t going to be there every day,” he said.

Logue said because the plan, if approved, is to remove 2.1 million cubic yards of sand over the five-year permit period, he will listen to property owners who don’t want the sand next to their property removed.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” he said.

He doesn’t expect there will be a serious erosion problem along the shore if the stamp sand is removed, Logue said.

Logue said all of the sub-contractors for the dredging project will be from the Keweenaw.

“I want to create as many direct and indirect jobs as I can,” he said.

If the dredging project is approved, Logue said 12 to 18 months after it starts, he intends to build a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for the sand somewhere between Gay and Houghton. It would employ no more than 25 people per shift.

However, Logue said because of confidentiality agreements, he’s not ready to say what would be manufactured in the facility.

The Gay stamp sands have been around since 1932, and Logue said removing it will benefit the area.

“We want to clean this mess,” he said.

Logue said he thinks the dredging project will be good for property values, add to the various local tax bases and be good for the state.

“There’s no bad things that are happening,” he said.