Some Upper Peninsula state lawmakers are outraged by a recent decision by the State Historic Preservation Review Board to move forward with the process of adding land near the Menominee River to the National Register of Historic Places.
This decision was requested by the Menominee Indian tribe, based in Wisconsin. The tribe considers the lands, which span Michigan and Wisconsin across the Menominee River, culturally and historically significant.
These lands include the area where the proposed Back Forty mining project is planned. The controversial project, which has been in the permitting stage for years, would initially extract gold and zinc through surface mining.
State Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Township) believes the tribe’s efforts to gain historic site designation are a transparent attempt to stop the Back Forty project.
“The real effort here from the tribe isn’t really about the story,” McBroom said. “It’s just about stopping the mine, as evidenced by their previous efforts in the past.”
McBroom said he and other UP lawmakers are fed up with the board and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) after a series of decisions including naming buildings on the disused army base of Air Sawyer as historic sites.
McBroom said these buildings are “a wreck” and the designation stifles efforts to demolish the buildings and redevelop the site. He said the preservation office was frustrating economic development efforts across the UP
“I just think it’s really out of control. The stream [SHPO] director makes very bad decisions and uses his discretion very badly,” McBroom said. “I don’t think anyone, a lover of history, can really look at this and say these actions are justified and the right thing to do for the people of UP”
The tribe publicly opposes the mine. But Stephanie Tsosie, an attorney for the Earthjustice group’s Tribal Partnerships Program, refuted McBroom’s claim that the tribe’s claim is about stopping the Back Forty from operating.
“The Menominee tribes have been working on this process for many, many years,” said Tsosie, who helped defend the tribe’s case before historic preservation officials in Michigan and Wisconsin. “There are cultural, historical and spiritual sites in this area. “They are very well documented. They’ve gone through rounds of research and examination by archaeologists in Wisconsin and Michigan, and it’s finally able to move forward.
“The reality is that it’s independent of the mine. It is independent of any proposed project in the area,” Tsosie said.
According to the Menominee Tribe, the area that would be designated includes Anaem Omot (“The Belly of the Dog”), home to the “famous site of the Sixty Islands”, which is “steeped in Menominee history”. The origin of the Menominee Tribe is at the mouth of the Menominee River,” the tribe said in a recent press release welcoming the Michigan Preservation Board’s decision. The lands also contain “documented burial mounds, ancient raised agricultural fields and hammered metal artifacts from the Old Copper period. There are also several old dance circles in the area, which were used for ceremonial purposes by the Menominee and other nearby tribes.
Tsosie said a historic site designation would not prohibit new construction or development on the land, but it would bring “an additional level of scrutiny into how this project will affect these properties and this area.” .
McBroom admitted that the historic designation would not outright ban the Back Forty project, but would “make it much, much more difficult,” he said. “That will make a lot of extra hurdles for the mine to go through.” He added that it is “inappropriate for an out-of-state entity to come and demand that the citizens of Michigan lose their private property rights.”
Decisions by the Wisconsin and Michigan Preservation Councils are just another step in the process of adding the lands to the National Register of Historic Places. It still requires approval from Michigan and Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Officers, and ultimately the National Park Service and National Registry Keeper.
In a statement, Otie McKinley, spokesperson for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation on behalf of SHPO, said, “We appreciate the importance of creating economic opportunity in UP communities. In this case, there are a number of complex factors to consider. – both cultural and economic. The nomination of this land bordering the Menominee River to the National Register of Historic Places has been submitted for review and the State Historic Preservation Office has a duty to submit this application to the State Historic Preservation Review Board, which acts independently of the SHPO, if this application meets all eligibility requirements.
McKinley said “SHPO will fully review the letter that has been provided on behalf of Gold Resource Corporation (owner of the rights to the Back Forty Project), including a full review of the boundaries under consideration before submitting the recommendation to the Custodian. .”
“It remains essential to balance the growth of business that generates economic impact in the region, while recognizing the importance of the rich history and culture that reinforces Michigan’s tradition as an inclusive state and our communities as attractive places to live, work and travel,” Quentin Messer Jr., CEO of MEDC, added in a statement. “The work remains, we are ready to do it, and we look forward to working with legislators across the region to identify solutions that accelerate people-centered economic development in UP”