MDOT awards County 519 project $4.7 million grant


LANSING — Much like the road itself, a more than $4.7 million state grant announced Wednesday to improve County Road 519 is intended to smooth the way for the development of the Copperwood copper mining project in northern Gogebic County.

The $4,775,321 state transportation economic development grant is designed to help fund a Gogebic County Road Commission project to reconstruct 13 miles of County Road 519 between M-28 and the site of Highland Copper’s Copperwood Project to make the road an all-season road.

“I’m thrilled obviously for the mine and for our residents. Riding down 519 today and it’s kind of like a mini roller coaster, it’s in pretty tough shape,” Wakefield Township Supervisor John Cox said. “I’m excited for our residents, excited for the mine, excited for the loggers with an all-season road now … it will extend quite a few acres for them logging — and the tourists that visit the (Porcupine Mountains State Park).

“It’s a huge benefit.”

The total project is expected to cost $7,958,869, according to a Michigan Department of Transportation news release, with Highland Copper providing the remaining $3,183,548.

The project also calls for upgrading guard rails, improving drainage and making paved shoulders; as well as widening the County Road 519-Johnson Road intersection for easier truck turning.

The MDOT grant is contingent on Highland’s Copperwood Project obtaining all applicable state and federal permits, according to the MDOT news release, and the continued funding of department’s Transportation Economic Development Fund.

“Upgrading County Road 519 is critical to the Copperwood Project for both development and operations, because any seasonal restrictions regarding load limits for transportation in and out of the plant site would have a detrimental impact on the business and may prevent it from advancing,” Highland Copper CEO Denis Miville-Deschenes said in the MDOT release. “The upgrade will ensure that our project continues to advance, and it will also improve access to other industrial park businesses, logging operations along County Road 519, and tourism activities in the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park.”

This isn’t the first time the state has awarded grant funds to the project, with money also being set aside when the previous company — Orvana Copper — was attempting to develop the Copperwood Project.

At an Ironwood Township meeting in August; Highland Copper’s finance manager Tim Lynott said funds had been set aside since roughly 2011, but Highland needed to reapply given the amount of time that had passed.

MDOT’s release Tuesday also included the announcement of $405,412 in economic transportation development fund grants to a project to widen M-28 at the Marquette Ojibwa Casino in Chocolay Township. The $675,687 project will add a dedicated left-turn lane at the casino entrance, a new westbound through lane and a dedicated right-turn lane for east bound traffic. It is being done in response to concerns about increased traffic congestion due to the casino’s expansion of its gaming area and construction of a new hotel and events center.

The project will also use $223,275 in MDOT Superior Region funding and $47,000 in funds from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.