Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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U.P. utility to await feds’ OK of flowage development plans

By Kurt Krueger Correspondent

Paulding, Mich. — Upper Peninsula Power Co. has delayed
completion of its draft Shoreline Management Plan for six
hydro-electric-based reservoirs, vowing not to convey any easement
rights on project lands without federal approval.

Shawn Puzen, an environmental consultant working with UPPCO,
announced in late November that initial plans for completing the
draft by Dec. 1 were overly optimistic.

Puzen said the delay, perhaps to late March, will give the
company time to submit more detailed plans than it had initially
hoped. He said the draft would incorporate data gathered from the
public, focus groups, environmental studies, and both state and
federal resources agencies.

The draft will address what riparian-type rights UPPCO proposes
to convey to the owners of backland lots on project lands that are
managed under a license issued by the federal Energy Regulatory
Commission.

At issue is UPPCO’s plan to sell up to 7,300 acres of backlands
that are outside the project boundaries at Au Train, Bond Falls,
Boney Falls, Cataract, Prickett, and Victoria reservoirs in the
Upper Peninsula.

The company already has sold 960 acres of its 1,700 acres of
backlands at Bond Falls, located just east of Paulding.

The developer, Naterra Land of Minneapolis, has announced
preliminary plans for Bond Reservoir to create 424 individual
homesites that would be served by 35 individual piers and up to 40
multi-slip piers (up to 10 slips per pier).

Puzen said the company wants more time to complete an overview
of Shoreline Management Plans for all of its U.P. project
lands.

Joe Hovel, who opposes the development of forested backlands
around the flowages and the placement of piers on project lands,
said UPPCO’s current stumbling was expected.

“I suspect they now know that a poorly done plan will be
questioned by the public, scrutinized by the resource agencies, and
rejected by FERC,” Hovel said.

He and other opponents continue to argue that the development
plan is not compatible with the FERC license.

“Nowhere in this license or its accompanying documents is there
even an inkling of the development perks WPS Resources desires to
convey to Naterra Land and their buyers,” Hovel said.

In its press statement, UPPCO stressed that no rights to use the
project lands would be conveyed until a final SMP is approved by
the FERC.

“We could submit general SMPs relatively quickly,” Puzen said,
“but the plans wouldn’t provide the level of detail the public and
agencies indicated they’d like to see. It also makes more sense to
us to submit the complete, detailed SMPs initially.”

Puzen said company officials now believe that providing an
overall view of the plans will be more meaningful to
stakeholders.

“To some degree, the plans are dependent on one another,” he
said. “Certain activities may be proposed at one location that are
not proposed at all locations.”

Puzen said that the company would present its plans at public
meetings in the eastern and western U.P.

“That’s consistent with how we’ve approached this in the past,”
he said. “It makes sense to hold meetings for Bond, Victoria, and
Prickett in the west and AuTrain, Boney Falls, and Cataract in the
east so that local people won’t have far to drive.”

After the draft SMPs are presented, UPPCO will take public and
agency comments before finalizing the plans and submitting them to
the FERC, he said.

“We’ll get them out to the public as soon as possible when
they’re finished,” Puzen said. “We understand that people will be
disappointed in the delay, and we appreciate their patience,
especially those entities eagerly awaiting the final product.
Nevertheless, we think everyone would agree that it’s more
important to do this right rather than do it fast.”

Critics say UPPCO was initially operating on the belief that it
didn’t need FERC approval for conveyances across project lands
until opponents and state resource agencies began lobbying federal
officials.

They say the federal license protects the public interest in
keeping project lands natural on Bond Falls and the other
reservoirs, which could conflict with UPPCO’s plans for walking
paths, piers, lights, stairways, and other riparian-type amenities
for the keyhole lot owners.

Specifically at Bond Falls Reservoir, UPPCO officials say they
aren’t contemplating stairways or lights, but do want backland
owners to have individual or joint (where possible) walking paths
across project lands and floating piers in areas of lesser
environmental significance.

The 2,100-acre reservoir, located north of Watersmeet, provides
a wilderness-like setting for dispersed camping, fishing, and other
recreation.

It currently includes two designated campgrounds, dispersed
sites around its 16 miles of shoreline, island camping sites, and
several public boat launches.

Officials say there are no piers on the flowage, not at any of
the boat launches, or on the limited number of privately owned lots
that provide access to the flowage.

Hovel said by honoring the FERC-issued license for Bond Falls
Reservoir, UPPCO and WPS Resources can “save themselves further
embarrassment, leave the resource agencies to devote time to more
demanding issues, and leave the public to continue to enjoy the
natural shorelines they have used for decades.”

Camping modifications

In response to comments from the public and resource agencies,
UPPCO is proposing to modify its eastern consolidated campground
design at Bond Falls Reservoir.

Puzen said Nov. 20 that WPS Resources wants to restore some
dispersed campsites and to modify plans for island camping.

“We received a lot of input regarding the elimination of the
former dispersed campsites, so we’re going to put a number of the
dispersed sites back into the design,” Puzen said.

WPS Resources will be redesigning the eastern portion of the
proposed campground to limit activity near trees that would offer
nesting habitat for bald eagles.

The company also is pursuing a modification to its island
camping plans.

“We’ll still have island camping,” Puzen said. “We’re just
looking at switching islands because of concerns identified during
the environmental studies conducted this past spring.”

Puzen said UPPCO also is temporarily withdrawing an application
for a shoreline stabilization permit to install stairs and
platforms at the campgrounds, as well as improve public boat
landings.

He said the application ran into resistance from some of the
resource agencies UPPCO is working with as it prepares its
Shoreline Management Plan for Bond Falls and other reservoirs in
the U.P.

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