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Lawmakers from UP fault DNR for ending Groveland Mine lease

LANSING — Two Upper Peninsula lawmakers criticized the Michigan Department of Natural Resources today for terminating a lease to Saucon Minerals for the Groveland Mine property in Dickinson County.

The company was exploring production of an iron ore concentrate and an organic fertilizer from discarded materials in the property’s tailing ponds. The project was projected to be a $71 million investment in the area.

“Saucon’s innovative plan for the Groveland Mine would have brought about 100 jobs to the area, both construction and operational, and it would have restored the property to its natural habitat as it cleaned up waste products from the previous operation,” said state Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan. “The company had reached out to the DNR in February to discuss renegotiating the leasing agreement, before the annual payment was due, and instead of having discussions and answering the company’s questions, the department issued a termination letter in mid-April.”

Three years before its lease with Saucon was to end, the DNR began aggressively pursuing a plan to solicit proposals this year for leasing the Groveland Mine property to a potential solar power developer, such as a utility or a private company that would sell the electricity. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made expanding solar projects in the state a priority.

“The department’s handling of this matter was both disingenuous and shameful, all because department bureaucrats were more interested in what they view as potentially a bigger fish on the line,” said state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain. “I know one thing, I would be real cautious entering into a leasing agreement with the DNR when they do not even properly communicate with its partners — one day you have an agreement, and the next you’re being kicked to the curb for the department’s potential newest shiny object. For our area to land a major project like this was worth waiting a little longer for, but the department stands to attain more state revenue with the solar project and decided to cut bait.”

The department has hinged its termination on the annual payments being a few weeks late each year, the lawmakers said. But this year, they claimed, Saucon only missed the deadline due to the department taking six weeks to determine it was not going to consider renegotiating the terms of the lease.

“It’s obvious that the DNR wanted to pursue other plans for this property,” McBroom said, saying the agency has shown “disrespect for current and future business associates.”

Established in 2013, Saucon Minerals has offices in Dearborn and Lake Linden.

Earlier this year, the DNR received endorsements from both the Felch and Norway township boards about letting the Groveland Mine site be host to a large-scale solar energy array, saying it would begin seeking proposals from prospective developers in March.

First opened in the 1800s, the Groveland Mine shut down in 1981, with the state taking ownership in the mid-1990s.

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