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Lake Superior north shore said under threat from U.S. road-building company
Colin Perkel
Brunswick News

The longest as-yet undeveloped stretch of Lake Superior coastline is under threat from a large American road-building company, some Canadian and American environmentalists say.

Of concern are aggregate-extraction plans along 2.5 kilometres of shoreline at Michipicoten Bay just west of Wawa, Ont. The 400-hectare site on the rugged northeast shore is part of the Great Lakes Heritage Coast, a stunning area much loved by Canada's Group of Seven artists.

The land owner is John Carlo Inc., one of Michigan's largest paving companies. The company plans to drill, blast and crush the ancient bedrock into aggregate, which it would then ship by lake freighter to the state for road building.

No one from the company could not be reached for comment.

Environmentalists say the noise and potentially contaminated rock dust from the proposed round-the-clock operation will harm sensitive wildlife such as woodland caribou and peregrine falcons, damage fish habitat and hurt the eco-tourism industry that promotes the wilderness experience.

"You can't find this kind of shoreline anywhere else," says Mary Jo Cullen of the group Citizens Concerns for Michipicoten Bay.

The proposed aggregate extraction has pitted the small environmental group against the construction company but larger groups, such as the U.S.-based National Wildlife Federation, are also starting to pay attention.

"If we're going to make more roads in Michigan, it doesn't have to come at the expense of the largest undeveloped stretch left on Lake Superior," said the federation's Michelle Halley from Marquette, Mich.

On Wednesday, an American organization called Light Hawk plans to fly a group of Michigan decision makers, including a representative of the pro-environment governor's office to the area so they can see what's at stake. In the past, Light Hawk has taken politicians to see clear-cutting on the West Coast.

The aim is to persuade people and politicians in the U.S. midwest to speak out against having their roads paved with rock blasted from the undeveloped shoreline of Lake Superior.

"In the best-case scenario, the state of Michigan would refuse to buy aggregate from this particular mine," said Halley.

Ontario's Natural Resources Ministry, which manages the Great Lakes Heritage Coast, has long urged communities along the shore to develop enterprises such as ecotourism that respect the natural environment of the area.

However, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines supports the aggregate operation. It has also identified other sites along heritage coast for similar bedrock extraction.

Cullen calls it "government insanity."

"(Natural Resources) is throwing millions of dollars into developing a landscape, which another ministry is planning to blow up," she says.

Ontario's Ministry of the Environment is currently deciding whether to demand an environmental assessment of the proposal.

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