Developers seek land agreement modification for solar project in Sands Township

North Central UP

MARQUETTE COUNTY, Mich. (PRESS RELEASE/WJMN) – Superior Solar Project, LLC and the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. have submitted a land transaction application to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, involving approximately 1,080 acres of land in Sands Township for a solar project.

The property is owned by Cliffs and is part of a larger land exchange agreement dating to 1979 between the DNR and Cliffs. The original agreement requires that the land be open to the public for recreation uses, except for areas used for active mining operations or those which must be restricted for safety purposes.

Superior Solar Project and Cliffs are asking that the agreement be modified to allow solar energy development on the 1,080 acres and remove the public recreation use requirement because of its incompatibility with solar development.

The DNR is constructing a public shooting range nearby in Richmond Township. The development of the solar project is not expected to impact that site.

Superior Solar Project would compensate the DNR for the loss of public recreation use rights on the property. The DNR will conduct a review of the land transaction application to assess the value of the outdoor, public recreation uses and compare that to the potential public benefits of the solar development.

“This area right now is where it is open to recreation use is not too far away [from where] we’re building a shooting range and that project won’t interfere with this one,” said John Pepin, deputy public information officer for MI DNR. “But that’s an example of some of recreation uses that could’ve been or perhaps developed on the property if the recreation clause was still intact. So, that’s why we’re looking at that. As far as weighing it against solar development, solar development is obviously a very positive step forward. So we’re going to be looking at it and weighing it and deciding the outcome.”

The proposed solar project is a 150-megawatt solar farm located in Sections 19, 20, 21, 28, 29, and 30 of Sands Township. The project would provide energy to an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 homes per year. The total area of the solar farm is 2,472 acres, which includes roughly 1,080 acres subject to the public recreation agreement.

Superior Solar Project provided a written statement to Local 3 News in regard to the modified land agreement application. They said in part:

“We believe the Project and the land exchange proposal furthers the State of Michigan and the DNR’s goals for economic development, advancing renewable energy, and addressing climate change. We are therefore optimistic the land exchange request will be granted. The Project will continue working closely with the DNR to successfully advance the Project in a manner that aligns with the DNR’s mission.”

The review process, expected to take about six months to complete, will include reviews and recommendations from all land- and resource-managing divisions of the DNR, culminating in a recommendation to the DNR’s internal Land Exchange Review Committee, chaired by the natural resources deputy director.

The committee will formulate a final recommendation to the DNR director, who will make a final decision on the proposal at a public meeting of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission.

The public will have multiple opportunities to provide input on the proposal throughout the review process, including at the Natural Resources Commission meeting and at a public meeting held locally by the DNR.

Public comments on the proposed modification to the agreement may also be sent to DNR-SUPERIORSOLAR-comments@Michigan.gov.

Check out more information on the proposal including a parcel boundary map, land transaction application, 1979 land exchange agreement, and Michigan Natural Resources Commission memo.

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