CLAIM TO NATURE'S TREASURE CHEST
On January 6, 2005 the Upper Peninsula of Michigan grapevine was abuzz with news of yet another land control scheme covering 271,000 acres in eight counties, an amount equivalent to 502 square miles, carved from a larger parcel of 390,000 acres within ten of the U.P.’s fifteen counties.
Described as an ecological treasure trove of nature’s precious jewels and pristine landscapes, the emerald green forestland includes more than 300 sapphire blue lakes and 526 miles of rivers and streams that reflect the sun’s rays like sparkling diamonds.
Still precious and pristine after a couple centuries of TLC from indigenous Tribal members, Yooper settlers, and their offspring who’ve watched countless sunsets as breath taking as the brilliant colors in a magnificent fire opal, we’re now told that everything in God’s Country must be put under the watchful vulture eye of invasive environmentalists spewing forth eco-garbage wherever they go.
Much of the 271,000 acres, now lauded as Governor Granholm and the Nature Conservancy’s “U.P. Big Deal,” once belonged to the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company. C & H had been the employer for countless Yooper families who spent their money locally, supporting even more families in a trickle down effect that spread for miles and miles around.
By the late 1960’s, however, C & H could no longer afford to extract copper while meeting all the new environmental standards being put in place. Having to compete with China and other countries, which produce ore with cheap labor and disregard for the environment, and facing demands of better pay from its own striking miners in 1968, C & H closed its mines and sold its land holdings to Universal Oil Products.
Universal Oil then established the Lake Superior Land Company to manage its U.P. land holdings in an environmentally friendly way, while still allowing for slow but planned development. One such endeavor is a new ski hill and resort “service” area at Mt. Bohemia near picturesque Lac LaBelle in economically depressed Keweenaw County. Under all lays a number of untapped copper sulfides waiting for new mining technology.
As an aside, a similar fate met copper miners who rode buses for up to an hour or more to get to work at the Copper Range mine near White Pine in Ontonagon County. A lawsuit filed by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and others, plus a successful effort to agitate a band of Native Americans over environmental issues, helped to end copper’s glory days there, too, in 1995. But the world’s greatest source of native copper still lies waiting in the U.P.’s Copper Country and mining conglomerates know it.
Lake Superior Land Company was eventually taken over by International Paper, which is now marketing 450,000 Upper Peninsula acres. But, somewhere along the line, a very young New Englander by the name of Ben Benson amassed some of that former C & H property, combined it with 292,000 acres purchased in 1990 from Cliff’s Forest Products (Cleveland-Cliffs), added a little bit more from here and there, and set about developing a high-tech timbering operation in the U.P., or so the tale is told.
According to information found under the heading “Sea Hawk” in an August 1999 issue of Virginia Business Magazine, 40-year-old Benson had been a dyslexic and indifferent student who dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Stealing the family car at age 15, he drove from Cape Cod to Maine and used a credit card to buy 100 acres of rocky wilderness, which he subdivided and sold in 5-acre vacation plots.
The author of the magazine article, Maura Singleton, wrote that at age 17, Benson joined the Navy submarine corps, working with sonar on a fast-attack sub, but his plan for a Navy career went by the wayside four years later. By the early 1980’s, Ben Benson, who claimed he never did anything for more than four years, had run an oil company, as well as a New Hampshire real estate development company.
He then focused attention on the state of Virginia, marrying the granddaughter of an East Shore developer, an area where the Nature Conservancy controlled and mismanaged a great deal of land. It was here that Benson once again took up work in real estate, developing oceanfront and other exclusive property along the coastline.
In 1991, Benson, with title to about half-a-million U.P. acres, became involved in a partnership of sorts with the Kamehameha Schools Trust of Hawaii. But, in 1994, after surviving two stress-related heart attacks within an 8-month period at age 35, he sold his Michigan land holdings to the Trust for mega-millions and bought a 65-foot Hatteras, which he christened “Sea Hawk.”
The partnership may have dissolved, but it later caused his name to come up in a RICO lawsuit - Civil No. 99-00304 DAE: Harmon v Federal Insurance Company, P & C Insurance Co., Inc., Marsh & McLennan, Inc., Trustees of Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate, PricewaterhouseCoopers, et al, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.
When Virginia Business Magazine featured Benson in the “Sea Hawk” article, he was searching for millions of dollars worth of lost treasure off Virginia’s coast, and dueling with Spain for the right to do so.
In the June 2000 issue of the same magazine, it was reported that Benson was rated #82 among one hundred of the richest Virginians and his estimated fortune of $110 million was given a “confidence rating” of “fairly accurate.” Not bad for a dyslexic fifteen-year-old high school dropout and credit card owning run-away, wouldn’t you say?
After Benson took his Hawaiian “timbering” partner’s money and boogied, Benson Forests became known as Munising based Shelter Bay Forests. Shelter Bay managed the Kamehmeha Schools U.P. holdings with “gentle timbering” technology until the forestland was put up for bids in the fall of 2002 and subsequently sold.
Though Governor Engler, the Nature Conservancy, and an “undisclosed timber company” formed a “private-public” partnership to bid on it, they lost out to Forestland Group LLC, which closed on the deal during the summer of 2003.
Forestland Group, an investment management outfit, soon offered its prize to the State of Michigan, and by January 2004 the Conservancy’s Michigan Chapter had secured at least one grant from the Charles Mott Foundation toward the purchase.
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, chaired by Sam Washington, CEO of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, also financially committed the State to the deal being offered, and a campaign to fund the Conservancy’s $57.9 million U.P. “Northern Great Lakes Forest Project” got underway without even asking, “Mother, may we.” Even the Yoopers’ U.S. Representative Bart Stupak got in the act, announcing his intention to find federal money to help the Conservancy’s project along.
As the story behind the Northern Great Lakes Forest Scam unfolded, it was claimed that key players met at Governor Jennifer Granholm’s office in November 2003. And, though she had to put the two sides in separate rooms and shuffle back and forth in her power suit until they outlined an amicable deal, an agreement was made between the two who’d been bed partners for years…the State of Michigan and the Nature Conservancy… in tandem with Forestland Group LLC, whose President and CEO is none other than Thomas Massengale, a former Nature Conservancy senior executive.
To date, of the original 390,000 Kamehameha Schools Trust acres for which Forestland outbid the State and its partners, the Conservancy will own 23,338 acres in the Big Two Hearted River watershed, Forestland will retain 248,000 acres, and the State will lay claim to development rights on the 248,000 Forestland still owns, even if they turn around and sell to another party. Pretty slick, eh!
If you’re wondering what happened to the other 18,662 Kamehameha acres Forest Land bid on, none have said, nor has anyone disclosed what happened to the remainder of Benson’s estimated half million-acre Benson Forest Products grubstake, but some it is now a buffer zone for the Pictured Rocks National Park near Munising.
Announcing her 2005 Christmas present to Michiganders, and perhaps hoping to instill national “Mitten Envy,” Governor Granholm, with twinkling jewels in her eyes, gushed, “Michigan is literally defined by its environmental treasures. Thanks to the vision of this project, in 100 years the Upper Peninsula’s majestic trees and breathtaking shorelines…will still be a reality, not just a memory.”
Chiming in like a well preened parrot on a perch was Helen Taylor, the Conservancy’s state director, who squawked, “From an ecological standpoint, the plan is important because it helps link more than 2.5 million acres of protected (a.k.a. controlled) forest and natural area, including federal and state land. It fills in missing pieces of the conservation puzzle” at a time of rising concern about land fragmentation, which interrupts wildlife migration corridors and causes other environmental problems. For part 2 click below.
For part 2 click here -----> 2
and Communities Company
© 2006 Carole "C.J." Williams - All Rights Reserved
E-Mails are used strictly for NWVs alerts, not for sale
C. J. (Carole) Williams lives in Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula. She writes a weekly newspaper column, "On Target with C. J. Williams", for Ontonagon's Lake Superior Voice (www.thelakesuperiorvoice.com) and is also a guest writer for the Women Hunters Club (www.womenhunters.com), an online organization dedicated to the encouragement, education, and promotion of women in the hunting traditions.
For the past several years, C. J. has been monitoring the eco-environmental movement and the UN's Agenda 21 in her state, as well as America, which she strongly believes has done more to destroy our nation than to make it as strong and prosperous as it could and should be.
C & H could no longer afford to extract copper while meeting all the new environmental standards being put in place. Having to compete with China and other countries, which produce ore with cheap labor and disregard for the environment...