Over 250 people attended a December 7 showing of the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) new film, “Mining Madness, Water Wars: The Great Lakes in the Balance.” The film was shown at Northern Michigan University.
The film focused on questionable behavior, at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, in permitting approval of Kennecott’s Eagle Mine application and featured members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), mining, geology and water quality experts, as well as UP State Senator, Mike Prusi.
Retired mining engineer and expert on local mine geology and rock mechanics, Jack Parker, attended the showing and participated in a panel that answered audience questions. According to Parker, because Kennecott’s plan is riddled with “errors and omissions” and looks like “an amateur had written the application,” the plan is “all bullshit” and the DEQ should “throw it out.”
Parker, who says he is adamantly “not against mining,” has over 60 years of mining experience and has worked on over 500 mining operations, including about ten years at the White Pine Mine.
According to Parker, Kennecott plans to leave much of the ore behind, taking only the richest available. Parker maintains that, since much of the ore is owned by the people of Michigan, mining only the high-grade and leaving the rest is “not responsible mining.”
The film focuses on the cover-up of a rock mechanics report highly critical of Kennecott’s mining operation. In March 2007, the DEQ was forced to withdraw proposed approval of the project when NWF pressed the agency for a report, commissioned by the DEQ, that criticized Kennecott for not using “industry best-practice” and maintained that the company’s conclusions were “not defensible.” The report noted the possibility that the roof of the mine could collapse, endangering workers and draining a branch of the Salmon Trout River.
In the initial report, reference was made to local mines, with similar geology, that have suddenly collapsed. This has occurred at the Athens Mine, west of Marquette. Subsequent versions of the report omitted any reference to case history that could affect permitting of Kennecott’s project.
Joe Maki, geologist with the DEQ’s Office of Geological Survey and Mine Team Coordinator for review of Kennecott’s application, acknowledged that he personally discarded the report, considering it “not useful” and “too technical.” Maki was absolved of wrong-doing through an investigation conducted by an unqualified former DNR employee who interviewed only DEQ employees for his assessment.
In the film, Senator Prusi said that Kennecott has not shown “good corporate stewardship” at some of its other operations and that he is “not fully confident” in the Michigan DEQ’s ability to monitor Kennecott’s activities effectively. Prusi acknowledged possessing little knowledge regarding the legal importance of Native American treaty rights.
KBIC member Pauline Spruce said that Kennecott’s plans to construct its mine portal at Eagle Rock, a culturally-significant site for area Native Americans, violates the Native American Freedom of Religion Act of 1979.
The film highlights communication from the DEQ’s Steve Wilson referring to Native American treaty rights as a “trump card” that could affect approval of the Eagle Mine.
According to NWF attorney, Michelle Halley, who hosted the event, at a recent contested case involving the DEQ’s mine project approval not one of Kennecott’s witnesses would personally guarantee the success of any portion of the mine.
Engineer Dr. Stanley Vitton, from Michigan Technological University, said that he was “shocked” when he discovered that companies can drill, without a permit, in nearly every part of the Western UP and cited Kennecott’s mine safety projections as inadequate. “Five percent [fail rate of the mine’s roof] is not acceptable.”
Parker compared Kennecott’s mine plan to a used car that looks decent, initially, but upon closer inspection has “doors that don’t fit,” “drips” and, when you kick the tire, “the wheel falls off.” According to Parker, Kennecott’s application is “deceptive, therefore illegal.”
Under Michigan’s new metallic mining laws, “A person who…intentionally makes a false statement, representation, or certification in an application for or form pertaining to a permit…is guilty of a felony and may be imprisoned for not more than 2 years.”
According to Halley and film co-producer, Angela Nebel, NWF plans to organize future showings of the film throughout the state. The film will be available on the NWF website.