Conservationists announce intent to file lawsuit over water pollution from Flambeau Mine
Earlier this week, a Wisconsin conservation group and two individuals formally notified the Flambeau Mining Company (FMC) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that they intend to file a lawsuit over water pollution caused by the partially reclaimed Flambeau Mine, near Ladysmith, Wisconsin, unless the pollution and related issues are fully addressed within 30 days by FMC and the DNR.
The formal notification letter was sent to FMC and the DNR by Attorney Glenn M. Stoddard of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, on behalf of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC), Al Gedicks and Laura Furtman.
According to Stoddard: “The notice letter and potential lawsuit is based on the monitoring data that has been collected by FMC and provided to the DNR and WRPC. The data shows that runoff from the Flambeau Mine is in violation of applicable surface water quality standards and is illegally polluting a nearby stream and the Flambeau River. The data also shows that groundwater at the mine site is polluted and, at a minimum, requires expanded monitoring. However, the DNR has failed to properly regulate FMC and has, instead, allowed the company to violate the law and portray the Flambeau Mine as an environmental success story when it is not.”
The WRPC is a conservation organization that was founded in 1982 to address concerns over mining in northern Wisconsin. Al Gedicks, of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, is WRPC’s Executive Secretary and he is also one of the two individuals bringing the case.
“It appears that FMC has been glossing over its own data in order to claim that the Flambeau Mine is an environmental success story, when the data actually shows that the Mine is causing pollution just as we had predicted before it was permitted by the DNR back in 1991. We are pursuing this case now in order to bring out the truth and hold both FMC and the DNR legally accountable for the damage being done to our environment by the Flambeau Mine.”
Laura Furtman, of Webster, Wisconsin, is the other individual bringing the case. Furtman said: “I am concerned about the DNR’s lax approach to enforcement and FMC’s poor science and claims of environmental success, because this sends the wrong message to people in northern Wisconsin and other areas that are faced with new mining proposals. The facts show that the Flambeau Mine is anything but a success and is, instead, a serious environmental problem that neither the DNR nor FMC want to acknowledge publicly.”
The Flambeau Mine, located in Rusk County, Wisconsin, was an open pit metallic sulfide mine that produced 181,000 tons of copper, 334,000 ounces of gold and 3.3 million ounces of silver over its four‐year life span (1993‐1997). The Flambeau River formed the western boundary of the project area, and the pit itself was constructed to within 150 feet of the river. In late 1997, the 32‐acre pit was backfilled with waste rock containing heavy metals, sulfides and sludge.
According to Dr. David Chambers, an expert in geophysics who reviewed FMC’s water quality data for WRPC, there are problems with both surface water and groundwater pollution at the Flambeau Mine site. In particular, a major area of concern involves a small tributary of the Flambeau River known as “Stream C.”
When FMC closed the mine, a drainage ditch and pond were constructed to collect polluted runoff coming from the mine site, and a second ditch was constructed to convey that water to Stream C. According to Chambers, who is the President of the Center for Science in Public Participation out of Bozeman, Montana, “Copper levels in Stream C exceed Wisconsin water quality standards both at the discharge point from the pond into Stream C and from Stream C as it flows into the Flambeau River.” He added, “The latest round of data I’ve seen shows copper levels about seven times higher than the Wisconsin standard at the pond’s outlet.”
A second issue relates to groundwater pollution at the Flambeau Mine site. Dr. Kendra Zamzow, an environmental chemist who works with Chambers, analyzed contaminant levels in a well drilled in the path of water flowing from the backfilled pit to the Flambeau River. She said: “There have been consistent and statistically significant violations of 1991 Flambeau Mine permit standards in this well, which is about 125 feet from the river. The heavy metal manganese, for example, is currently registering over four times higher than the permit standard”
WRPC has also taken issue with FMC’s monitoring program for tracking the biological effects of metals making their way into the Flambeau River from the mine site. The group enlisted the help of Dr. Ken Parejko, an aquatic biologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin‐Stout, to evaluate FMC’s biological studies.
Parejko concluded that there were serious flaws in the company’s study design, making it “difficult to draw any conclusions regarding the presence or absence of a mining‐related effect” on the Flambeau River. Yet, he added, “The combined observation of statistically significant increased copper concentrations in crayfish, walleye and sediment downstream from the mine site raises the possibility of a causal relationship.”
The conservationists are seeking a number of remedies for the pollution at the mine from the DNR and FMC, including but not limited to more restrictive permitting requirements, fines, remedial action, and increased monitoring at the site and in the Flambeau River.
More information, news coverage and complete copies of the formal Notice Letter and supporting expert reports are available on WRPC’s website at: www.wrpc.net
Wisconsin Citizens Sue DNR, Kennecott Over Ongoing Flambeau Mine Pollution
June 19, 2009
By Gabriel Caplett
Madison, Wisconsin—The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC) announced today at a press conference in the State Capitol Building that it intends to file a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and Kennecott’s Flambeau Mining Company (FMC). The lawsuit would be in response to ongoing water pollution that violates Wisconsin law and the Federal Clean Water Act at the Flambeau Mine, in Rusk County, unless the pollution and related issues are fully addressed within 30 days.
Kennecott, a wholly owned subsidiary of London-based Rio Tinto, is attempting to open a metallic sulfide mine, called the Eagle Project, in northern Marquette County.
“Kennecott, and other mining companies, have misled the public and promoted the Flambeau Mine as an environmental success story to communities throughout the Lake Superior region.” says Gene Champagne, spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, the community closest to the proposed Eagle Project.
Kennecott’s proposed mine is staunchly opposed by local citizens as it would be located on 120-acres of public land and underneath the pristine Salmon Trout River, in an area called the Yellow Dog Plains. The company also plans to blast its mine portal through the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s sacred Eagle Rock.
According to Teresa Bertossi of Save the Wild UP and Yellow Dog Summer, “Kennecott’s public relations image of “promises kept” and integrity at the Flambeau Mine is a fantasy, one that has been unveiled by the hard working citizens of Wisconsin.”
In August of 2008 Kennecott’s project manager, John Cherry, stated that the Flambeau Mine is “… an excellent example of our ability today to build, operate, close and reclaim a mine while meeting high standards set by regulators and the community . . . The facts show that Flambeau continues to demonstrate the environment is protected. . .”
But according to WRPC attorney Glenn M. Stoddard, the potential lawsuit is based on the mining company’s own monitoring data.
“The data shows that runoff from the Flambeau Mine is in violation of applicable surface water quality standards and is illegally polluting a nearby stream and the Flambeau River. The data also shows that groundwater at the mine site is polluted and, at a minimum, requires expanded monitoring. However, the DNR has failed to properly regulate FMC and has, instead, allowed the company to violate the law and portray the Flambeau Mine as an environmental success story when it is not.”
Citizens opposing other metallic sulfide mining activities in Minnesota and elsewhere in Michigan are concerned that Kennecott’s failure to protect water at the Flambeau Mine is indicative of any company’s ability to successfully operate a metallic sulfide mine in a water-rich area.
Aquila Resources is attempting to open a large metallic sulfide zinc and gold project adjacent to the Menominee River and Shakey Lakes Savannah in Menominee County.
Ron Henriksen, Lake Township resident and member of the Front Forty citizen group opposing Aquila Resources’ Back Forty project says, that although Aquila promotes the Flambeau Mine there are differences, including Aquila’s onsite processing plans.
“Aquila has frequently touted the Flambeau Mine as environmentally safe, even though there are still problems,” said Henriksen.
“Ironically, they claim that this is an environmentally-friendly mine, said Henriksen. They showcase it in their office, they mention it in their presentations, and now they’re taking people to the Flambeau Mine site this Saturday.”
The potential lawsuit is a yet another chapter in the unprecedented grassroots citizen movement to protect the State of Wisconsin that led to the State’s claim to fame as having some of the strongest mining laws in the country. Citizens of Michigan continue to find inspiration in the courageous efforts of Wisconsin citizens such as Attorney Glenn Stoddard, Laura Furtman and Al Gedicks of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.
“I’m pleased that someone is taking the step to expose Kennecott’s deceptions at the Flambeau Mine and the Wisconsin DNR’s inability to regulate a rogue industry” said Bob Rivera of UPriver, a citizens group from Iron River, Michigan concerned with Kennecott’s exploration in the Ottawa National Forest.
“Our neighbors in Wisconsin are an inspiration to average citizens to remain strong and to continue to realize the value of clean water and maintain respect for the water that sustains all life,” said Barbara Bradley of Keepers of the Water and Yellow Dog Summer. “We thank them for this, for their protection of the water.”
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