Citizens rally, demand corruption investigation of collusion between state regulators and mining industry

MARQUETTE —  Local residents, including KBIC tribal members, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, and Save the Wild U.P., rallied at a joint press conference on Saturday June 8th, calling for a corruption investigation related to activities of an unusual ‘non-profit’ corporation, the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association (NMGRA), based in Marquette County.Nearly two dozen citizens spent Saturday afternoon in the Michigan DEQ parking lot, holding hand-lettered signs that outlined corruption concerns, speaking with locals driving by, participating in a question-and-answer session, and reviewing the murky facts surrounding NMGRA.

While Rio Tinto was in the process of planning and constructing the mine at Eagle Rock, high-ranking State officials directly charged with enforcing mining safety and environmental regulations formed the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association as a ‘non-profit’ corporation. The NMGRA Board of Directors features Rio Tinto and Bitterroot Resources mining executives alongside DEQ officials. At the same time, these state officials were failing to enforce environmental and safety regulations enacted to protect the health and well-being of U.P. citizens.Rio Tinto claimed it needed a 10 megawatt substation and miles of private power lines to electrify the core shed adjacent to the Eagle Mine site. However, once the power had been installed, the core shed was deemed unnecessary, and Eagle Mine was electrified instead — a bait-switch move that sidestepped permitting, due process, and public participation.

“The citizens of Michigan have consistently been denied access to information with regard to this so-called non-profit. Today we are pulling back the veil of secrecy,” explained attorney Jana Mathieu, who filed requests for information related to NMGRA which went unanswered.

Jeffery Loman, KBIC tribal member and former federal oil regulator, led the group on a walking tour of a large cinder block warehouse building located nearby, identified by signage as a “State Warehouse.” The property is actually leased by the nonprofit Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association, and serves as its core shed, housing valuable core samples. Local workers report seeing only Rio TInto vehicles accessing the warehouse.

“This core shed symbolizes Rio Tinto’s end-run around Part 632, the legislation governing non-ferrous mining in Michigan,” said Loman.

“Something smells bad here. Why create a private non-profit to perform a function of the State of Michigan? The circumstances surrounding these dealings between State officials and mining companies look like a bad rash on this administration,” said Loman. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Hopefully Governor Snyder will agree.”

“This is a barrel of rotten apples,” said Mary Ellen Krieg, resident of Big Bay.

“As things stand, there’s no plan for any independent review of the quantity, content and grade of the ore removed at Eagle Mine. Essentially, that means the State is allowing Rio Tinto to self-report its income which serves as the bases for the taxes due the State. The DEQ’s Hal Fitch will just take Rio Tinto’s word for it, and in turn, Hal Fitch wants every taxpayer in Michigan to take his word for it,” explained Michelle Halley, an attorney based in Marquette.

“Great place for hiding something. It looks totally neglected. Here’s this big building covered with peeling paint, surrounded by invasive knapweed and erosion gullies — anyone driving by would assume it was a giant meth lab, not a top-secret core shed set up by mining executives and controlled by the Michigan DEQ,” says Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, a grassroots group which has been active in monitoring regulatory oversight of Part 632, the legislation governing non-ferrous mining in Michigan. “The more you look into this, the more it looks like either incompetence or fraud or even both.”

“There are serious concerns about the connections between the mining industry and the regulatory role of the state,” agrees Alexandra Thebert, Executive Director of Save the Wild U.P. “In the best interest of all Michiganders, we are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate.”

Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula’s unique cultural and natural resources.

One thought on “Citizens rally, demand corruption investigation of collusion between state regulators and mining industry

  1. The moveable drill core shed sounds a little strange . First, it’s out at the Eagle, connected to a new power line that didn’t require a permit or public hearing. Then the new line becomes the power source for the mine.

    The core shed then reappears at K.I. Sawyer where it becomes the property of the “non-profit” Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association. NMGRA was established by representatives of Rio Tinto (Eagle) and other mining corporations, along with DEQ representatives, who are charged with overseeing mining activities for Michigan. It appears to be used exclusively by Rio Tinto.

    Estimation of the value of metallic ore from the Eagle for tax purposes was made by DEQ representatives, with no available information on the basis for the calculations.

    This scenario needs to be sorted out by the Michigan Department of Justice.