When talking PolyMet, don’t be fooled by Michigan’s Eagle Mine
Dear Gov. Mark Dayton,
When we learned you’d be touring Eagle Mine in Michigan’s wild Upper Peninsula, we — Board and Advisory Board members of grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. — asked to meet with you, to share key concerns about the Eagle Mine. We’d like you to make an informed decision on the PolyMet project. Since you were unable to meet with us during your visit, we’re sharing our concerns publicly.
You toured Eagle Mine’s facility, which the sulfide mining industry deems an environmentally responsible sulfide mine. Did you happen to notice the newly constructed, heavy-duty paved haul road you traveled on from Big Bay, pavement which ends at the gates of Eagle Mine? Under Michigan’s Part 632 Legislation governing sulfide mining, that road should have been regulated as a mining haul road, subject to an environmental impact assessment and permit revisions. Through a series of political-corporate sleights of hand, however, the haul road was paid for by Eagle Mine, but constructed as a County Road.
Did Eagle show you their air pollution? For example, did Eagle proudly show you the Main Vent Air Raise on the bank of the Salmon Trout River, a wild blue-ribbon trout stream flowing swiftly down to Lake Superior? During the mine’s permitting phase, Eagle pledged to use environmentally responsible baghouse filters to remove heavy metals, sulfide rock particles, exhaust from underground equipment, and cancer-causing particulates ejected from the mine following blasting. Did they mention that they changed the design, revised the permit, and removed all filters? Now, twice daily, the underground sulfide orebody is blasted, and a plume of heavy metals is blown from the stack at high velocity. The pollutants are carried on the winds, falling out over the surrounding environment. Only one stack test was ever done, more than a year ago, prior to the mine becoming fully-operational. Twice daily, we are told, someone stands at the vent site and views the plume to rate how dark it is, a sort of visual opacity test — although one blast takes place at night. The actual contents of Eagle’s air pollution plume remain entirely unassessed and unregulated.
Did Eagle Mine show you the Salmon Trout River, a pristine, groundwater-fed river? At their treated wastewater infiltration system, the mine’s deionized wastewater is returned to the shallow groundwater aquifer, where it bonds with metals in the ground as it percolates. Almost immediately, it is outside of Eagle’s fenceline. Did Eagle Mine explain they are utilizing groundwater as if it were a sewer pipe, conveying wastewater directly to springs which feed the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River? We’d like you to understand that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA have allowed Eagle Mine to use the wrong permit — a Groundwater Discharge Permit, meeting only human drinking water values, rather than an NPDES Clean Water Act permit, with the more sensitive pollution limits for copper and other contaminants needed to protect macroinvertebrates and other stream life, including trout. We hope you learned there are no monitoring wells tracking the movement of Eagle’s wastewater toward these critical springs. The Salmon Trout River will be harmed — it’s simply a question of when.
Eagle Mine LLC’s milling facility, the Humboldt Mill, also poses multiple threats to clean water, with discharges from its tailings degrading the Escanaba River watershed, and the Lake Michigan basin. Note that Lundin Mining has provided a mere $23.2 million in total financial assurances for both the mine ($18m) and the mill ($5.2m) — a tiny sum, inadequate to fund even an EPA cleanup investigation.
The sulfide mining industry would like you to ignore these serious issues — impacts to the air, water, and land, as well as grossly inadequate bonding assurances — while falsely portraying the Eagle Mine as environmentally protective. The Eagle Mine should be viewed as a dire warning, rather than a good example. We urge you to deny the PolyMet permit, and protect Minnesota’s most valuable natural resource: clean water.
Kathleen Heideman, President of Save the Wild U.P.
Board of Directors, Save the Wild U.P.
Advisory Board, Save the Wild U.P.
Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to preserving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources. For more information contact email@example.com or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup.