Setting the Record Straight on Highland’s Drilling in the Porkies

Houghton, Michigan – Those who’ve been following the problems created by Highland Copper Company (Orvana Minerals) exploratory drilling in and around the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (“Porkies”) earlier this year may have noticed a recent flurry of media stories featuring the mining company’s officials, touting their purported remediation of land along the County Road 519 (CR-519) right-of-way. After churning up more than half a mile of snowmobile trail paralleling the road, the company went silent on the issue until recently, when they presented a new, and largely fictionalized version of what happened last spring, and the environmental damage that resulted in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) halting Highland’s drilling activity on April 4.

Highland’s problems arose soon after they began drilling within the Park itself, on February 5th. Unseasonably warm weather forced the company to end drilling in the Park in late February, as required by their agreement with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Instead of halting *all* drilling in the area until conditions (thawing snow cover) improved – potentially delaying Highland’s exploration work for another year – the company charged ahead, and began drilling on a narrow strip of land along CR-519. This 466 foot “right of way” (233 feet from the center line in each direction) is owned by Gogebic County, although a legal description includes the east side of the right-of-way within the Presque Isle River Scenic area.

Highland’s contractor kept drilling for over two weeks, even as the warm spell continued.  “What was the company thinking?” asked Horst Schmidt, president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC). “Anybody could see that conditions had deteriorated. Highland’s drilling should have been stopped much sooner.”

In late March temperatures climbed into the 40’s and 50’s. The snowmobile trail used to access drilling sites on the east side of CR-519 soon thawed, and was churned into mud soup. Only after the heavy equipment sank several feet into the muck did the company admit that spring had arrived. The facts, damages, and the dates are undisputed.

Highland Copper’s most recent press conference presented company officials as clueless regarding the location or extent of wetlands, and unable to discern that the ground was thawing. Snowmobilers gave up and gravel roads were weight-restricted for spring breakup, but Highland continued drilling into early April.

The drilling stopped only after concerned citizens from the UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) published a press release, documented the environmental damages, and shared the photographs on their website. MAG’s alarming photographs of the damage were quickly picked up by the media, and brought to the attention of the Michigan DEQ. The DEQ promptly sent staff from the Marquette office to the site on Tuesday, April 4. The company was required to suspend work that day, and soon after were issued a Violation Notice by the DEQ.

Highland now maintains they didn’t anticipate the spring warm-up, and didn’t know that much of the land was wetland until they received a report from their consultant, King & McGregor. Meanwhile they turned  ½ mile of snowmobile trail into a muddy mess. April 2, 2017.

During their recent media event, Highland Copper’s Vice President of Project Development, Carlos Bertoni, said “When we were drilling here in the spring, early April, the weather became much warmer than we expected.” This is an unbelievable assertion, given that the spring thaw began more than a month earlier.

Bertoni also stated, “Myself as a geologist I could not tell you what is wetland and what is not wetland,” The claim that Highland did not realize they were severely damaging the land until their consultant (King & McGregor) completed a report pointing out that sections of the trail crossed wetlands is also not credible.

“Don’t you think they should be required to hire consultants before they drill?” asked UPEC board member Nancy Warren, who had also been monitoring the site. Neither the company nor the DEQ made any mention of the King & McGregor report at the time.

Now, five months after sediment eroded into protected wetlands and mud flowed down the ditches, what is the status of the company’s environmental remediation effort? First they threw straw bales and bundles into the ditch to slow down the flow of water.  Then they smoothed out the ruts and seeded English rye grass (not “native plants” as Bertoni claimed). The damage is still clearly visible along the trail as well as away from the road. Mud that ran north along the ditch and off the site last spring ended up on the floodplain of the Presque Isle River.

Five months later, the site has been stabilized. The trail (behind the hay bales) has been seeded with English rye grass, and native plants are slowly re-establishing on their own. September 3, 2017.

The company was cited for allowing muddy runoff to reach Gipsy Creek, on the southern end of drilling site. However, much of the mud flowed north along the ditch and down the wide ravine of the Presque Isle River, where it was deposited on the floodplain within the Park. Since the growing season is ending, this area continues to be susceptible to erosion going into winter. September 3, 2017

Why are MAG environmentalists concerned about a seemingly minor incident at the far western end of the Porkies? If Highland Copper (or their contractors) will not do the right thing when they think no one is watching, what will happen when they actually start mining? Since their Copperwood mine project sits on the shore of Lake Superior, the stakes are extremely high. Highland is already talking about mining not only next to, but underneath the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, which makes the project exponentially more risky.

In their original joint press release, the DNR and DEQ failed to acknowledge the critical importance of citizen vigilance in this situation. “I’m outraged that volunteer activists from the Mining Action Group were never recognized for monitoring Highland’s irresponsible drilling activities and documenting the damages to Michigan’s natural resources. I strongly feel that the vital watchdog role played by concerned citizens — environmentalists, not the state  — must not be scrubbed from the official record.” said Kathleen Heideman, UPEC board member and a member of the Mining Action Group (MAG).

“Highland’s actions are highly irresponsible. If they are going to make this much of a mess at such an early stage in the project, how can we expect them to mine responsibly? If they can’t even be bothered to pay attention to the condition of the land around them, how can we trust them to not pollute Lake Superior? Carelessness is not a culture that will change overnight, and this incident makes it appear that Highland has developed a culture of carelessness,” said Nathan Frischkorn, a 2017 Fellow working with the Mining Action Group.

“This incident shows once again that mining companies are so interested in appearances and retaining complete control that when forced to act, they may go so far as to fabricate their own stories.” said UPEC president Horst Schmidt.


Smithsonian Magazine (February 17, 2017)

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (April 6, 2017)
State agencies addressing erosion concerns at Porcupine Mountains

Keweenaw Now (May 12, 2017)
DEQ cites Highland Copper’s wetlands, soil erosion violations from mining exploration in Porkies, along CR 519

UP (August 8, 2017) local-news/highland-copper- company-provides- rehabilitation-work-update-on- county-road-519/785568630

ABC News 10 (August 9, 2017)
Exploratory drilling rehabilitation efforts underway

Fox News TV 6 Marquette (August 9, 2017)

The Daily Mining Gazette (August 11, 2017)
Drilling Fix Media Show: Gazette not invited to mine company’s unveiling of drill damage repair within park

Eagle East Public Comments

The public comment period on the proposed Eagle East permit amendment came to a close at 5pm today. The Mining Action Group hosted two public comment workshops on Tuesday to help guide people through the process of crafting and submitting public comments. We thank everyone who submitted public comments and voiced their concern about this incomplete and misleading permit amendment application.

Our conclusion:
“We believe the Eagle East amendment application does not meet the requirements of Part 632. The applicant has provided an incomplete analysis of the proposed project’s cumulative Environmental Impacts. The proposed amendment attempts to circumvent Part 632’s environmental protections in connecting two distinctly different orebodies through a single mining permit, which deliberately masks, underestimates or fails to consider the project’s cumulative environmental impacts. The proposed amendment also fails to insure that additional mining will not “pollute, impair, or destroy the air, water or other natural resources or the public trust in these resources” as required by Part 632.

We formally request that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality reject the proposed Eagle East amendment request and attached EIA as misleading and technically inadequate, and because permit segmentation is being used in order to secure a new mining permit without full consideration of the environmental impacts. We are concerned that the Eagle East review has divided public consideration of the mining (jobs) from the most negative environmental impacts (waste, and further degradations of the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River, caused by industrial wastewater discharges).”

You can read MAG’s full public comments on the Eagle East permit amendment request here.



Aquila Resources has proposed a large open pit sulfide mine a mere 150 feet from the Menominee River (a major Lake Michigan tributary which forms the Wisconsin-Michigan border and flows into Green Bay). The mine footprint is located on the original tribal homeland of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. The tribe is concerned about pollution of the Menominee River and the destruction of sacred sites.

TAKE ACTION — Send a letter to the main financial investors in the Back Forty proposed mine letting them know that this project faces growing opposition* in Wisconsin and Michigan and does not have a “social license to operate.” According to mining risk analysts like Ernst & Young, the fourth greatest risk to mining investors comes from “ignoring community voices and their environmental and public health concerns.”

Send letters to the principal investors in the Back Forty project:

Mr. Oskar Lewnowski, CIO
Orion Mine Finance Group
1121 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 3000
New York, NY 10036

Candace Brule, Investor Relations
25 York Street, Suite 800
Toronto, Ontario M5J 2V5

80 Victoria Street
London SW1E 5JL
United Kingdom

* Growing opposition as indicated by resolutions against the proposed mine by local units of government, including Marinette County, Brown County, the cities of Peshtigo and Marinette and the towns of Wagner and Porterfield in Wisconsin. Tribal governments that have passed resolutions against the mine include the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, the Bad River Ojibwe Tribe of Wisconsin, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of Michigan, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi,the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe and the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority of Michigan. American Rivers, a national conservation organization has listed the Menominee River as one of the 10 most endangered rivers due to the threat from sulfide mining”.

Open Letter to Orion Mine Finance Group by Al Gedicks

July 5, 2017

Mr. Oskar Lewnowski, CIO
Orion Mine Finance Group
1211 Avenue of the Americas
Suite 3000
New York, NY 10036

Dear Mr. Lewnowski,

I am once again writing in regard to Orion’s 19% investment in Aquila Resources’ Back 40 metallic sulfide project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Local and statewide
opposition to this project has grown considerably since my last update (November, 2016) and should be of great concern to your shareholders.

While Aquila now has three of the four permits for the project it still does not have the support of the people and communities that may be adversely affected by pollution from the proposed mine, including the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, that has filed a petition for a contested case hearing challenging the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) approval of the mining permit.

Since my last update several counties and townships downstream from the proposed mine have joined the Marinette County Board in passing resolutions urging the Michigan DEQ to deny permission for the mine. These include Brown and Menominee Counties in Wisconsin, the City of Peshtigo in Wisconsin, and the Towns of Porterfield and Wagner in Wisconsin. Door County in Wisconsin will be considering a resolution against the proposed mine at their next meeting. The headline from (June 23, 2017) sums up the political sentiment succinctly: “Northeast Wisconsin county leaders making resolutions to condemn Back 40 Mine.”

In addition to the counties and townships opposed to the mine, there are ten tribal governments in Wisconsin and Michigan that have passed resolutions against the project. Seven intertribal organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), have also passed resolutions against the mine. The NCAI has promised to assist the Menominee Tribe to oppose the mine “through media exposure, governmental relations, and to support a call for Congressional oversight hearings to highlight the trust, policy and statutory responsibilities of federal agencies in these matters.”

The April 2017 designation of the Menominee River as one of the 10 most endangered rivers by the national conservation group, American Rivers, has given national visibility to local protests against the mine in Menominee, Michigan and Marinette, Wisconsin. In
announcing the designation of the Menominee River, American Rivers noted that “the proposed mine would pose a significant threat to the cultural and natural resources of the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region. Groundwater, rivers and ultimately Lake Michigan would become contaminated if acid mine drainage were to seep into surface and groundwater, posing a significant danger to fish and other aquatic life.”

If you have been reading the press releases from Aquila celebrating the progress of the permitting process, you may be surprised to learn that opposition to the project has been steadily growing to the point where Joe Maki, the head of the DEQ’s mining division has refused to participate in informational meetings before the Menominee and Marinette City Councils because he would rather avoid “a potentially hostile environment” (Penny Mullins, “City council hears mine talk,” Eagle-Herald, June 12, 2017). I have provided a sampling of the news coverage in this packet to document this political reality.

You may dismiss this growing opposition as irrelevant because Joe Maki has stated that public opposition will have no impact upon the mine permit decision. As long as Aquila meets the conditions of the permit requirements, they will be granted permission to mine.

As I pointed out in my last update, this perception is at odds with the growing realization within the mining industry that a social license to operate (SLO) “is an essential part of operating within democratic jurisdictions, as without popular support it is unlikely that agencies from elected governments will willingly grant operational permits or licenses” (Fraser Institute, “What is the Social Licence to Operate (SLO)?” 2012).

As early as 2003, Business for Social Responsibility warned investors “that where there was well-organized, significant opposition to a mining project, no matter their country or political stripe and no matter the prevailing laws, politicians were reluctant to go against
it. In fact, global companies are under greater pressure to respond to broader social expectations today, regardless of the prevailing legal structure, than at any other time in recent history.” (“The Social License to Operate” San Francisco, CA).

Once again, I urge you to review the extensive documentation of community opposition in this packet and make your own judgment about whether this project has a social license to operate.


Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary
Wisconsin Resources Protection Council

Public Comment Period Extended for Eagle East

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead


ACTION ALERT! Tell the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality exactly what you think of Lundin Mining’s requested amendment of the Eagle Mine permit — which would require building more than 8 KILOMETERS of NEW tunnels to reach a totally DIFFERENT orebody, called “Eagle East.”

Eagle East is a new orebody located beyond the previously permitted project boundary for the Eagle Mine. This major expansion could have serious environmental impacts that were never considered under the original permit. More mining will mean more tailings, more dewatering, and increased risk of contamination. Read the proposed Eagle East permit amendment for yourself!


1.) Lundin Mining claims the life of Eagle Mine will be extended only 1 or 2 years by extracting the Eagle East deposit. Is it worth the environmental impact to the beloved Yellow Dog Plains, or the Salmon Trout, Yellow Dog and Escanaba Rivers? Eagle East will result in increased hauling, air pollution emissions, tailings waste problems for Humboldt Mill,  and increased discharge of pollutants to the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River.

2.) Lundin describes the combined ore as “Eagle ore” but Eagle and Eagle East are different orebodies, born from different volcanogenic sources. The new Eagle East orebody contains higher grades of copper and nickel, as well as other toxic heavy metals. These metals can be extremely dangerous for aquatic life, headwater streams, and wetlands. Were these threats taken into account in the initial environmental impact assessment, or does this represent a significant change from the original permit?

3.) The Eagle East orebody is located three thousand feet below the surface, much deeper than Eagle, so the ore contains high quantities of entrapped salts from ancient brines. These salts will create long term problems for Lundin’s Humboldt Pit, where the addition of Eagle East tailings are expected to nearly fill the pit with waste, dramatically increasing Total Dissolved Solids. Eagle’s wastewater treatment plant will also need a new crystallizer.

4.) Mining experts have repeatedly warned that the Eagle orebody is filled with hard-to-map “smaller-scale discontinuities that could weaken the rock mass.” Last year’s undisclosed underground “collapse” at Eagle Mine throws the overall safety of the mine’s expansion into question. Has Eagle Mine’s stability been dangerously overestimated from the beginning? Are you concerned about last year’s rock failure at Eagle Mine?

Please let the DEQ know that you want ALL of these serious questions thoroughly reviewed and resolved, before the Eagle Mine permit amendment is considered.

The DEQ has extended the public comment period to July 20th, instead of the previous July 6th deadline. Following the federal holiday for the 4th of July, we will share more details about Eagle East and the environmental impacts, citing specific concerns.

SUBMIT WRITTEN COMMENTS! Public comment on the proposed permit amendment will be accepted until 5 PM on Thursday, July 20th, 2017.
Send all comments to or mail them to:

DEQ Eagle East Permit Amendment
Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals
1504 West Washington Street
Marquette, MI 49855

Caption: Industrialization of the Yellow Dog Plains? Eagle Mine’s environmental footprint expands with Eagle East exploration — far beyond the original mining permit. This aerial photograph shows (1) Eagle Mine facility, and active drill rigs in the (2) southern drilling area for Eagle East (3) northern drilling area for Eagle East and (4) eastern drilling area for Eagle East. * The general location of the Eagle East orebody, some 3000 feet below the surface, is outlined by the large circle. May 2017, photograph by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.

Finally, please support our work – even a small contribution makes a big difference.

Kathleen Heideman, MAG/UPEC Board Member

Lundin Mining Corp – Cover for Application to Amend Mine Permit MP012007
Lundin Mining Corp – Mining Permit Application Amendment (Volume I)
Lundin Mining Corp – Environmental Impact Assessment (Volume II)
Lundin Mining Annual Mining and Reclamation Report on Eagle Mine 2016
Michigan’s Part 632 Nonferrous Metallic Mining Regulations

Note: the active Eagle Mine permit, and the original Environmental Impact Assessments, are now available through the DEQ’s ftp server, under
Geowebface > Mining > Eagle Project.
Follow these instructions to log into Geowebface: