Big Holes in Mining Exploration Regulations?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Big Holes in Mining Exploration Regulations?

MARQUETTE — Lundin Mining, parent company of Eagle Mine, recently announced exploration results for the orebody known as “Eagle East,” which is located outside the current footprint of the mine and said to contain “high grade massive and semi-massive copper-nickel sulfide mineralization.” With the current Eagle orebody located just below the Salmon Trout River and “Eagle East” exploration approaching the Yellow Dog River, environmental groups are speaking out about renewed concerns regarding ground and surface water contamination, the creeping industrialization of the Yellow Dog Plains, undisclosed exploratory drilling, trash left by exploration contractors, and the threat posed by acid mine drainage (AMD).

AMD is a dangerous byproduct of sulfide mining. Sought-after minerals such as copper, nickel, lead, cobalt, silver and zinc are embedded in sulfides; the process of extraction brings the sulfide-rich rock into contact with air and water, resulting in sulfuric acid. AMD could devastate watersheds like the Salmon Trout or the Yellow Dog, as it has historically devastated watersheds in coal mining regions, and in hardrock mining districts throughout the Rocky Mountains.

In Michigan, mineral exploration is regulated under Part 625, which establishes the protocol for adherence to environmental protections during the exploration phase. According to the state’s “Typical Metallic Mining Exploration Flowchart,” much of the mineral exploration process occurs before any permits are required, allowing industry to perform much of the exploration process without regulatory or public scrutiny.

Companies currently conducting exploratory drilling on the Yellow Dog Plains do so with impunity. According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), “(E)xploration companies are extremely secretive about their projects. All information regarding exploration drilling is considered proprietary under Part 625.” According to the MDEQ, “Most metallic mineral exploration occurs in an area exempt from acquiring a Part 625 permit.”

The lack of oversight has real consequences. Following a phase of surface and seismic mineral exploration in 2014, performed by Lundin Mining contractors who pulled miles of geophysical survey cables through the landscape, piles of PVC pipes were left abandoned in forests, ravines, and swamps, a plague of plastic ribbons fluttered from trees, and ATV tracks cut through wetlands.. Members of the public – including adjacent landowners and and watersheds – learn of exploration drilling sites only when the drill rigs appear, bringing 24-hour drilling noise, or leaving behind pools of drilling fluid.

“Given the new Wild West mining camp vibe, who is monitoring the work of Lundin’s numerous contractors?” asked Alexandra Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P. interim director. “What enforcement tools are in place to guarantee adherence to environmental safeguards, as specified under Part 625? Is anyone really checking the situation on the ground? It appears that Lundin’s contractors don’t even pick up their trash when they finish a project.”

While Lundin is quick to promote the potential “Eagle East” discovery to its investors, they insist that it is too soon to consider any environmental concerns. Eagle Mine’s spokesman Dan Blondeau has stated, “We’re very early in the exploration stage for this area. It’s too early to tell if this will materialize into anything significant. It’s too early to talk mining or permitting.” According to the MDEQ’s mineral exploration flowchart, however, drilling is actually one of the final stages of exploration.

According to Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president, “Lundin’s new orebody appears to be comprised of copper-nickel-platinum-palladium, all wrapped in a matrix of massive hype. Investors, beware! No word on how much uranium-vanadium-arsenic this orebody will contain — but the Yellow Dog River will be directly threatened. This is nothing to celebrate.”

“If mined, this orebody puts Lundin in a position to contaminate the Yellow Dog River. Rio Tinto had made a big public relations effort to assure citizens that their mining was going to leave a small footprint and would NOT contaminate the Yellow Dog River watershed — just the Salmon Trout River. Now by “discovering” a so-called new deposit they are incrementally expanding their footprint and clearly violating their promises,” said Michael Loukinen, SWUP advisory board member, filmmaker, and retired professor of Sociology at Northern Michigan University. “I fear that this will not be the first discovery of new deposits but the beginning of a pattern of new environmental losses.”

“In 2004, the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve (YDWP), Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, all but one of the townships of Marquette County, and the Marquette County Commission petitioned the State of Michigan to require that a full Hydrologic Assessment of the Yellow Dog Plains be done, by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) — *before* any mining activities took place on the Plains. That did not happen,” said Cynthia Pryor,YDWP board member. Now, more than ever, there needs to be a third party hydrologic assessment of the Plains and the only party qualified to do an unbiased assessment is the USGS. They are already involved in surface water monitoring on the Plains, so let them do their job and give us, the people of the State of Michigan, the straight story about the cumulative impact of these sulfide metallic mines on the Yellow Dog Plains.”

Eagle East

Eagle Mine’s environmental impacts continue to expand. Aerial photograph taken on June 19, 2015 shows: 1. Salmon Trout River, Eagle orebody and Main Vent Air Raise, 2. Eagle Rock and mining portal tunnel, 3. Eagle Mine surface facility, and 4. new drilling rigs, logging and mineral exploration in what Lundin is calling the “Eagle East” area.

 

“This is by-the-book mining boom hype,” said Heideman. “Mining companies create a bunch of hullabaloo about their ‘discoveries’ years before a permit is negotiated, or a single dollar of ore is removed from the ground. Meanwhile, the mining company will be working hard to extract big dollars from investors — at the expense of the wild Upper Peninsula.”

“The mine’s industrial wastewater discharges at Eagle mine are presenting to the surface,” said Jeffery Loman, former federal oil regulator. “Soon there will be undisputed evidence that Lundin is violating the Clean Water Act. When people across the U.P. finally realize our water is at risk, Eagle East will go South.”

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org or follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup.

Editors: the following photos are available for use with this press release.

Aerial photograph showing Eagle East mineral exploration footprint
Sizes available: 1500 px wide or original, 4608 px wide
Suggested caption:  ”Eagle Mine’s environmental impacts continue to expand. Aerial photograph taken on June 19, 2015 shows: 1. Salmon Trout River, Eagle orebody and Main Vent Air Raise, 2. Eagle Rock and mining portal tunnel, 3. Eagle Mine surface facility, and 4. new drilling rigs, logging and mineral exploration in what Lundin is calling the “Eagle East” area.”

Trashing the Yellow Dog Plains

Eagle Mine TWIS blue styrofoam (windblown trash)
Lundin Mining exploration trash: PVC pipes (view 1)
Lundin Mining exploration trash: PVC pipes (view 2)
Lundin Mining exploration trash: PVC pipes (view 3)
Mining exploration trash left in ravines (view 4)
Mining exploration trash left in ravines (view 5)
Yellow Dog Plains: drilling oil in sand pit (Kennecott). Photo courtesy of Shawn Malone/ LakeSuperiorPhoto

 

EPA Dismisses Environmental Appeal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

EPA Dismisses Environmental Appeal

MARQUETTE — Grassroots environmental advocacy group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has received notice of the dismissal of their petition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Appeals Board (EAB). The group had appealed to the EAB after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) reissued a Groundwater Discharge Permit (GWDP) for Lundin’s Eagle Mine, and when EPA Region 5 failed to act to require a permit that would protect the Salmon Trout River.

In dismissing the group’s petition, the EAB stated, “The Board is a tribunal of limited jurisdiction” and “not the appropriate forum for considering the Region’s alleged failure to act.” The Board peremptorily dismissed SWUP’s petition “for lack of jurisdiction.” According to attorney Michelle Halley, SWUP advisory board member, “This case was dismissed because the EAB believed theirs was the wrong venue, not on the merits of the case.”

Save the Wild U.P.’s central arguments remain undisputed: a GWDP is the wrong regulatory permit for Eagle Mine’s wastewater discharges. In the appeal, SWUP stated, “Permit conditions set for effluent discharge fail to protect surface water.” By design, a groundwater discharge permit is not protective of surface water. Surface water standards are needed, in order keep macro-invertebrates and sensitive aquatic ecosystems safe from dangerous levels of metals, pH and salts.

SWUP’s petition requested “that the EPA require Eagle Mine to obtain a Clean Water Act permit… with limits sufficiently protective of the identified groundwater-surface water interface, including aquatic life, fish and wildlife dependent upon the health of freshwater springs, the Salmon Trout River, and Lake Superior.”

“It’s outrageous that the facts of our case were not considered. Had they reviewed the content of our arguments, the merits of our appeal would have certainly prevailed. For the health of the Salmon Trout River, this situation remains critical and urgent,” said Kathleen Heideman, Save the Wild U.P. president.

According to SWUP’s interim director, Alexandra Maxwell, “This dismissal only brings a sense of renewed determination. We have a strong case. We are acting to protect our communities and our water from the dangerous contamination created by sulfide mining. Save the Wild U.P. is considering all appellate options.”

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org or follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup.

Join SWUP’s Wild Summer Events!

Featured

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Save the Wild U.P. Announces Calendar of Wild Summer Events

Marquette — Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has announced a series of “wild events” for the coming summer. Save the Wild U.P.’s guided outdoor programs are perfect for nature-lovers, concerned citizens, history buffs, hikers, artists and budding environmental activists.

“These are awe-inspiring experiences, intended to lead folks off the beaten track, and out into the Wild U.P.,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s interim director. “With each event, we’re highlighting the intrinsic value of wild and scenic places, clean rivers, and undisturbed wetlands. Folks can check Save the Wild U.P.’s facebook page to learn about about additional events, including summer speakers and concerts.”

Save the Wild U.P.’s 2015 Summer Events Calendar
Available in PDF format: http://bit.ly/1IQp2tz

2nd Annual Grassroots Organizing Bootcamp — Marquette
May 23 and May 24, 9:30am – 5:30pm each day
Become an environmental advocate for your community! This year’s 2-day Bootcamp agenda is packed with engaging information — 9 special guest speakers covering 13 critical topics, including wolves, local geology, the hydrology of the Salmon Trout watershed, indigenous environmental movements, and the regional fight to protect Lake Superior from the dangers of sulfide mining. Weekend wraps up with a guided geology hike around Presque Isle. Lunches are provided, but space is limited. ENLIST NOW: rsvp@savethewildup.org, or call (906) 662-9987.

Guided Hike in the Caving Grounds — Negaunee
May 28, 6pm
Join SWUP for a guided walking tour of the “Caving Grounds” of Negaunee’s Old Town district. Experience ghostly neighborhoods and sunken streets, learn about early iron mining methods, hear stories recorded by Negaunee residents, and see first-hand the social cost of mining: undermined homes and struggling economies. Meet at 6pm Old Town Park in Negaunee. RSVP appreciated: rsvp@savethewildup.org.

Guided Hike to Pinnacle Falls — Yellow Dog Plains
June 24, 12:30pm
Enjoy a guided hike to Pinnacle Falls on the Yellow Dog River, truly one of the wild gems of Marquette County. Your guides Cynthia Pryor and Kathleen Heideman will share stories of ecology, geology and local history. Learn how the Yellow Dog River was named, and threats from sulfide mining just upstream. Pack a bag lunch for a group picnic at the falls, bring bug spray or netting, hiking shoes and a camera. Meet at Big Bay Outfitters (Big Bay). Plan to arrive early — group will leave at 12:30pm. SAVE YOUR SPOT: rsvp@savethwildup.org, or call (906) 662-9987.

Attention ARTISTS and HIKERS!
Wildcat Canyon Creek Hike — Michigamme Highlands
July 15, full-day outing
Get off the map – start seeing wild places! Save the Wild U.P. and Painters on the Loose will guide a caravan of visual artists, hikers and environmental activists deep into the rugged, unpaved heart of Marquette County. Our special destination will be Wildcat Canyon Creek, which lies in the path of the defeated but still-controversial 595 road proposal. Artists will set up their easels, while others enjoy a rugged group hike along the Wildcat, which includes delicate waterfalls. To join this special event, please contact rsvp@savethewildup.org by July 12, so carpooling and caravan arrangements can be made in advance.

Threatened & Endangered: Native Plant Hike — Michigamme Highlands
August 1, 12:30pm
Native plants and creeping industrialization — what’s at stake? Search for the answers on this unique botanical hike in the Michigamme Highlands, led by botanist Steve Garske. We’ll explore two remote sites threatened by the route of proposed CR-595: lands near the Yellow Dog River and Mulligan Creek. Sponsored by the North Woods Native Plant Society, Save the Wild U.P. and the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve. Meet-up at Big Bay Outfitters (Big Bay). Plan to arrive early — group will leave at 12:30pm. FULL DETAILS: rsvp@savethwildup.org, or call (906) 662-9987.

Explore Marquette’s lost “Great Swamp” — Marquette
August 22, 3pm
What happened to Marquette’s “Great Swamp”? Join historian Jon Saari for a slideshow explaining how the city’s historic wetlands were drained, filled and lost to residential and industrial development. After the lecture, we’ll follow Jim Koski and Jon Saari on a colorful walking tour to see evidence of the lost swamp! Sponsored by Save the Wild U.P. and the Marquette Regional History Center. Special location: event starts at 3pm in the Wildcat Room of the Superior Dome. RESERVE YOUR PLACE: rsvp@savethwildup.org, or call (906) 662-9987. Suggested donation of $5 for Marquette Regional History Center.

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Summer events are offered in conjunction with Save the Wild U.P.’s Summer Fellows program, a dynamic, on-the-ground initiative designed to educate a new generation of environmental leaders. SWUP’s unique, interdisciplinary fellowship  program educates students on U.P. mining history, the hazards and risks associated with sulfide mining, industrial threats to wild places, and practical and effective ways for citizens to “be the change” they wish to see in the world.

Save the Wild U.P.’s 2015 Summer Fellows program is focussed on critical issues related to the controversial County Road 595 proposal. The program begins with an intensive two-day forum on sulfide mining, geology, Upper Peninsula mining history, mining legislation, wolves, hydrology and environmental advocacy, and other topics. Throughout the summer, fellows will learn from experts in their fields, while advocating for environmental justice and transparency in corporate and government relations. Students participate in hikes, lectures and community education on the most pressing issues facing the Upper Peninsula’s wild places.

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org or follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup.

 

Environmental group asks EPA to review Eagle Mine permits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Save the Wild U.P. petitions EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board

MARQUETTE — Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) recently petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Appeals Board (EAB), appealing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (MDEQ) reissuance of a Groundwater Discharge Permit (GWDP) for the Eagle Mine.

The Environmental Appeals Board is the final authority on appeals pertaining to all major environmental statutes which the EPA administers. It is an impartial body, independent of the EPA. According to Save the Wild U.P.’s interim director, Alexandra Maxwell,  “Our petition is on the EAB’s docket. While we don’t know what the outcome will be, we know, without a doubt, that we submitted an accurate, urgent, and thoughtful petition on behalf of our supporters — on behalf of the Lake Superior watershed. We’re very hopeful that the EAB will review the permit decision, and uphold the Clean Water Act.”

Save the Wild U.P.’s central argument in the petition explains that the GWDP is the wrong regulatory permit for Eagle Mine’s wastewater discharges. “Permit conditions set for effluent discharge fail to protect surface water. The Petitioner requests that the EPA require Eagle Mine to obtain a Clean Water Act permit or require EPA to do so, with limits sufficiently protective of the identified groundwater-surface water interface, including aquatic life, fish and wildlife dependant upon the health of freshwater springs, the Salmon Trout River, and Lake Superior.” By design, a groundwater discharge permit is not designed to be protective of surface water. Surface water standards were created to keep macroinvertebrates and sensitive aquatic ecosystems safe from dangerous levels of metals, pH and salts.

“A groundwater discharge permit is the wrong tool with which to regulate this discharge. It is undisputed that the water leaving the mine ultimately ends up in springs and rivers and Lake Superior. The permit needed is a Clean Water Act permit, designed to protect  aquatic life,” said attorney Michelle Halley, who has worked extensively on Eagle Mine issues.

After a comprehensive permit review, Save the Wild U.P. concluded that the current GWD permit was issued under “erroneous findings of fact and erroneous conclusions of law” and the group has appealed the MDEQ’s permitting decision, on behalf of their Board, Advisory Board and supporters.

“From the beginning, Eagle Mine’s Groundwater Discharge Permit was based on a false premise, the idea that groundwater does not become surface water. Eagle Mine has relied on half-truths and unknowns concerning the hydrology of the Yellow Dog Plains,” explains Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president. “Proper regulation cannot exist without accurate science and hands-on, comprehensive knowledge of the environment. We know what’s at stake — nothing less than our clean water.”

On May 7, 2015,  Save the Wild U.P. also sent a letter to the EPA’s Regional Administrator, Dr. Susan Hedman, asking that Region 5 exercise their veto authority over the National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems Permit (NPDES) recently reissued for Lundin’s Humboldt Mill facility. SWUP’s request enumerated critical concerns regarding the the NPDES permit, especially the authorization of a second discharge point, “Outfall 002”, which allows a “degradation” of water quality in the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River (MBER), and which was constructed without an Environmental Impact Assessment for the area where the discharges are being released.

“I find it outrageous that MDEQ and Eagle Mine failed to consider the environmental impacts of increased discharges authorized by this permit,” said Heideman. “No baseline information was provided, either for the wetland or the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River. Eagle Mine’s original permit failed to evaluate these sites, and now they want to dump wastewater into unassessed ecosystems.”

Save the Wild U.P.

Wastewater discharging into Middle Branch of the Escanaba River on 4-15-15

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.orgor follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup.

2015 SWUP Summer Fellows Program

Save the Wild U.P. is kicking off their 2nd annual SWUP Summer Fellows program! This is a dynamic boots-on-the-ground initiative, designed to educate the next generation of environmental leaders. SWUP’s unique, interdisciplinary program educates students on U.P. mining history, the hazards and risks associated with sulfide mining, industrial threats to wild places, and practical and effective ways for citizens to “be the change” they wish to see in the world. Fellows gain experience as participatory researchers and civically-involved community members. Academic credit and limited competitive stipends are available.

This year’s Fellows program will focus on critical issues related to the controversial County Road 595 proposal. We’ll begin with an intensive two-day forum on sulfide mining, geology, Upper Peninsula mining history, mining legislation, wolves, hydrology and environmental advocacy—just to name a few topics. Throughout the summer, fellows will learn from experts in their fields, while advocating for environmental justice and transparency in corporate and government relations. Students participate in hikes, lectures and community education on the most pressing issues facing the Upper Peninsula’s wild places. The SWUP Summer Fellows program runs from May 20th through the first week of August. We are looking forward to a great program and will keep you updated on associated lectures, public hikes and outings throughout the summer!

Environmentalists Outraged By New Mineral Lease To Eagle Mine

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Mineral Lease On Yellow Dog River Approved

MARQUETTE — Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has learned that the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has granted another mineral lease to Eagle Mine, LLC — this time, for a controversial 40 acre parcel along the Yellow Dog River.

The DNR’s public notice of Eagle’s mineral rights lease application was published on October 20, 2014, commencing a legally-required public comment period. Save the Wild U.P. responded swiftly to the public notice, working collaboratively with the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve (YDWP) and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters to raise strong objections to the lease, in writing. Altogether, more than 1,400 letters, signatures and comments were submitted to Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst with the DNR’s Minerals Management office, urging the DNR to reject the mineral lease sought by Eagle Mine LLC.

The 40 acre parcel (NE 1/4 SE 1/4, Section 13, T50N, R29W, Michigamme Township, Marquette County) lies along a branch of the Yellow Dog River, which is a federally-designated “Wild and Scenic” River. According to monitoring data, the Yellow Dog River currently has “excellent” water quality. The property contains a recreational trail (Snowmobile Trail #5), endangered plants, and “neotropical migrants” including Kirtland’s warbler.

According to Chauncey Moran, YDWP chairman, “This land should have been classified as ‘non-leasable, non-development’ due to the substantial potential for ecological harm.”

“Clearly, the DNR made the wrong decision,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s interim director. “Once again, the outcry of concerned citizens was all but ignored for the benefit of a foreign mining company. This is another blow to our public land and the democratic process.”

“The approval of a metallic mineral lease to Lundin Mining, virtually on the banks of the Yellow Dog River, denotes blatant disregard for the public’s love of this blue ribbon trout stream,” said Cynthia Pryor, watershed resident and longtime community advocate. “All who have fished it, recreated on it or have just heard about this beautiful river need to be affronted by the DNR’s lack of stewardship of this and all other rivers in this state already suffering at the hands of our state regulators. Pure Michigan indeed.”

“No mining, including exploration activities, should ever be permitted on this land. This is a very important area where medicinal plants are gathered by myself and other members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. Elimination of this treaty right is unacceptable and unlawful,” said former federal offshore oil regulator and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member Jeffery Loman. “Despite the fact that Michigan’s Part 632 Mining Regulations are frequently touted as ‘the strictest mining regulations in the United States,’ it is a fact that every square inch of Michigan is open for mineral exploration and development. I repeat my request for the DNR to hold a public hearing to address this regulatory shortfall.”

“It is outrageous that the DNR did not contact us directly concerning their decision. Save the Wild U.P. called for a Public Hearing, but we received no answer – yes or no – to that very simple request,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s president. “Citizens who wrote heartfelt, open letters directly to Karen Maidlow all received the same form letter in response. Groups and individuals who know the land in question submitted detailed written comments, explaining why this specific mineral lease should not take place in this specific place. What is the point of a public comment period, if the DNR ignores all the public comments? They didn’t even pretend to listen this time.”

update-2015-Eagle20acres-DNRLease

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is dedicated to protecting our communities, lakes, and lands from the hazards of sulfide mining, which threaten to contaminate nearby watersheds – including Lake Superior – with acid mine drainage. SWUP continues to raise public awareness about mining exploration and development, regulatory errors and conflict of interest issues. More information is available at savethewildup.org or by calling (906) 662-9987.

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DEQ Issues Deeply Flawed Eagle Mine Groundwater Discharge Permit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Environmentalists Critical of “Deeply Flawed” Eagle Mine Groundwater Discharge Permit

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has issued a renewed Groundwater Discharge Permit for Eagle Mine, which expired in 2013. The new permit includes multiple revisions to the original permit, and significantly increases the total volume of wastewater discharges, to 504,000 gallons per day. According to grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), the approved permit fails to address elevated levels of uranium and vanadium, and exceedances of copper, molybdenum, silver, lead, arsenic.

In 2014, Save the Wild U.P. led an extensive effort to educate citizens about serious deficiencies in Eagle Mine’s groundwater discharge permit. “It was frustrating, at that time, to see MDEQ regulators quoted in the newspaper, reassuring the public that this permit was sufficiently strong and protective, and didn’t need any revision,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s president. “Now the MDEQ is congratulating itself for issuing a revised permit.”

“We had a lot of good comments, and we made changes with regard to those comments — which took a long time,” Steve Casey, Michigan DEQ Water Resources Division Upper Peninsula District Supervisor told the audience at a public hearing held January 13, 2015. He referred to the increasing vanadium levels in Eagle Mine’s groundwater discharge area as an “unresolved issue.”

Three months later, Eagle’s vanadium problem remains unexplained but the permit has been granted.

“It is factually inaccurate to say that increasing levels of heavy metals and other pollutants reflects previous ‘natural’ conditions at the Eagle site,” said Heideman. “This permit has exponentially increased the allowable level of various pollutants, compared with Rio Tinto’s own 2004 reported baseline data. Clearly, water quality is undermined by this permit.”

The MDEQ claims that the permit will safeguard “all protected uses of groundwater and surface water in the vicinity of the mine.”

“A groundwater discharge permit is the wrong tool with which to regulate this discharge. The water leaving the mine will ultimately end up in springs and rivers and Lake Superior. The permit needed is a Clean Water Act permit designed to protect the animals and plants living in the springs, rivers and Lake Superior,”  said attorney Michelle Halley, who has worked extensively on Eagle Mine issues. “MDEQ is making the same mistakes over and over.”

 The MDEQ made several changes adding “wastewater influent sampling prior to reverse osmosis” and “provisions for investigating and addressing elevated vanadium concentrations in groundwater, including the installation of additional groundwater monitoring wells.”

According to Alexandra Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P.’s interim director, the MDEQ’s revisions are inadequate. “This is a fancy way of saying, after a year of review, the MDEQ still has no idea why vanadium levels are rising in groundwater around Eagle Mine’s Treated Wastewater Infiltration System (TWIS) — and yet they’re issuing this permit. This really underscores a point we’ve been making all along: a federal permit should have been required for Eagle’s wastewater. The State of Michigan seems wholly unprepared to regulate Eagle Mine at a level that would actually protect our water.”

“Let’s be clear: vanadium levels are increasing in groundwater at Eagle Mine, and the MDEQ doesn’t know why. It was irresponsible to issue this permit,” said Heideman. “The whole approach seems to treat our environment like a chemistry laboratory — they’re running a live experiment, no safety net, and our water is at stake.”

According to December 2014 reporting from the Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP), a joint venture of the Superior Watershed Partnership and Lundin Mining (previously Rio Tinto), uranium levels in water at the Eagle Mine facility have risen to 103 ug/L, more than 3 times higher than the EPA’s limit for drinking water. Since uranium monitoring was not included in Eagle Mine’s permit, the mine claims that no permit violation has occurred.

“Where uranium is concerned, this permit has no teeth,” said Heideman. “The MDEQ added language ‘requiring notification within 24 hours if uranium levels in the effluent exceed 5 ug/l’ and ‘a plan for reducing or eliminating the source of uranium’ but they’ve known about the presence of uranium for two years, and they haven’t required any meaningful response.”

In their response summary, MDEQ referenced 2006 hydrology groundwater flow diagrams, claiming that wastewater from Eagle Mine’s TWIS “will take… 4 to 6 years” to reach springs feeding the Salmon Trout River (3,000 feet away).

“Clearly, we need updated hydrology data to evaluate the groundwater impacts from Eagle Mine’s discharged wastewater. The revised permit calls for additional groundwater monitoring, but does not dictate where the wells will be located — that’s another mistake,” said Heideman. “We’ve repeatedly asked the MDEQ to require groundwater tracing tests, to confirm Eagle Mine’s hydrology theories, but there’s been no action.”

The MDEQ response summary included a reference to recent legislation amending Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), allowing significantly higher levels of sodium and chloride in groundwater, raising “effluent limits for sodium and chloride to 400 mg/l and 500 mg/l, respectively.”

“Reviewing CEMP data, we see a clear pattern of ongoing and unexplained exceedances,” said Maxwell. “State regulators are asleep at the wheel.”

“The MDEQ’s revised Groundwater Discharge Permit is inconsistent with federal law, fails to protect the Yellow Dog Watershed, and the process for issuing this revised permit violates both state and federal administrative procedures act requirements,” said former federal offshore oil regulator and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member Jeffery Loman. “Once again, the State of Michigan has demonstrated that they will regulate in a manner which the mining industry demands.”

meme-mine-marktwain

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 or to schedule an interview, contact info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org or follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup.

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Poets of the Wild U.P.!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

fbevent-PoetryReading2015-banner

MARQUETTE, MICH— Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) invites the public to celebrate “Poets of the Wild U.P.” with a poetry reading featuring Milton Bates, Janeen Pergrin Rastall, Kathleen M. Heideman and Russell Thorburn. SWUP’s literary event, scheduled for Thursday, April 2 from 7-9pm at the Peter White Public Library’s Shiras Room, will lend a uniquely environmental emphasis to National Poetry Month. The reading is free and open to the public.

“Our goal in sponsoring this reading is to highlight the special connection between yoopers and the environment, through the work of four local authors who draw inspiration from Lake Superior, U.P. environmental issues, and the natural beauty of Upper Michigan’s wild places,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s interim director.

The U.P.’s environment figures differently in the work of each poet.

“There’s a strong spirit of place, an identification with wildness and struggle, at the heart of our stories,” says Jon Saari, emeritus professor of History at Northern Michigan University. Saari, whose wife Christine is a poet and artist, serves as Save the Wild U.P.’s vice president.

“For me, ‘Saving the Wild U.P.’ means naming, cherishing, and protecting what makes the Upper Peninsula of Michigan such an incredible place, our creative culture, our clean water, and our wild lands,” says Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s president. “When I consider the beautiful work of our local artists creating pottery, landscape painting, woodworking, etc., their material connection to place is obvious at a glance. Poets are really doing the same thing — using woods, water and rocks to create our work.”

“Poets of the Wild U.P.” will be the third literary event hosted by SWUP. Last year’s “Putting the Wild into Words” poetry competition drew submissions from across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Last April’s poetry reading in Marquette, which featured Russell Thorburn along with the winning poets, attracted a standing-room-only audience.

National Poetry Month, founded by Academy of American Poets, is the world’s largest literary celebration, involving millions of readers, teachers, students, librarians and authors and celebrating the critical role of poetry in our lives each April.

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with Save the Wild U.P.’s work atsavethewildup.org or follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup

Biographical info for POETS OF THE WILD U.P. participants:

Milton Bates was the winner of Save the Wild U.P.’s “Putting the Wild into Words” 2014 poetry contest. He taught English literature for thirty-five years at Williams College and Marquette University. During that time he was also a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fulbright lecturer in China and Spain. He has published half a dozen books on subjects such as the poet Wallace Stevens, the literature and film of the Vietnam War, and the natural and human history of the Bark River Valley in Wisconsin. On retirement he and his wife moved to the Upper Peninsula, which provides material for many of his poems.

Kathleen M. Heideman will receive the City of Marquette Arts and Culture Center’s 2015 Outstanding Writer Award. She’s completed artist residencies with watersheds, forests, the National Science Foundation, and the National Park Service — including Isle Royale and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Informed by landscape and environmental concerns, her work has garnered recognition from the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, the Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Bush Foundation. She’s a curious woman.

Janeen Pergrin Rastall lives in Gordon, Mich, population 2. She is the author of the chapbook “In The Yellowed House” (dancing girl press, 2014). Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including The Midwest Quarterly, Midwestern Gothic, Border Crossing, The Michigan Poet, and Dunes Review. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes.

Russell Thorburn served as the U.P. Poet Laureate from 2013-2015. He lives in Marquette, Michigan, with his son and wife. A manuscript consultant for poets, he takes orphan poems that don’t fit together, and arranges the pieces in a way that not only makes sense, but makes beauty. He is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. “Salt and Blood,” an experimental noir, is forthcoming from Marick Press who also published his third book of poetry, “Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged.”

POETS OF THE WILD U.P.
Thursday April 2, 7-9pm
Peter White Public Library, Shiras Room
217 N Front St, Marquette, Mich. 49855
Free and open to the public

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U.P. Environmental Groups Criticize DNR’s Decision

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Unified Opposition to Graymont ‘Land Transaction’

MARQUETTE — Environmental groups from across the Upper Peninsula are holding fast in their opposition to the recent sale of state land and mineral rights to the Canadian limestone mining company, Graymont, Inc.

“This is a huge loss for Michigan taxpayers and a massive blow to federally promised treaty rights,” said Alexandra Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P.’s interim director. “The DNR’s unilateral decision shows clear disregard for the input of Michigan citizens.”

Director Keith Creagh of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced his final approval of the Graymont Land Transaction in Roscommon, MI at a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, March 20. While not a mining permit per se, the DNR’s decision effectively converts roughly 10,000 acres of diverse, high-quality public lands into a sprawling complex of open pit limestone quarries and extensive underground mining operations.

“We are angry!” said Horst Schmidt, F.O.L.K. board member. “Again and again, the DNR said ‘send in your comments,’ but in a March, 2015 memo, Creagh’s managers blew off all comments as irrelevant. Yet in a press release issued after Creagh approved the transaction, their public relations person says the exact opposite! Over 90% of the comments, according to the first memo, were against the sale. How many citizens does it take to stop one corporation?”

Unprecedented in scale, the land transaction includes direct sale of approximately 1,781 acres of state-owned land plus 7,026 acres of state mineral rights to Graymont, a land exchange whereby Graymont acquires 830 acres of state-owned land, and a 10-year option secured by Graymont to acquire an easement over an additional maximum of 55 acres. Graymont Mining submitted the final revision of their application less than two weeks prior to the decision—the latest in an ever-changing application. DNR protocol dictates a thirty day public comment period once any revisions are received; this time however, no such public comment period was allowed.

The state lands that Creagh decided to trade, sell or transfer to Graymont include areas of shallow soil over limestone. They may include alvar, a globally-rare community found only in three regions of the world, including the upper Great Lakes region of eastern Upper Michigan and nearby Ontario, which often support unique plant communities and rare plant and insect species. The diverse wetlands slated to be handed over to Graymont may also harbor rare plants. Documents posted on the DNR’s “Graymont Land Transaction” page include no mention of biological or rare species assessments being done in preparation for this land transfer.

In late February, a collective letter of opposition was sent to Director Creagh, outlining serious concerns with the proposed transaction, including displacement of existing limestone quarrying jobs and the loss of sustainable, long-term jobs in the forestry and tourism sectors, and noting that the sale of these lands would interfere with tribal rights by having an adverse impact on fishing, hunting and gathering activities of tribal members under the 1836 treaty.

The letter of opposition was jointly signed by individual citizens as well as major groups, including the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw’s (F.O.L.K.) Board of Directors, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, the Central U.P. Group of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, Save the Wild U.P., the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Students for Sustainability of Northern Michigan University, Northwoods Native Plant Society, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Against the Rexton Project, Concerned Clergy of Marquette, the Marquette Unitarian Universalists Social Action Committee and multiple individual property owners in Trout Lake, MI.

“The DNR hopes we’ll believe they’ve addressed all objections raised during the public comment period, but that’s obviously not true. Most of our concerns were ignored. The approval of this sale directly contradicts the DNR’s own mission of conservation, protection, and public enjoyment of public natural resources,“ said Maxwell.

“We are extremely disappointed!” said local Trout Lake resident Kathy English. “This is total disenfranchisement for the people living in the area, who will be adversely affected by this decision. It is a significant and decisive blow to the threatened and endangered plants and wildlife, unique geology, recreation and tourism. It makes the “PURE MICHIGAN” slogan a joke.“

After the decision was announced, Dr. Martin Reinhardt, an assistant professor of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University, and enrolled citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, along with Dr. Phil Bellfy, professor emeritus of American Indian Studies at Michigan State University and citizen of the White Earth Nation, filed an injunction against DNR Director Creagh citing violations of the 1836 Treaty of Washington between the U.S. federal government and the Ojibway Nations. While the injunction was dismissed, the judge acknowledged unresolved provisions related to the Consent Decree and tribally-held fishing rights.

“This decision to allow Graymont to open a mine near Rexton was highly irresponsible on the part of Director Creagh and the NRC,” said Reinhardt. “It really exemplifies how the State of Michigan is mismanaging public lands in violation of Anishinaabe treaty rights and human rights in general. You can get short term economic gains through these types of actions, but it will have severe repercussions for future generations. Our Anishinaabe ancestors warned us about this path of destruction, and it is up to us to stop it before it is too late.”

Graymont proposal area

Graymont proposal area

meme-Graymont-simplemessage

Founded in 1989, FOLK is an active all-volunteer organization located in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It works with other regional, state and national organizations to protect and preserve the ecological integrity of the Lake Superior Watershed. See their website, folkup.org, or follow FOLK on Facebook at facebook.com/folkorg.

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 info about their work, see savethewildup.org, or follow on Facebook facebook.com/savethewildup.

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Unified Opposition to Graymont ‘Land Transaction’!

Featured

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Unified Opposition to Graymont ‘Land Transaction’

MARQUETTE — Tribal officials, clergy, local residents and leading environmental organizations of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have joined forces to deliver a letter to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), outlining their collective opposition to the Graymont ‘Land Transaction.’

In a unified letter of opposition sent to the DNR’s Director Keith Creagh on Friday February 27th, they urge him to reject the Graymont land sale “which threatens to sacrifice public lands for the benefit of a foreign mining company, at the bargain price of a few hundred dollars per acre.”

Graymont, a Canadian mining company, first submitted an application to purchase over 10,000 acres of public land from the DNR in November of 2013. Graymont intends to construct surface limestone quarries and, eventually, an extensive underground mine. These lands are currently open to the public for hunting and recreational trails, supporting wildlife, and managed for timber — contiguous forest lands considered some of the most productive forest land in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

The area under consideration includes fragile wetlands and critical ecosystems. These public lands support unique hydrology and biodiversity, including “karst” habitat identified in Michigan’s Natural Features Inventory, limestone features (cliffs, pavement, sinkholes, caves) and special ecologies uniquely adapted to limestone: bats reliant on limestone caves, globally-rare “alvar” plant communities, and limestone wetlands critical to the endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, termed “one of North America’s rarest dragonflies” by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The collective letter of opposition is signed by individual citizens as well as major groups, including the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw’s Board of Directors, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, the Central U.P. Group of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, Save the Wild U.P., the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Students for Sustainability of Northern Michigan University, Northwoods Native Plant Society, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Against the Rexton Project, Concerned Clergy of Marquette, the Marquette Unitarian Universalists Social Action Committee and multiple individual property owners in Trout Lake, MI.

In the letter, the groups enumerate serious environmental and economic concerns, including “…the displacement of existing limestone quarrying jobs, and the loss of sustainable, long-term jobs in the forestry and tourism sectors.” In addition, “the sale of these lands interferes with Indian tribes’ rights by having an adverse impact on fishing, hunting and gathering activities of tribal members under the 1836 treaty.”

meme-Graymont-simplemessage

“Graymont recently revised the land transaction for the umpteenth time, increasing their proposed royalty payments to 18.75 cents per ton — but only for a short duration,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s president. “That’s a pittance in comparison to current market values and contemporary royalty offers. It all adds up to nothing, really.”

“These are serious and unresolvable objections,” said Alexandra Maxwell of Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), who helped organize the collective letter of opposition. “Our message to Director Creagh is simple: don’t make this deal.” According to Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P. has been following the developments of this project since Graymont submitted its application; SWUP and other groups have consistently attended public meetings and submitted commentary critical of this potential land sale. “Now a majority of environmental organizations and concerned citizens throughout the U.P. have reached a clear consensus–the Graymont project must be stopped.”

The DNR will be accepting written comment from the public concerning the newest revision of the Graymont proposal through March 19th. “We strongly urge folks to review the facts,” said Maxwell, “and then write directly to Director Creagh, asking him to reject the Graymont land deal. Concerned citizen still have time to protect their public lands, in their own words.”

Written commentary may be submitted to: DNR-GraymontProposalComments@michigan.gov

Comments can also be mailed to the Roscommon Customer Service Center, ATTN: Kerry Wieber, 8717 N. Roscommon Rd, Roscommon, MI 48653.

“A foreign mining company wants to buy 10,000 acres of our public land?” said Heideman. “By my calculation, that’s ten thousand great reasons to reject the deal.”

The group’s letter can be viewed or downloaded here:  Letter of Unified Opposition to Graymont Land Transaction

meme-Graymont-whatsatstake

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Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources. For more information or to schedule an interview, contact info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987.