Ore truck accident raises environmental concerns

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Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) was notified early Saturday morning (December 13th, 2014) by a concerned citizen that one of Eagle Mine’s ore trucks had overturned. The truck, hauling double trailers and fully loaded, was heading southbound on County Road 550 near Wetmore Landing.

Eagle Mine spokesman Dan Blondeau sent out a reassuring email on Saturday morning, in which he stated, “The load was contained and the truck was out of the way of traffic.” But Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s Interim Director, observed that “ore had spilled from the overturned truck, and the tarp of the second trailer was torn open.” Photographs from Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve document the spilled ore. Maxwell watched as crews working with heavy equipment and wreckers tried to raise the second trailer of the damaged ore truck. Their efforts closed CR 550 to traffic in both directions for more than an hour; later visits by Save the Wild U.P. confirmed that the road was closed most of the afternoon, blocking traffic until at least 5pm.

Eagle Mine stated, “Any potential impacts to the environment are being mitigated by Trimedia.” According to Maxwell, however, workers on the scene “were occasionally stooping over to pick up rocks from the ditch by hand, and tossing them into a container. Was that their mitigation plan? One worker was carrying a shovel, others were standing around two closed cardboard boxes, presumably containing environmental mitigation supplies. No plastic barriers were placed in the ditches — although snow was melting.”

Save the Wild U.P. has long raised concerns about Eagle Mine’s lack of a transportation plan, as required by Michigan’s Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining Regulations, Part 632. Under Rule 103, “Mining Activity” clearly includes transportation of ore, and Rule 203 states: “The mining, reclamation, and environmental protection plan (…) shall include, at a minimum, (xviii) roads, railroads, docks, piers, and other transportation infrastructure, and provisions to prevent release of contaminants to the environment from ore or waste rock during transportation.”

According to attorney Michelle Halley, “This accident demonstrates why it is important for the State of Michigan to require Lundin to assess the environmental impacts of all mining activities including hauling ore on the designated transportation route. That analysis is required under Part 632, but to this day the State has failed to apply or enforce it.”

Alexandra Maxwell agrees. “Throughout the process, we’ve seen Eagle Mine ignoring environmental impact assessments while burying infrastructure, building bridges, and funding a paved haul road. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

For Cynthia Pryor, Big Bay resident and longtime environmental advocate, Saturday morning’s accident raises serious safety concerns. “We should reexamine Eagle Mine’s hauling operations. First, vehicles are traveling at excessive speeds. Lundin needs to self-limit these heavily loaded, top-heavy trucks to 45 miles per hour, from Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill. Second, why are they hauling double trailer loads in winter? Workers at Tilden Mine say they never transport the second pup (trailer) in winter, due to safety concerns.”

Pryor notes that “Eagle Mine’s permit stated the ore would be contained by a hard cover, but they asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for a permit amendment, stating it was easier to load and unload with soft covers. The canvas cover was torn in this accident, and sulfide ore was released into the environment. Finally, how many loads had this driver already hauled? The trucks are running multiple round-trips per day, 24/7. The accident happened at 3:00 am on clear roads. Was the driver properly rested?”

Peter Sheret, a nearby resident, has observed ore trucks and other mine vehicles exceeding the speed limits on a regular basis. “Last Saturday night, as I was heading toward Eagles Nest Road, I met one of these ore trucks just coming down from ‘Passing Lane Hill’. He whizzed past me at the fastest speed I have seen yet. It’s clearly risky.”

SWUP board member Chip Truscon fears such incidents will be repeated. “This isn’t simply metallic ore, it is massive and semi-massive sulfide ore, which turns into sulfuric acid when it hits air and water. And what if Eagle Mine is moving radioactive rock? How do we protect our water?”

Pryor asks, “Why are these trucks not marked clearly ‘Eagle Mine’? All trucks carrying sulfide ore in our community should be clearly marked. We have a right to know that a truck passing our home, business or school is carrying sulfide ore — emergency responders need this information, too.”

SWUP president Kathleen Heideman is outraged. “There’s no way that Eagle Mine could have fixed the problem if that ore truck had overturned on the other side of the road — it would have ended up in Lake Superior! Where’s the emergency plan for that?”

Save the Wild U.P. was formed in 2004 to protect the U.P.’s unique communities, lakes, and lands from the hazards of sulfide mining, which threatens to contaminate the Lake Superior Watershed with acid mine drainage.

Open Letter to Michigan DNR: Deny Mineral Lease!

Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst, Minerals Management

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
P.O. Box 30452
Lansing, MI 48909

Dear Karen Maidlow,

This letter is with regard to land owned by the State of Michigan on the Yellow Dog Plains and next to the Yellow Dog River in Michigamme Township, Marquette County (40 acres, NE1/4 SE1/4, Sec.13, T50N, R29W).

I am a property owner on the west side of Eagle Mine and also on the east side.  We have owned our property since 1949, and built a seasonal home there. The Eagle Mine has taken away the wilderness we have previously enjoyed.

I feel the DNR is mandated to care for the resources on Michigan-owned land for all citizens of Michigan, both living and future generations. Michigan is known throughout the country for our valuable natural resources.

You recently stated in an interview, “All we’re doing is saying that if there’s activity on state-owned land, we need to be paid for it. That’s what the lease does.”  You must understand, however, that this public land is more valuable because its minerals have not been leased, because natural resources on the surface are not undermined or threatened by mine activity.  What value does the DNR assign to silence, to the tranquility of being in a wilderness area, to the experience of seeing wild animals and sleeping to the sound of wolves howling at night? What value does the DNR assign to the health of the Yellow Dog River, spring-fed lakes, or a drink of pure, cold spring-water?  How do you put a price-tag on the experience of a family picking a full pail of wild blueberries, kneeling in soft reindeer lichen, enjoying pine-fresh air unpolluted by industry?

Clearly, Eagle Mine has removed value from public land. They have taken away the resources I describe above, along with their ore.  Their profits go to stockholders in other states and countries with precious little benefit for the citizens of Michigan.  Future generations will not have the pleasure of  breathing clean air and enjoying pure water.  The mine has drawn up so much water from the aquifer that we cannot hand-pump our needs for the cabin.  Animals we used to enjoy seeing are dislocated from their places of feeding and nesting: the mine already occupies so much acreage with noise, pollution and vehicle activity that our wildlife are forced from their native habitats. By allowing more mineral exploration, the DNR is not caring for Michigan’s natural resources. The DNR will be leaving our children with holes filled with waste rock and tailings to replace the minerals extracted from below.  Will our water ever be the same again?

Test-drilling for minerals on state-owned land must cease! The DNR must recognize that protecting all of our state’s natural resources is more than seeking glad-handing and backslapping from corporate executives. The constitution and laws of the State of Michigan are intended to serve the public, not the whims of Eagle Mine or Lundin Mining!

The DNR is not obligated to lease additional mineral rights simply because a mine requests them.  Eagle Mine will be gone when they obtain what they came for,  leaving a barren landscape in their wake. Michigan’s citizens deserve better. Our regulatory agencies must stop serving profit-minded shareholders and begin to preserve and protect the experience of wilderness as it was before the mine — for all to enjoy.

I am asking you to deny Eagle Mine’s request for a new mineral lease on the Yellow Dog Plains (NE1/4 SE1/4, Sec.13, T50N, R29W).  Please hold a public hearing concerning this lease request.

Sincerely,

June E. Rydholm
Marquette MI

November 8, 2014

Aerial photo by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.

Aerial photo by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.

* Note: we’re partnering with the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve to send a unified, clear message to the Michigan DNR: deny Eagle Mine’s application for a mineral lease on the Yellow Dog River!

Protect your public lands and clean water: sign the petition here.

 

Motives questioned on the Yellow Dog Plains

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Published in the Mining Journal, November 12, 2014.

To the Journal editor:

So the Eagle Mine has set its eyes on 40 more acres of state land on the Yellow Dog Plains (Oct. 30 article by John Pepin), for geological exploration and supposedly not for a new mine.

This exploration is, as Eagle Mine spokesman Dan Blondeau explains, “part of our commitment to the community,” apparently to grow the mine. At best, this is an odd use of “commitment” and “community,” and at worst an exercise in Corporate Speak.

I have watched this mine develop over the last ten years as a watchful and dismayed observer. It was to be a small remote mine site, a limited, respectful cut into the earth with minimal impact on its wildland setting.

And then the mine portal got pounded into Eagle Rock, a site sacred to the Anishinaabe. The generator-only power system ended up on the grid, with cables laid to the mine site. The trucking of ore to a railhead north of Marquette was forgotten long ago. The “woodland” haul road along the Triple A has turned into a full-blown super highway that has re-engineered the landscape. Lundin Mining Corp., which took over Eagle Mine two years ago, seems to have an eraser for a memory when it comes to commitments.

Eagle Mine seems to be betting that all the “community” wants is economic development that benefits humans. But the Yellow Dog Plains is one of those storied places in our collective imagination. That place, and the larger community we live in, includes rivers, forests, wildlife, rocks and waterfalls, and quiet backwoods camps.

Surface drilling, as Lundin intends on this parcel of state land, may or may not lead to a new mine, but will have impacts right on the edge of the Yellow Dog River floodplain. If this were private land, we would have little say, but this is our land, public land, and the public should have a big say in what happens there.

What would our reaction be if a foreign mining corporation wanted to do exploratory drilling in Presque Isle Park? You would hear the uproar all the way to Big Bay.

We need a public hearing on this proposal. Too much is at stake.

Jon Saari, vice president, Save the Wild U.P

* For detailed information on the proposed mineral lease, see our press release.

SWUP has worked closely with Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve to ensure that citizens have an opportunity to voice their concerns, and protect the wild lands and pristine waters of the Yellow Dog Plains. We’ve created a petition calling on Michigan’s DNR to deny this new mineral lease.

Protect your public lands and clean water: sign the petition here.

Photo Contest Winners, Calendar Sales and a Winter Bash!

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Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is pleased to announce the winners of its Intern Corps-led Photography contest: A Sense of Place: Nature, Industry and Culture in the Upper Peninsula. The contest was open to all residents of the Upper Peninsula and highlighted the unique blend of natural beauty and industrial history of the Upper Peninsula. The contest ran for five weeks and SWUP received submissions from all across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Contest judges Melissa Matuscak, Christine Hinz-Lenzen, and Shawn Malone are celebrated cultural leaders in the Upper Peninsula. Melissa Matuscak is the curator and director of the DeVos Art Museum at  Northern Michigan University (NMU). Christine Hinz-Lenzen is an Assistant Professor at NMU, and her work has been shown across the country and in Nova Scotia. Shawn Malone runs a photography gallery of her work, Lake Superior Photo in downtown Marquette, and her work has appeared on NBC, CBS, PBS and FOX.

The winning images are featured in Save the Wild U.P.’s 2015 Calendar, and will be shown at a public celebration and Winter Bash on Wednesday, January 21st from 7-9 pm at the Ore Dock Brewing Company. This event will feature music by local band Sparrow Tree and Dia De Los Tacos will be selling tacos. “This project was a fantastic way to unite the artistic and naturalist communities toward the common goal of protecting our wild places and sources of inspiration,” said Alexandra Maxwell, who coordinated this semester’s Intern Corp program at Northern Michigan University.

Save the Wild U.P.’s Intern Corps worked on the details and behind-the-scenes aspects of the photo contest since the beginning of this semester. SWUP’s Internship program aims to empower tomorrow’s grassroots leaders. NMU students design and implement unique projects dedicated to engaging community members as concerned citizens and advocates for economic security and environmental stewardship. A Sense of Place: Nature, History and Industry of the Upper Peninsula was organized by interns dedicated  to creating community engagement through creative outreach.

The winners, in no rank, are as follows:

  • Danielle Adams, “Out of the Fog”

  • Glenn Perrow, “Reflections”

  • Corey Kelly, “Kiln Mangum Rd #3

  • Paul Nelson, “Moonlit Presque”

  • Colton Wesoloski, “Old Reliable”

  • Lindsay Bean, “Red Ice”

  • Chris Canchola, “Leaching Limonite”

  • Seija Kenn, “Foggy Morning”

  • Alyssa Peterson, “Sticky Icky Snow”

  • Alex Maier, “Roundabout to the Light”

You can pre-order your calendar now! We have an online store, just click right here.  Pick up your calendar beginning Monday, December 8th at the legendary Dead River Coffee Roasters in downtown Marquette. If you order online before December 8th, the calendar is only $18!  After the 8th, they go up to $20. Act now! Buy these one-of-a-kind calendars for everyone in your family!

Follow us on Facebook for our holiday, pop-up calendar sale announcements and of course for up-to-date news on everything Save the Wild U.P.

 


 

Eagle Mine seeks new mineral lease, Save the Wild U.P. demands Public Hearing

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SWUP-lease-banner
MARQUETTE – The Eagle Mine LLC, currently owned by international mining conglomerate Lundin Mining, is seeking a new mineral lease from the State of Michigan for 40 acres of land (NE 1/4 SE 1/4, Section 13, T50N, R29W, Michigamme Township, Marquette County) beside the Yellow Dog River, a federally-recognized National Wild and Scenic River with a status of ‘excellent’ water quality.

According to documents obtained by grassroots organization Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has known about this application since July. The DNR’s announcement of Lundin Mining’s mineral rights lease application was published on Monday October 20th, 2014, commencing a legally-required 30-day public comment period.

SWUP contends the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have institutional conflicts of interest in regulating metallic sulfide mining. Most recently, the organization has found that just one month after Lundin’s Eagle Mine submitted a letter of interest to Michigan’s DNR, the DNR Fisheries Division changed its 2003 recommendation of “Non-development” to “Development, with no restrictions” in August of this year. DNR retains restrictions on the property for a recreational trail, endangered plants, and “neotropical migrants” including Kirtland’s warbler.plat

SWUP encourages concerned citizens to demand a Public Hearing and a transparent, democratic evaluation of the proposed lease by sending an email Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst, Minerals Management, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, at maidlowk@michigan.gov, while copying info@savethewildup.org as the organizations is maintaining an independent analysis of comments received. Comments regarding the mineral rights lease can be mailed directly to Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst, Minerals Management, DNR, P.O. Box 30452, Lansing, MI 48909.

“It’s no surprise that Lundin is seeking to lease more minerals,” says attorney Michelle Halley. “Save the Wild U.P., the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, and others have known that Eagle Mine is just the beginning of a regional mining development strategy. In the long term, the public will pay a high price for mining projects performed with inadequate permitting, monitoring and enforcement.”

Save the Wild U.P.’s president Kathleen Heideman is outraged. “It’s alarming that the State of Michigan is seriously considering this mineral lease request. The land in question is only one hundred feet from the Yellow Dog River’s 100-year floodplain, which means the land is vulnerable to extreme flooding events (King & MacGregor Environmental, Inc., 2011). For me, that’s a giant neon sign spelling R-I-S-K-Y: sulfide ore and water are a dangerous mix! Also, the DNR’s Wildlife staff identified the land as habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler, a state and federally-listed Threatened and Endangered species.”

“Mining activity on this land poses a direct threat to the Yellow Dog River: land disturbance, drilling contamination, groundwater impairment, surface water pollution, you name it. The DNR needs to reconsider their classification of the property’s restrictions. Given the river’s proximity, this land is absolutely too sensitive to allow mining development,” says Cynthia Pryor, watershed resident and dedicated environmental watchdog.

According to SWUP Director Alexandra Thebert, “Leasing mineral rights means drilling, and drilling can quickly lead to a new mine. We must ensure that the enormous liability of mining on State-owned land isn’t a burden shifted to taxpayers while increasing the profits of a foreign mining company.”

“Public lands belong to the public — not private corporations. This is not an isolated parcel of surplus land,” said Jon Saari, vice president of SWUP. “It adjoins another 840 acres of contiguous State Land on the Yellow Dog Plains.” Current recreational use includes camping, fishing, hunting, ATV riding, and snowmobiling. Marquette County’s Snowmobile Trail #5 runs right through the property – as does the controversial County Road 595 route defeated last year.

Gene Champagne, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, sees a pattern of deception and creeping industrialization of the Yellow Dog Plains. “Clearly, mineral leasing leads to surface operations – and the land under consideration in this proposed mineral lease is only half a mile from the freshly-paved Triple A road. We renew our call for a federal corruption investigation concerning the State’s failure to regulate Eagle Mine, fraudulent permitting, bait-and-switch electrical infrastructure, the steamrolling of road upgrades, and total disregard for cumulative environmental impacts.”

“This mineral lease request should be denied,” agreed Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP outreach coordinator. “Metallic mineral lease of this land would serve only the short-term goals of Industry at the immediate and long-term expense of taxpayers. Once again, the State of Michigan seems wholly incapable of serving the public trust. We demand that a Public Hearing be held.”

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is dedicated to protecting our communities, lakes, and lands from the hazards of sulfide mining, which threatens 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.

* Note: we’re partnering with the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve to send a unified, clear message to the Michigan DNR: deny Eagle Mine’s application for a mineral lease on the Yellow Dog River!

Protect your public lands and clean water: sign the petition here.

 

CR 595 – Under Construction?


View CR 595 – Under Construction? in a larger map

CHAMPION – Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has released over 300 geotagged photos of bulldozing and road construction along the previously-defeated CR 595 route which was proposed as a direct route from the Lundin Eagle Mine near Big Bay to the Humboldt Mill along U.S. 41 near Champion in Marquette County, Michigan.

The photos were taken after SWUP was alerted to major road construction taking place at the remote headwaters of the Mulligan Creek by a member of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve’s RiverKeeper program.

Construction along this route included multiple instances of wetlands impacts, including unpermitted culvert installation and wetlands dredging and filling, with no evidence of a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit – a permit required by law to alter or destroy wetlands during the permitting review of the CR 595 proposal.

SWUP President Kathleen Heideman is outraged. “We’ve already been through an administrative process during which three federal agencies determined that the CR 595 development should not occur. If that’s what’s occurring now – if the construction happening out at the Mulligan Creek is just a backdoor for building CR 595 after all – then this is illegal,” said Heideman.

“The EPA’s decision was very clear: no CR 595 route should be constructed. Now the Mulligan Creek and its fragile headwaters are being gouged, dredged, driven-through, filled, and degraded – it is absolutely obscene. We’re demanding that the MDEQ, EPA, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers get involved up here — boots on the ground — pronto,” said Heideman.

In 2011, a Wetland Delineation Report was conducted on the CR 595 corridor for the Marquette County Road Commission, delineating the wetlands boundaries in the area.

“None of the contractors, logging companies, MDEQ, or the Marquette County Road Commission can claim they did not know there are wetlands here. There is a 742 page report clearly outlining the wetlands surrounding the CR 595 route, including the Mulligan Creek,” said retired chemistry professor and SWUP board member Gail Griffith.

Botanist Steve Garske, who also serves as Secretary for SWUP has personal experience with the area, said, “When I traveled through the proposed CR 595 route in 2009, I saw hundreds of narrow-leaved gentian plants beside the road in the Mulligan Creek headwaters area, as well as a population of the rare Farwell’s milfoil in at least one of the streams near the road. At that time, the CR 595 route was a rutted 2-track, a snowmobile trail. This gentian is rare in Michigan – it occurs in only three counties in the state. When they bulldozed this new, unpermitted road they undoubtedly buried, destroyed, or otherwise degraded colonies of this protected species, a clear violation of state law.”

“This is an egregious wetland fill. No attempt has been made to control erosion. The black silt fencing used in every other road construction project is nonexistent here. Already several of the culverts are completely plugged with sand, and sand and silt are washing down into the streams and wetlands – and no evidence of permits exists for multiple poorly-installed culverts,” said Garske.

“Any new roads being constructed in this environmentally sensitive area should be reviewed as part of a network of related actions. We need to stop the creeping incrementalism – a new bridge here, new culverts there, wetland destruction along the way. Cumulative impacts must be considered. That’s precisely what makes the CR 595 proposal a bad deal for taxpayers and environment. We will continue to report on this issue – democracy must not take a back seat solely for a haul road connecting the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill,” said Alexandra Thebert, SWUP executive director.

According to the one current permit granted by the Michigan DEQ (posted at 46.69° N and 87.9° W), only “snowmobile trail”-related bridge work is authorized. Bridge materials are documented in the photographs on the north end of the snowmobile trail near the Yellow Dog River by a site where a contractor is currently “replacing” a series of culverts installed during the late 1990s – no permits are visible for multiple culvert installations.

Save the Wild U.P. was formed in 2004 to protect the U.P.’s unique communities, lakes, and lands from the hazards of sulfide mining, which threatens to contaminate the Lake Superior Watershed with acid mine drainage.

 

At the Bottom of the Eagle Mining Venture: A very rich orebody, politics, lies, and a gigantic fraud

By Jack Parker, mine engineer and geologist | March 17th, 2014

The presence of an extremely rich orebody has been proven by thousands of feet of diamond drilling. Of that there is no doubt. An early estimate for the value of the minerals contained was around 4.7 billion dollars.

Kennecott presented their application for permits to mine in 2006. Copies of the document are available. Make sure that you do not get a modified version. With Stan Vitton, Mining Professor at MTU, I, Jack Parker, Mining Engineer and Geologist (resume on-line) was hired by National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to evaluate and report on the mining, geological and rock mechanics sections of the application.

Within a few weeks we recommended that the application be returned to sender as unacceptable. We could not believe that it had been prepared and proffered by professionals. It had not even been proofed for typos. Technically it was incomplete and incompetent, as if prepared by high school students. The regulating agency, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), did not reject it, despite a similar evaluation by their hired expert, David Sainsbury, of international consulting firm Itasca, who summed up by saying that the conclusions in the application were not supported by fact.

Stan and I continued to evaluate the proposed Eagle project after the funding had run out – I still do, after eight years. Within a year we had clear proof that the original data from the diamond-drilling had been tampered with, rather crudely, before submitting to mine designers and planners – to make the rocks and the plan look good and acceptable. The truth is that if the data input is corrected, the same plan shows a safety factor lower than 1.0, indicating probably instability of the mine structure as planned.

Instability, hence endangerment to life and limb and property and environment, is obviously not acceptable, yet MDEQ does not recognize it. They ignore it.

There is no provision for simply erasing errors and doing things differently. Part 632, the legislation governing nonferrous mining in Michigan, states that a person presenting false information in the permitting process, or knowingly accepting it, is a felon and should be prosecuted accordingly. Amendments can be submitted but they must be processed thru the initial permitting procedures – including public input.

MDEQ accepts “amendments” without public input. The Humboldt Mill must be full of them.
A legal problem is that – not many years ago – the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delegated jurisdiction on mining regulations to MDEQ – and MDEQ now finds themselves inextricably in bed with Kennecott and their successors – as felons. I have pursued the matter with all offices of justice from local cops and all the way to the US Attorney General, and all decline to prosecute this 4.7 billion dollar fraud – “having no jurisdiction.” More clever politics.

The longer the process is drawn out – the worse it gets. As far as I am concerned the details, such as water quality “exceedances”, will go away. At present they constitute a mild digression helpful to the criminals.

All I ask is that we check the application with a group of mining professionals, declare it illegal and fraudulent, then enforce the Michigan law – which is also available online.
Check page 14 (4) of Part 632.

Poets “Put the Wild into Words”

Check out all the winning poems from Save the Wild U.P.’s 2014 Poetry Contest!

Please join us April 30th, 7 pm, at Peter White Public Library’s Shiras Room for a poetry reading with winners and U.P. Poet Laureate Russell Thorburn!

First Prize — Milton Bates, ‘In Wildness’
Second Prize — Marie Barry, ‘The Cabin at Burns Landing’
Third Prize — Meghan Stan, ‘Patience Among the Cattails’
Honorable Mentions
Genean Granger, ‘The Road In’
Matt Maki, ‘Evidence’
Rochelle Dale, ‘Primary’

Eminent domain use in road issue is dangerous | Gene Champagne

Guest op-ed | The Mining Journal

People far and wide, familiar with Upper Peninsula residents, speak admirably of their independence and individualism. This individualism demands adherence to personal liberties and rights for all. We are portrayed as ardent defenders of free speech, Second Amendment rights, and private property rights. This view may need to be reconsidered.

At the last Marquette County Road Commission meeting on Feb.17, the MCRC made the decision to pursue eminent domain proceedings against the owners of private property to satisfy their current road plans to upgrade County Road AAA in Northern Marquette County.

Eminent domain is a legal process allowing government to seize private property (with compensation) if it can demonstrate an overwhelming and necessary public good from doing so. The MCRC has declared that the AAA Road upgrade is for the public good.

The construction of the Eagle Mine was done with nary a traffic incident. This included much heavier traffic that the actual operation of the mine will witness.

All shapes and sizes of equipment were safely transported. The road does not need to be widened so excessively, even as an all-season road, to remain safe. The realignment should not necessitate eminent domain.

Apparently the MCRC must have missed a few points the public made at a good number of public meetings. The public overwhelmingly told the MCRC that they did not want: 1) an overly widened road, as depicted in current engineering designs; 2) eminent domain proceedings against private property owners; 3) a 55 mph speed limit; and 4) a fragmented design and construction process. These meetings were well attended by local citizens who use this road for a wide variety of purposes and will continue traveling these roads when the Eagle Mine trucks start rolling next fall.

Throughout the entirety of the meetings, there was only one person spoke in support of the MCRC plan. Apparently we have another case of the government knowing what is best for the people who are too uninformed and cannot be trusted to make good decisions on their own.

One family has had the gall to say “No!” to selling their property, hence the eminent domain proceeding. Who has the money to fight a costly eminent domain case in the courts?

Not many I imagine. The MCRC has in the neighborhood of $100,000 set aside for such legal processes and proceedings. The money came from Eagle Mine, a wholly owned subsidiary of a foreign mining company, Lundin.

Jim Iwanicki, the engineer-manager for the MCRC, admits that the county would not be building – excuse me – “upgrading” this road without the money from Lundin and Eagle Mine paying for the entire cost.

Would that not make this project a private convenience and not an overwhelming public good?

The permit for Eagle Mine does not mention the need for realignment or upgrades, nor does it cite safety concerns. This “upgrade” has led us to the slippery slope of eminent domain for the convenience of a private foreign corporation.

This use of eminent domain will set a very dangerous and ominous precedent for the future of U.P. residents. If the travesty of taking away private property in this fashion is allowed then any foreign or domestic corporation may simply give a pile of cash to a willing government agency, tell them what they want done, and have the agency use a similar broad brush and declare for the public good; thus giving them the power to seize private property.

Personally, I like the members of the MCRC and the engineer-manager, but collectively they have made a decision that would make Putin proud.

So what shall we do? If seizing private property in this manner is just fine with you, then do nothing. Your silence will allow the process to move forward. Just hope that you are not next.

If there is something about this process that bothers you, and it should regardless of your views about this particular mining project, then demand that the MCRC drop any eminent domain proceedings and re-engineer their plans accordingly.

The next MCRC regular board meeting is 6 p.m. March 17 at the main office in Ishpeming.

We can continue our U.P. tradition of individualism and private rights, or we can go along quietly as our constitutional rights are slowly taken away and given to those with the ability to purchase them.

Editor’s note: Gene Champagne is a resident of Powell Township.

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