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SWUP President to MDEQ: Regulate, don’t facilitate

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The following is SWUP President Kathleen Heideman’s letter to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality concerning the proposed Groundwater Discharge Permit at the Eagle project.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Permits Section
Water Resources Division
DEQ Box 30458
Lansing, MI 98909

Attention: Rick D. Rusz, Groundwater Permits Unit
Attention: Jeanette Baily, Project Coordinator

Dear Ms. Bailey and Mr. Rusz:

In writing this letter, I am respectfully submitting my comments to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) on the proposed revision of the groundwater discharge permit (#GW1810162) for mining wastewater discharges and other discharges, as authorized by the rapid infiltration system (TWIS) at the Eagle Mine in Marquette County, MI.

Eagle Mine, currently owned by Lundin Mining (and formerly owned by Rio Tinto) is currently permitted to construct a sulfide nickel-copper mine on the Yellow Dog Plains of Upper Michigan, with direct and indirect impacts to the Yellow Dog River Watershed, the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River, numerous groundwater-spring-fed tributaries of the Salmon Trout, and the groundwater systems underlying the Yellow Dog Plains (which remains poorly understood). The mine is publicly stating that mining operations will begin later this year.

As an adjacent landowner to Eagle Mine property, and given our reliance on several shallow wells used in our cabins, and given the presence of marshy lakes, wetlands and spring-fed ponds on our family’s lands, this groundwater discharge permit is troubling and appears deeply flawed on multiple levels — legal, regulatory, ethical, scientific and practical flaws abound.

LUNDIN MINING BEARS BURDEN OF PROOF

Regulatory oversight demands limits and enforcement. We refuse to take Eagle Mine’s “word for it” when it comes to clean water.

In applying to renew this groundwater discharge permit, which it acquired as part of the Eagle Mine purchase, Lundin Mining has the renewed burden of proving that Eagle Mine’s operations “will not pollute, impair or destroy natural resources.” Further, the Eagle facility must comply with EPA and State guidelines for water quality, specifically Michigan’s Part 632 and the Part 22 standards and statutes concerning groundwater, and MDEQ must strictly enforce those limits, and not assist the company to explain away or excuse any violations.

STRICT, CONSERVATIVE ENFORCEABLE LIMITS FOR DISCHARGED POLLUTANTS

Repeatedly, MDEQ officials and the Eagle Mine public relations team have made statements reassuring the public that this permit is just a formality, something that needs to be renewed every five years, nothing to worry about. This is insulting. A Groundwater Discharge Permit is not a document to take lightly: this is a permission slip, authorizing a global mining corporation to pollute Michigan waters UP TO any and all numeric limits set in the permit. Eagle Mine, in recent interviews and statements to the press, repeatedly downplayed the great volume of discharge authorized by this permit — HALF A MILLION GALLONS A DAY of DISCHARGED EFFLUENT — by saying they are only discharging a smaller amount at this time. MDEQ staff have also repeated this line – reminding the public that the volume of total discharges are currently lower. Nevertheless, 504,0000 gallons of daily discharges are authorized by the permit, because that is what Eagle Mine requested, based on their calculations of total expected discharges. That permitted number, half a million gallons of discharge permitted per day, remains unchanged.

What has changed? Plenty:

  • Ownership of the mine has changed.
  • The mine’s critical permit authorizing air pollution has been changed — to entirely eliminate pollution controls on the MVAR, which has direct impacts on groundwater and surface water quality.
  • This permit includes proposed changes to the Reporting Methods which include numerous “report only” and phone call reports: this will only make it more difficult for citizens to learn about groundwater compliance problems, when violations occur, or performance issues with the mine’s WWTF. The proposed changes to reporting methods serve only to obfuscate. At the public hearing, MDEQ acknowledged that if there was a problem reported (by phone to an MDEQ staff member), “he’d make a note and put it in a file.” This is ridiculously old-fashioned and certainly not transparent. The state’s electronic systems used to report water-quality and WWTF malfunctions need to be comprehensive in scope and consistently implemented.
  • This permit includes proposed changes to Effluent Limits that will degrade water quality.
  • This permit includes proposed changes to the Groundwater Limits for compliance wells which will undermine water quality
  • Finally, Eagle Mine suggests that the site’s “natural conditions” have changed!

MDEQ — on behalf of Lundin — is requesting increased limits due to some unspecified “natural conditions” in soils and groundwater. At the recent public hearing, anecdotally, MDEQ explained that the “new background data” is based on “data gathered between 2008 and 2011 or 2012.” No data was presented to substantiate this claim, no maps or spreadsheets containing dated sampling done by MDEQ has been shared, and there seems to be no third party water analysis or corroboration of this new “baseline” data. This request would establish a dangerous precedent: mines being permitted on the basis of one set of background data, then requesting changes to background data after the permits have been issued.

What are the actual “natural background conditions?” Compared with data from groundwater studies conducted for Rio Tinto by North Jackson, Golder Associates and TriMatrix analysis from 2004 and 2005, the new permit levels authorize exponentially MORE POLLUTION than natural background conditions actually dictate. Many of the initial levels were barely registering any level for monitored pollutants.

Some examples: most recently, in quarter 4 of 2013, chloride levels in an D-level well near the TDRSA registered more than 600 mg/L for chloride. The federal limit is 250 mg/L. By comparison, a bedrock A-level well at Eagle, tested in 2004, registered 18 mg/L for chloride. Something has changed, but it isn’t the natural soil conditions. At the hearing, MDEQ staff acknowledged that the chloride exceedances continue to be upward trending “over 700 mg/L.” And yet, MDEQ has failed to issue a single groundwater quality violation!

If anything — given the large number and recent history of exceedances for salts and metals at the Eagle facility, numeric limits need to be tightened, and the water treatment system should undergo independent certification to prove that it is working as intended. Raising the limits to match a facility’s poorer-than-expected performance is poor science, and fails to be protective of either groundwater or surface water quality.

According to Eagle Mine, we are told that “natural background conditions” have somehow changed — and that the data collected during Rio Tinto’s baseline hydrologic and geologic assessment phase was spotty, not comprehensive in scope, and now MDEQ must raise the limits to accommodate the mine’s recent exceedances, rather than adhere to limits set by the original permit. With the exception of vanadium and uranium, all constituents were defined by the mine’s initial baseline data.

Eagle project was granted their mining permit on the basis of that baseline data — groundwater data, surface water data, rock data, aquifer flow data, etc. During the contested case, the groundwater permit was presented by Kennecott, and the groundwater discharge permit was defended on the basis of that early background sampling. *IF* the baseline data used to determine Eagle Mine’s underlying assumptions about water quality and hydrogeological assessments is now deemed, in 2014, to be untrustworthy or insufficient, then the public must have no faith in the mine’s permitting process, and the mine should be formally required to get a new mining permit which includes ALL AVAILABLE NEW DATA, including water monitoring by all parties, exceedances, etc.

VIOLATIONS

When the first Groundwater Discharge Permit for Eagle Mine was being hammered out, Rio Tinto-Kennecott assured the public that they were investing in Upper Michigan for the long term, and that they shared our concern for clean water. “Your community is our community” they said. “This is where our children play, where we plan on staying for the long haul.” Rio Tinto / Kennecott has since sold the Eagle project to Lundin Mining. So much for the long term and water quality. Protecting water quality is not easy, and not cheap, but the alternative is not pretty. When our water quality is degraded by an industry, MDEQ must issue violations.

Depending on which situations are counted, exceedances related to water quality and water monitoring at the Eagle project total between 45 and 110 violations! The exceedances were not minor – in a recent cases, exceedances were more than twice the EPA’s enforceable water standards. A number of the violations had to do with pH, ironically, since this is a “world class water treatment facility” and pH treatment lies at the core of its many touted features. Effluent exceeded pH limits on multiple occasions, and in several cases they couldn’t close the valve very quickly once they realized what was happening.

Yet none of these violations has produced a single fine from the Michigan DEQ, or an independent verification of the “natural soil conditions” being blamed, or a review of the equipment being blamed at the treatment plant.

MERCURY LIMITS

Mercury testing mentions a quantification level of 0.5 ng/l unless “higher level is appropriate” due to “sample matrix interference.” Please clarify whether sample matrix interference has been calculated or anticipated? If it has not been calculated or anticipated, why not? The mine’s exemption for allowable mercury should be reconsidered in this groundwater discharge permit. How is this limit protective of surface waters, which are already impaired by mercury? Will the mine’s self-monitoring data for mercury (submitted to the MDEQ via e2-DMR) be made available for public review? Has the direct addition of mercury (air-born deposition from unfiltered MVAR-pollution) been calculated, and that total subtracted from the allowable limits, to remain protective of groundwater and surface water?

pH LIMITS

The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that drinking water should have a pH between 6.5 and 8.5 (http://www.agwt.org/content/acid-rain-and-ground-water-ph); given the Federal guidelines, the MDEQ would be irresponsible if it raised the allowable pH in Eagle’s monitoring wells. Groundwater tests in the mine area are indicating alkaline groundwater (the bonding and water-transport of heavy metals is impacted by the pH of water). Increasing the allowable limit only increases that problem. The pH limit set for compliance wells in the original groundwater discharge permit already exceeds the EPA’s range for groundwater pH.

According to A Citizen’s Guide to Understanding and Monitoring Lakes and Streams:

“Pollution may cause a long-term increase in pH. The more common concern is changes in pH caused by discharge of municipal or industrial effluents. However, most effluent pH is fairly easy to control, and all discharges in Washington State are required to have a pH between 6.0 and 9.0 standard pH units, a range that protects most aquatic life. So, although these discharges may have a measurable impact on pH, it would be unusual (except in the case of treatment plant malfunction) for pH to extend beyond the range for safety of aquatic life. However, since pH greatly influences the availability and solubility of all chemical forms in the stream, small changes in pH can have many indirect impacts on a stream.”

For this reason, increasing the pH of a discharge which shortly vents to surface waters is not protective of groundwater – and certainly not protective of surface water. A third of a mile away from the compliance wells, groundwater with a higher than natural pH could soon be emerging from the hillside, in the form of springs and spring-fed tributaries of the Salmon Trout River. Water monitoring of these streams, and the Salmon Trout River, has shown consistent surface water pH ranges between 6 and 7.5.

MDEQ limnology data from 2004 supports very low initial natural levels and a natural pH as low as 6.1 in the adjacent Salmon Trout’s headwaters. This is corroborated by data collected by Yellow Dog Watershed and USGS. Raising the groundwater discharge permit’s levels will fail to be protective of the stream’s natural pH, and aquatic stream life.

URANIUM MONITORING

Given the 2013 confirmation of uranium in waters at the Eagle Mine facility, uranium in effluent exceeding 5 ug/L will now require reporting, and some indication of the “source.” Confirming the source of the contamination — why has this not been done already? No hard evidence was made available to the public to support Eagle’s ‘uranium in imported rock’ theory.

We are reassured that the uranium is being removed during the water treatment process, along with salts and heavy metals. And yet, according to the CEMP website, the “water quality in the TDRSA and Water Treatment Plant is not regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Water quality is covered under Eagle Mine’s Mine Permit and Groundwater Discharge Permit, but neither has requirements or limits for uranium. Accordingly, the detection of uranium is not a violation of any current state or federal permit.”

Given the known presence of uranium in the water at Eagle mine, the lack of concrete evidence provided by either Rio Tinto or Lundin for the uranium’s source, and public discomfort regarding the presence of a radioactive substance that could contaminate water at Eagle Mine, strict numeric limits for uranium MUST be added for groundwater monitoring.

According to an MDEQ statement: “A new standard requires monitoring for uranium in the wastewater produced by the mine. If it ever is detected at even a fraction of the safe drinking water standard, the mine must take steps to (?) reduce or eliminate the source of uranium.” Alas, “taking steps” is not an enforceable action, and it is not a measurable outcome. Reducing or eliminating the source of uranium should be tackled now, not in the future, and all wiggle-language must be removed from this permit.

The Community Environmental Monitoring Program’s announcement about uranium included this statement: “Eagle Mine BELIEVES that the detected uranium is fully contained, will be completely removed by the WTP and poses no risk to the environment.” A groundwater permit is not about BELIEF. If beliefs entered into the permitting process, my Anishnaabe friends would still be able to worship at an Eagle Rock free from fences and hard-hats and a mine portal.

Also, given that Eagle Mine assures the public and MDEQ that uranium is “completely removed by the WTP” this claim must be substantiated by a third party, and the proper “waste classification” and disposal of the WWTF/WTP’s waste products must be guaranteed as part of MDEQ’s regulatory process. It is well known that Eagle Mine’s WWTF/WTP waste is not going to the Marquette County landfill facility, which raises a lot of serious questions.

SPECIFIC CONDUCTANCE TESTING

Proposed changes — testing only for Specific Conductance — may allow the masking of significant changes in heavy metals levels within the discharged water. If the e2-DMR testing for specific conductance is CONTINUOUS and recorded daily, and submitted electronically, why would the mine be given 24 hours to “notify” the MDEQ that the effluent is outside Allowable Operational Range?

In addition, concerned citizens would like access to reporting data Eagle Mine is required to submit into the e2-DMR system.

PART 8 LIMITS

Part 8 applies to this groundwater discharge permit, as it addresses potentially toxic metals (authorized by this permit), and includes calculations and special considerations for the bioconcentration factor (BCF) and the biota-sediment accumulation factor (BSAF) of the discharge’s’ impacts on aquatic life found in surface waters. Furthermore, Part 8 specifically addresses the potential interaction between multiple toxic substances in the Eagle Mine effluent, identifying 6 critical heavy metal pollutants (cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc) which function as additive pollutants and whose health/toxicity impacts (for aquatic life, and human health) must be addressed cumulatively — which MDEQ has failed to evaluate:

KMH_groundwaterpermit-comments table

PART 22 LIMITS

Part 22 applies to this groundwater discharge permit, as the statute limits groundwater discharges for heavy metals, which in some cases are specifically noted as being “insufficient to protect water quality where groundwater is known to vent to surface water.”

General Conditions state that “The discharge shall not, nor not be likely to be become, injurious to the protected uses of the waters of the state”. Waters of the state of Michigan include groundwater, lakes, including Lake Superior, rivers and streams, including the Salmon Trout and its tributaries. This is clearly the situation we find at Eagle Mine. In such a case, part 22 clearly states that the standards may be tightened by lowering the discharge limits for groundwater and/or effluent, to achieve a standard protective of the surface water.

REQUESTED ACTION
1. POLLUTANT LIMITS MUST BE LOWERED, NOT RAISED

Since the first groundwater permit was issued, the underlying conditions of the environment have changed, and permit limits must be adjusted downwards to accommodate the cumulative effects: with MDEQ’s blessing, Eagle project removed the air filtration system planned for installation on the MVAR stack, in spring 2013. No filter, scrubber or bag-house now will capture the mine’s airborne pollutants, which adds a certain, calculable burden of heavy metals and other pollutants to surrounding surface waters: wetlands, streams, rivers, springs and meltwater. In addition, Eagle Mine’s air-deposited pollutants will land on the vegetation and sandy soils of the Yellow Dog Plains, and be flushed by melt/rain events into surrounding streams and wetlands. Toxic salts and heavy metals will be dissolved and carried by surface water (especially likely given the acidic nature of unfiltered air-deposited sulfide particles).

The total burden for the MVAR contamination must be calculated and then subtracted from the allowable pollution limits for Eagle’s groundwater discharges. If MDEQ’s groundwater permit fails to incorporate these known increases, surface waters would be exponentially impaired, as surface water contamination limits are so much lower.

ALL of the original projections and allowable-pollution calculations for groundwater, surface water and soils assumed that the mine’s air vent emissions would be controlled by a filter system. Given the new reality – a sulfide mine vent with no air controls, at an MVAR located a quarter mile upwind from the TWIS site — potential pollution concentrations are now underestimated by a factor of perhaps six.

Airborne pollutants — including a cocktail of chemicals, heavy metals and salts — will be increasingly deposited on the bare soils of the Eagle Mine facility and more importantly, on the lands immediately surrounding the facility, as visualized by multiple airborne dispersal diagrams, presented by MDEQ last spring. Anticipated air-deposited pollution and its impacts to flora/fauna have been previous calculated, presented to the public, and defended by the MDEQ. The proposed groundwater discharge permit fails to adhere to principles of conservatism, as it fails to include any of the expected air pollution burdens to the system; thus it does not sit on the side of sound science.

REQUESTED ACTION
2. REQUIRE TRACER FIELD

Reviewing all the original hydrogeological flow models, studies and analysis conducted by Golder, Trimatrix and North Jackson, the term “simulated” occurs repeatedly. The limited flow data gathered from well tests was run through computer simulations to determine the path that will be taken by Eagle’s groundwater discharges, how they will mix and move with groundwater, and where these discharges will emerge from the hillsides in the form of groundwater springs, feeding directly into the Salmon Trout River. These include ridiculous flow simulations that suggest a particle of groundwater will pick the most circuitous, indirect path, following ridge lines and remaining in the ground for many more miles/years than seems realistic to anyone who actually knows the hydrogeology of the Yellow Dog Plains and its terrain.

Given the lack of reliable testing concerning the path and speed of groundwater, and the dearth of monitoring wells beyond the TWIS, we still don’t know exactly when or where Eagle’s discharges, mixing with groundwater, will vent to nearby surface waters. Again, groundwater discharge permit limits must be protective of surface waters, but as the permit stands, lacking flow/path monitoring, that is impossible.

I urge the MDEQ to require Eagle Mine to install and undertake a full tracer field test for the lands surrounding Eagle Mine’s TWIS — ideally, north, northeast, east and perhaps even the southeast sides (as major concerns have been raised concerning redirection of groundwater flow as a side effect of mounding). Based on the tracer data, a set of additional groundwater compliance wells, at a correlating array of depths, should then be added to the system at the half-way point between the Eagle’s TWIS and the proven groundwater-surface water interface. No more simulations.

REQUESTED ACTION
3. REQUIRE FULL DISCLOSURE OF WWTF’s WASTE DISPOSAL

What is the total annual groundwater discharge permit fee paid by Eagle LLC for permission to pollute our groundwater resources?

Do the fees assessed for Eagle Mine appropriately reflect the volume of discharges, the risks (environmental hazards to a blue ribbon trout stream, Lake Superior, a remote area never impacted by industrial groundwater pollution), or the cost of administering and permitting the WWTF, as compared with other groundwater discharge permits issued for industries, mom-&-pop carwashes, or area laundromats? When asked directly for this information, MDEQ responds that citizens need to submit a FOIA request for the answer! This is incredibly frustrating, given that MDEQ’s public website provides other (inadequate and incomplete) information about groundwater permit fees, including the following files (which fail to mention the Eagle Mine groundwater discharge permit, or sulfide mining WWTF fees):
wb-groundwater-permits-AnnualFeeFAQ_248028_7.pdf
wb-groundwater-permitfees_248029_7.pdf

Given that the Marquette County Landfill has refused to dispose of waste products from Eagle Mine’s water treatment plant (uranium/salts issue raised the need for an expensive, lined facility), where exactly are the materials (filter cake/sludge/precipitates) being disposed of?

Michigan citizens demand to know that Eagle’s filtered materials, including uranium, are being properly disposed of, and not creating a groundwater hazard for another community that is receiving the material. Is the presence of uranium, toxic levels of heavy metals and salts in the waste properly classified, and properly disclosed at the waste’s disposal point?

During the debate over Eagle’s original mining permit included a possible scenario for disposal of sludge and WWTF wastes by entombing them within the mine, during backfill/cementing operation. Is this option still under consideration, and how will groundwater safely impacts (long-term, within saturated backfill materials) be evaluated? Will a decision to use this waste-disposal technique require a groundwater permit? Given that the public is not being notified as to the current destination of waste from the Eagle WWTF, this needs to be clarified immediately.

REQUESTED ACTION
4. PROTECTION OF THE GSI, WATERSHED DEMANDS A NPDES PERMIT

This flawed permit fails to address the certainty that the wastewater discharged at the TWIS, into the groundwater, will be emerging into groundwater-surface water interface short distance later — the permit dodges this, but MDEQ cannot dodge the issue. By failing to require Eagle Mine to get a NPDES permit to authorize and monitor the surface discharge points, the current groundwater discharge permit is authorizing an illegal discharge. A NPDES permit must be required.

REQUESTED ACTION
5. DO NOT REDEFINE THE BACKGROUND QUALITY

According to Part 22: “Background groundwater quality” means the concentration or level of a substance in groundwater within an aquifer and hydraulically connected aquifers at the site receiving a discharge, if the aquifer has not been impacted by a discharge caused by human activity. Based on the statute’s definition of background groundwater quality, one cannot accept the MDEQ’s undefined reassessment of unspecified “background data” gathered from “2008-2011” — given that exploration activities (underway in 2008), and extensive landscape changes (starting in 2009, impacting groundwater, and diverting/impounding surface waters) took place during these year. For the purposes of “background groundwater quality” no data can be included from years 2008-2012 given that the aquifer had been impacted by human activity.

According to MDEQ: “The department prepared the proposed permit after an extensive review of the mine’s wastewater treatment system, which began operation in 2011. The new permit includes minor revisions reflecting actual water conditions at the site.”

MDEQ has also stated, “Local conditions the DEQ is working to address with the renewed discharge permit include: Independent of any activity from the mine, naturally occurring background basicity and concentrations of vanadium in the groundwater exceeded the original permit standards, according to a recent assessment. Revised, site-specific limits for vanadium and pH were established in accordance with the groundwater quality administrative rules. These revised limits account for the naturally occurring conditions.

Please explain to the public: how was the monitoring and assessment done to establish these “naturally occurring conditions”? Were any new “background wells” installed for data collection? Who conducted the data analysis? Why was the data related to this “recent assessment” not made available for concerned citizens and watersheds to independently review, prior to the permit’s extended public comment period, and/or the public hearing?

“Additionally, copper and lead levels in one well were higher than the permit allowed on three occasions, but the issue has been resolved. The well was disturbed during construction and has since been reconstructed. In the most recent sample, copper and lead levels were in compliance with the permit.”

When effluent limits are compared with surface water standards, I find that Eagle Mine’s groundwater allowable limits are consistently being set higher than what’s protective of surface water – resulting in regular exceedances that are higher than federal enforceable limits. Raising either effluent or groundwater limits to match (or nearly match) the EPA’s MCL value, will certainly not correct this problem, as exceedances are often exceeding the EPA limits!

REQUESTED ACTION
6. REEVALUATE PUBLIC ACCESS + PUBLIC IMPACTS

The public “access” to permit info and the location of the permit hearing was highly questionable. Please understand that this permit hearing was only scheduled after multiple concerned citizens lobbied MDEQ – and the initial public comment period even expired before a decision to hold the public hearing was announced. Moreover, the venue selected for the public hearing (a rural high school located west of Ishpeming, about 50 road miles from the mine itself, and 40 miles from the mine’s nearest impacted community (as defined by Part 632) — Big Bay. For the convenience of the greatest number of the public, most everyone agrees that Marquette is a far better venue choice than West Ishpeming.

Venue of the Public Hearing was a serious hardship: I’ve heard from many people who wanted to attend and could not! Many people set up carpools to reach the hearing. I personally contacted Marq-Trans (the public bus system for Marquette County) about public transit options, especially for college students who have free access to established bus routes, but learned that you’d need to ride three (3!) separate buses simply to get from downtown Marquette to downtown Ishpeming — and none of their fixed routes actually go to Westwood High School, where the permit hearing was taking place, and it didn’t really matter, because all of the busses would all quit running hours before the permit hearing would end! So — it really seems that “public access” to this “public hearing” wasn’t a serious consideration for anyone at MDEQ. That’s really unacceptable behavior for a state agency.

In addition, a “FAQs” file was initially made available online (I probably downloaded it during the month of December 2013). Reviewing info in the month leading up to the public hearing, I discovered that it referenced three other “attachments” which were not attached. When I contacted the apparent author of the FAQs file (Geri Grant, SWP, listed in the file’s “info field”) asking for these files, she contacted MDEQ and was told that these critical attachments would not be available until the night of the hearing.
WHY? — given that the FAQ sheet itself was first made available back in 2013? And why was Geri Grant listed as the author of this MDEQ file?

Why should the public have to submit FOIA requests to get basic information about groundwater permit fees? Why was the Public Hearing not listed on the MDEQ website’s calendar? The process surrounding this flawed permit has been repeatedly dismissive of the public’s right to know, and right to participate. MDEQ owes it to the citizens of Michigan’s U.P. to do better.

“The less information available to the public about the full range of impacts from the proposed mine and the less time and opportunity for the public to counter the false claims of the mining company, the better the chances of permitting.” – Al Gedicks

If you have any questions regarding my criticisms, comments, or requested actions, please do not hesitate to contact me at president@savethewildup.org or by mail:
224 Riverside Road, Marquette MI 49855.

Sincerely,

Kathleen M. Heideman
President, Save the Wild U.P.

Join us March 25th for a Public Hearing on the proposed Ground Water Permit at Eagle Mine

The Eagle Mine has violated its existing Ground Water Permit 47 times without being issued a single citation by State of Michigan regulators — and now it seeks to increase the allowable amounts of heavy metals and other potential contaminants.

Join us on March 18th at Peter White Public Library to hear from a panel of experts why this proposed permit is a bad deal for our communities and environment. Panelists include former federal oil regulator Jeffery Loman, attorney Michelle Halley, and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Geologist Chuck Brumleve. Check out our Facebook event for more info. 

Can we count on you at this critical public hearing? Join us and have your voice heard!

New Ground Water Discharge Permit proposed for Lundin Eagle Mine: Analysis | Michelle Halley

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is seeking to renew the Lundin Eagle Mine’s Ground Water Discharge Permit — with significantly weakened environmental regulations. Below is an analysis of the proposed permit by attorney Michelle Halley for Freshwater Future.

Stay tuned for updates, including the forthcoming MDEQ public hearing announcement, and more.

Exceedances and MDEQ’s Failure to Act and Backwards Regulation

During the current permit period, the mine has exceeded it limits at least 47 times, in at least the following constituents and characteristics:

  • pH;
  • arsenic;
  • copper;
  • lead;
  • molybdenum;
  • silver; and
  • vanadium.

MDEQ has taken no enforcement action.  In fact, the mine has exceeded its vanadium limit more than 20 times.  Instead of enforcing the limit, in this renewal permit, MDEQ is easing the limit.  This is completely backwards.  The MDEQ’s role is regulator, not conciliator.  The limits were set, supposedly based upon sound science, as MDEQ strenuously argued during the months-long contested case that encompassed the current groundwater discharge permit.  Now, rather than protecting water quality, the draft simply increases the limits to industry’s preferred levels.  The facility’s performance should be required to meet the regulatory standards rather than the regulatory standards being adjusted to meet the facility’s performance.

Permit Limits Allow Egregious Degradation from Baseline Water Quality

Further MDEQ staff repeatedly assert that limits set in this renewal permit are based upon “background levels” at the site.  That could not be farther from the truth.  Below is a table comparing today’s proposed permit levels with baseline levels reported in Rio Tinto’s 2004 Environmental Baseline Study Stage 1 Hydrology Report, Table 9, “Quaternary Deposit Groundwater Quality Data, Eagle Project.”  For appropriate comparison, both sets of data reference wells in the A or D zones of the quaternary aquifer:

PARAMETER UNITS DRAFT PERMIT LIMIT 2004 RIO TINTO BASELINE DATA
Lithium ug/L 88 <10
Antimony ug/L 5 <5.0
Arsenic ug/L 6 <2.0 (except values of 4.8 and 8.4)
Barium ug/L 1000 <20 (except values of 47, 39 and 27)
Beryllium ug/L 3 <1.0
Boron ug/L 285 <100
Cadmium ug/L 3 <0.5
Chromium ug/L 52 <5.0
Cobalt ug/L 23 <10
Copper ug/L 10 <5.0
Lead ug/L 3 <1.0
Manganese ug/L 50 <20 (except values of 64, 52, 140 and 180)
Molybdenum ug/L 22 <10 (except values of 15 and 40)
Nickel ug/L 57 <25
Selenium ug/L 5 <1.0
Silver ug/L 0.4 <0.2
Zinc ug/L 17 <10 (except one value of 17)
Chloride mg/L 250 Values <1.0 up to 3.7
Sulfate mg/L 250 Values <5.0 up to 33
Sodium mg/L 120 Values <0.5 up to 29

Scope of Monitoring and Regulation is Insufficient

In addition to the false justifications for the draft permit’s limits reflecting baseline values, as was the case with the original permit, the scope of monitoring and compliance is far too small to assess impacts to the aquifer that inevitably extend beyond the postage stamp this permit purports to regulate.  The monitoring and compliance wells just graze if they extend at all beyond the mine’s fence line.  With significant underground disturbance from mining itself, dewatering of the mine, a supply well and the 504,000 gpd influx allowed by this permit, these influences on groundwater flow and quality are ignored by this permit.  Please note that Attachment VI, “Groundwater Contour Map” is from the mine’s 2007 permit and does not even attempt to represent the current groundwater contour scenario.

MDEQ Continues Ignoring its Statutory Duty to Regulate Surface Water Discharge

MDEQ continues to refuse to regulate, as required by the Clean Water Act, the surface water discharge at the seeps, where the water regulated by this permit indisputably expresses to surface water.  The draft permit, in Part III, No. 1 on p. 22 states:

Discharge to the Surface Waters

This permit does not authorize any discharge to the surface waters. The permittee is responsible for obtaining any permits required by federal or state laws or local ordinances.

Unfortunately, this permit does regulate surface water discharge to the seeps.  It does so illegally and inadequately, but it is the only regulation MDEQ has ever imposed on the discharge to the seeps.  Michigan has been delegated by the United States the authority to regulate surface water discharges via the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.  Its failure to do so is egregious. This is particularly evident given MDEQ’s refusal to apply any numeric limitations on:  mercury, uranium, calcium, iron and magnesium.  Mercury is of great concern in the Great Lakes basin due to the rampant impairment of nearly every surface water body in the region.  Yet, at the Eagle Mine, no limit is imposed even though this water ends up in the Salmon Trout River and Lake Superior.

Limits on Uranium and Other Constituents Must At Least Match Federal Limits

In 2013, uranium was found in the wastewater stream at the Eagle Mine.  The permittee makes unsubstantiated assertions that the origin of the uranium is some unknown off-site location from which it obtained building materials.  MDEQ has the responsibility to regulate uranium, and every other federally-regulated constituent, to federal levels.  It is failing to do so with the proposed limits and the numerous “report only” constituents, including uranium.

Check back for updates on this proposed Ground Water Discharge Permit — and how to get involved to protect our lake, land, and community from the hazards of sulfide mining.

Mining industry has big plans for the western UP and beyond | Steve Garske

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The rush is on for the copper, silver, nickel, and other hardrock minerals of the Lake Superior region, and especially Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One of the latest arrivals to the UP is the recently-formed Highland Copper Company, Inc. This month geologist and Highland Vice President for Exploration, Dr. Ross Grunwald, has been on tour, giving a detailed powerpoint presentation of the company’s activities and plans in Ontonagon, Ironwood, Calumet and Houghton.

Highland Copper Company is a Canadian company based in Longueuil, Quebec. Along with its wholly-owned subsidiary Keweenaw Copper Company, Inc., the company is “focused on exploring and developing copper projects within the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, U.S.A.” Incorporated about 2 ½ years ago, they now have 21 full-time employees. They are currently exploring four deposits – three in the Keweenaw Peninsula, and another near Bald Mountain, north of Ironwood near Lake Superior. They are also in the process of buying the White Pine facility and mineral rights from Copper Range Co., a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals LLC of Canada. Drilling is being done at all these sites. As noted in this January 10th Globe story, the drilling at Bald Mountain was not generally known until Grunwald mentioned it at the Ironwood meeting.

Grunwald explained that at this point the Highland (and Keweenaw) Copper Companies are mining exploration and development companies, not mining companies. If the prospects turn out to be economically viable, they would likely be sold to other companies that would mine them. The company provided a fact sheet with a map of their projects. Their extensive website has a fair amount of information about the company, including the results of drilling done so far.

Grunwald and his partners are not the only ones that believe there’s money to be made from these prospects. Highland has been wildly successful in raising investor funds, bringing in some $25 million since September 30th in a stock offering of 43 cents per share. The money will go to continued exploration, as well as the purchase of the White Pine mine. Grunwald stated that the if and when White Pine is reopened, a new underground mine would be constructed to access the extensive copper deposits northeast of the present mine. The tailings would be backfilled into the old, water-filled mine. While smelting would not be done at White Pine, some concentrating of copper ore could be done there using staged flotation reactor technology. Meanwhile the company’s stated intent is to continue to explore for copper and other minerals throughout the Keweenaw region.

In their online “Corporate Presentation” the Highland Company notes that Michigan has a favorable political climate for mining. Their list of “favorables” includes support from the Governor and local officials, new laws encouraging mining and making Michigan a “right to work” state, and a “supportive” Michigan Department of Environment Quality staff. They state that local citizens favor development but admit that some “have questions.”

When asked at the Ironwood presentation whether Highland Copper Company had any financial ties to billionaire Chris Cline of Florida, Cline’s GTac corporation, or the Houston-based Natural Resource Partners (NRP), in which Cline is a major investor, Grunwald gave a flat-out “No.” A bit of research, mostly of these company’s own website, reveals a complicated web of connections, though.

As mentioned in several places on their website, Highland has entered into a joint venture partnership with an entity called Bowie Resource Partners LLC (BRP LLC). As stated on the website, BRP owned approximately 8.8 million mineral acres in 29 states, including approximately 60,000 gross acres of copper rights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as of 2011. BRP LLC is a joint venture formed in June 2010 between Natural Resource Partners L.P. (NRP) and International Paper (IP). Both companies are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Once mainly invested in coal, BRP’s holdings now include everything from oil, gas, and mineral rights to water rights and cell tower placement rights.

According to one source, Chris Cline owns 31% of NRP. As outlined on NRP’s website and their prospectus, NRP is the managing and controlling partner of BRP with a 51% interest, with IP controlling the remaining 49%. Furthermore, oilman Russell Gordy of Houston, owner of RGGS Land and Minerals LLC, sits on the NRP board of directors. RGGS owns most of the surface and mineral rights leased/optioned to GTAC in Iron County. BRP owns and manages current mineral leases, and manages the development of the more than 7 million acres of former International Paper land. Thus Highland has a joint partnership with BRP, which is controlled by NRP, of which Chris Cline (owner of GTac) is a major shareholder.

There can be little doubt that the descent of multiple mining companies on the UP and states west is a well-planned, well-funded effort by incredibly wealthy investors to turn the Lake Superior region into a major resource extraction zone, similar to the Appalachians of West Virginia (where Cline got his start in the coal industry). The question is whether the citizens of the region will let him.

(For more on the financial connections between Cline, GTac and NRP, check out the well-researched article “Circles of Friends – Spheres of Influence“ posted December 10, 2013.)

Steve Garske is a Board Member of Save the Wild U.P. and can be reached at steve [at] savethewildup.org.

Do you Wanna Save the Wild UP? Join our Intern Corps!

We are delighted to announce our search for three superstar interns to join Team SWUP starting in the Winter 2014 NMU school semester.

Save the Wild U.P. is at the forefront of protecting our environment and unique culture while promoting sustainable economies. We’re calling for a federal corruption investigation of state mining regulators, tracking new mining developments, educating the public on the hazards of sulfide mining — and hosting free hikes, picnics, concerts and more to celebrate the wonderful wild U.P.!

Update: Our Winter 2014 Internship Application is now closed. Stay tuned for announcements on our Summer and Fall 2014 Intern Corps!

Save the Wild U.P. releases local candidate questionnaire results — showing agreement to protect environment and promote sustainable economy

When we saw that less than 1,900 voters participated in the Marquette City Commission Primary in August, we decided to take on a new project to increase civic engagement in Marquette.

In mid-September we launched a four-page candidate questionnaire for city commission candidates seeking answers to questions we’ve heard in the community — ranging from truck traffic to pedestrian access, from mining to power plants, and more.

“Protecting our environment and communities necessitates civic engagement. We hope results of this questionnaire help voters choose the candidate who best reflects their values,” says SWUP President Margaret Comfort.

We received diverse answers to our questions, but it was heartening to see that every candidate that responded agreed on these critical points –

  • Every respondent supports job growth in industries that will decrease our dependence on extractive mining.
  • Every respondent supports projects that will increase local employment opportunities that promote economic sustainability.
  • Every respondent believes that new mining developments near waterways threaten fish populations and recreational fishing.
  • Every respondent supports holding companies financially accountable for their environmental degradation.

“It is significant to see the overwhelming interest amongst candidates for city commission to decrease our dependence on extractive industries. All of the data shows that sulfide mining is a risky and hazardous business that threatens to leak sulfuric acid into our beloved Lake Superior. It’s critical that science prevail against well-funded corporate public relations campaigns,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP vice president.

“Candidates at all levels across the U.P. should know that their positions on mining will define their constituency. Many U.P. voters put economic stability and conservation at the top of their list. Supporting mining-as-usual will not win these votes, and will cost them dearly,” said local attorney and SWUP advisory board member Michelle Halley.

We made every effort in this questionnaire to capture the notes and additions from candidates, added here as footnotes.

Check out the full responses to the candidate questionnaire — and we hope that no matter your political stripe you’ll head out to the polls on Tuesday, November 5th!

 

Rio Tinto Targets Clean Water Advocates in Wisconsin

-by Laura Gauger, Legal Affairs Coordinator, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, October 30, 2013

Back in 2007 the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC; Tomahawk, Wisconsin) embarked on a mission to hold Flambeau Mining Company (FMC) accountable for water pollution problems caused by the company’s Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. FMC, at one time managed by Kennecott Minerals (Salt Lake City, Utah) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto (London, UK).

This project was never just about us here in Wisconsin … it was about trying to help clean water advocates in the entire Great Lakes region and beyond protect their own waters from adverse impacts linked to sulfide mining operations.

As you know, the mining industry has held up the Flambeau Mine to YOU, the people of MinnesotaMichiganWisconsinAlaska and who knows where else around the world as an example of “environmentally responsible mining” in efforts to convince you to “let them in” and mine in YOUR communities. Our lawsuit was meant to bring out the facts about the serious pollution problems at the Flambeau Mine site and thereby debunk the myth of the “environmentally responsible” Flambeau Mine and give you ammunition to use in your own battles.

We scored a partial victory in 2012, when we took FMC to federal court over violations of the Clean Water Act and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled, among other things, that the company had indeed violated the Act on numerous counts at the Flambeau Mine site.

Unfortunately, however, FMC appealed the decision, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit proceeded to let the mining company “off the hook.” The Court remained silent on whether or not FMC had violated the Clean Water Act. Instead, they ruled that the mining permit issued to FMC by the State of Wisconsin “shielded” the company from prosecution and that we therefore could not enforce the Clean Water Act against FMC (even though the company had indeed violated the Act, as determined by the U.S. District Court).

In the process, no one was held accountable for the fact that the Flambeau Mine has polluted a tributary of the Flambeau River to the point where theWisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has recommended to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the stream be listed as “impaired” for copper and zinc toxicity linked to the mining operation. And absolutely NOTHING has been done about the high levels of toxins (most notably manganese) in the groundwater at the mine site. You see, groundwater pollution at mine sites in Wisconsin has been legalized by the Wisconsin DNR and State Legislature (see NR 182.075, Wisconsin Administrative Code), so we could not argue that point in either state or federal court.

The latest twist is that FMC, owned by one of the wealthiest multinational mining corporations in the world (Rio Tinto), is “going after” WRPCLaura Gauger and their fellow plaintiff (Center for Biological Diversity; Tucson, Arizona) to recover various “costs” the company accrued in the lawsuit … to the tune of $157,000.

Our lawyers are fighting the dollar amount demanded by FMC, but it appears we will be required to pay FMC/Rio Tinto many thousands of dollars.

Stay tuned.

Permalink: http://flambeaumineexposed.wordpress.com/statement/

 

New highway proposed for Eagle Mine

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Looks like Lundin Mining inherited a transportation route mess from Rio Tinto when it bought the Eagle Mine located 30 miles north of Marquette.

The Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) is considering a plan to use eminent domain to seize private property to build a new 55 mph highway from CR 550 (“Big Bay Road”) to the Eagle Mine. The MCRC has said it wouldn’t be making these improvements if not for the Eagle Mine, making it illegal to use eminent domain for the benefit of this multi-national mining company. Area property owners and residents are speaking out against the highway and the threat of eminent domain.

This is not a plan for road upgrades, this is a plan for a brand new highway — and we must speak out! Check out the proposed route changes to the Triple A and CR 510 and responses to questions raised at the recent public hearing. Area residents deserve a new Public Hearing to weigh in on the new proposed upgrades.

The MCRC modified the proposed realignment based on public outcry. But the process is on an accelerated path; as the MCRC approved its plan modifications at the same meeting the modifications were proposed.

Your voice is important! Write a letter to the editor, or call your local Marquette County Commissioner to discuss the proposal for a new highway.

Meanwhile, the City of Marquette is struggling with Lundin Mining’s plan to run ore trucks through the city and Northern Michigan University’s campus. In July, the City Commission’s request to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to have transportation be considered part of the Eagle Mine’s permit was denied, which would have forced the mining company to mitigate environmental impacts of truck traffic in Marquette.

Though the Lundin Eagle Mine says they’ll only increase total truck traffic by a small percentage, these trucks will be filled with ore, increasing the weight on the roadways by an estimated 50%. This poses not only a financial burden on taxpayers for years to come, but, more importantly, a huge safety risk for our communities.

** Update** The City of Marquette Public Hearing was cancelled. We are disappointed that the City of Marquette has chosen to postpone tomorrow’s Public Hearing on a truck ordinance en lieu of private meetings with Lundin Mining Company.

Stay up-to-date with these rapidly-evolving issues by checking out our FB page at Facebook.com/SavetheWildUP — together we will keep da U.P. wild!