Unified Opposition to Graymont ‘Land Transaction’!

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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.

 

Political grandstanding on behalf of CR 595

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Save the Wild U.P. opposes political grandstanding on behalf of CR 595

MARQUETTE – Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) expressed disappointment over the recent flurry of “Resolutions” sponsored by lawmakers in support of the Marquette County Road Commission’s lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). SWUP opposes House Resolution 13, House Concurrent Resolution 1, and Senate Resolution 9 (pending).

According to SWUP, these resolutions, drafted in support of the Road Commission’s lawsuit against the EPA, are an attempt to resurrect the previously defeated County Road 595. The 595 route would have cut through the Dead River and Yellow Dog Watersheds, the Mulligan Creek headwaters, Voelker Creek, Wildcat Canyon and more, on its way from Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill.

“The EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) all objected to the construction of this road, as did area residents and property owners who want nothing to do with mine traffic passing their isolated and serene camps,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP interim director.

“Suggesting that a few resolutions will “make the EPA back down” is ludicrous,” said Gail Griffith, retired professor of Chemistry at Northern Michigan University and SWUP board member. “This is exactly why the Environmental Protection Agency was founded: ‘To protect human health and the environment.’ This requires the EPA to make difficult decisions — including saying ‘no’ when special interests, corporate lobbyists or politicians promote projects that would benefit industry at the expense of our environment.”

“Our state government is not supposed to be a corporate-errand boy. I expect politicians to participate in democracy and represent the will of the taxpaying citizens who elected them, not the international corporations that mine our lands and pollute our water,” said Alexandra Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P.’s interim director. “But let’s be honest — these resolutions are the political equivalent of a group selfie — politicians trying to get their names mentioned to convince the folks back home they’re supporting jobs.”

“We must trust that as a federal agency, the EPA won’t be pushed around by corporate bullies — whether the bullies are big oil companies polluting our coastlines, global mining companies who’d profit from tearing apart our wild lands, poorly informed politicians, or a grudge-bearing road commission,” said Kathleen Heideman, Save the Wild U.P. president. “The EPA shouldn’t rubber-stamp anything. They should protect our environment, period. Save the Wild U.P. affirms the decision of the EPA, and we will continue to oppose any action that threatens the clean water and healthy watersheds of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.”

“This blatant attempt to pressure the EPA to approve a mining haul road through the MIchigamme Highlands is despicable,” said Steve Garske, biologist and SWUP board member. “When the permit for Eagle mine was approved, then-owner Rio Tinto agreed to haul the ore to a point north of Marquette, where it would be transferred to a rail line. If Eagle Mine had been held to their word, these transportation issues would have been put to rest long ago.”

County Road 595:  "Bad idea, wrong place."

“The CR 595 project was destined to fail. And it did fail,” said Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member and former federal oil regulator. “Now some politicians want us to believe that their proposed resolutions will result in the building of this mine haul road. Did Congress create the environmental law that the EPA is responsible for enforcing with some provision that says ‘follow the law until some politicians want you to ignore it in order to support their friend’s businesses’? It’s insulting, really.”

“Our local politicians in Lansing seem to think that issuing wetlands permits is a question of cheering loudly rather than following exacting regulations and rules. They tried the same political full court press two years ago. It was a failing strategy then and deserves to fail again. They should do their wetlands homework,” said Jon Saari, SWUP’s vice president.

Save the Wild U.P. demands full disclosure and transparency concerning the recent decisions of the Marquette County Road Commission, which is attempting to circumvent federal regulations. Private interests are trying to undermine hard-won environmental protections for clean water and wetlands — federal regulations intended to protect our drinking water and our trout streams. Save the Wild U.P. urges citizens to fully consider the long-term implications of the CR 595 proposal, and question the motivations of any elected officials who support this lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency.

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.

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Justifications questioned as Road Commission sues EPA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Save the Wild U.P. questions justifications as Road Commission sues EPA

MARQUETTE – Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has serious objections to the narrative being created by politicians surrounding a lawsuit brought against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC). In 2013, the EPA denied the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) authority to issue permits that would allow construction of the proposed CR 595, an industrial haul-road for Eagle Mine. This decision was based on the potential for great harm to existing wetlands and vital watersheds.

“The MCRC says their road project was not properly considered by the EPA, but nothing could be further from the truth. How many times will they try to push this idea down the public’s throat? Multiple federal agencies reviewed this project and outlined their objections. Those objections still stand. As concerned citizens, we outlined our objections too — nothing has changed. The 595 road remains a terrible idea for the environment, as well as taxpayers,” said Gail Griffith, emeritus professor of Chemistry at Northern Michigan University and SWUP board member.

“We’re talking about the wild heartland of Marquette County, a remote and ecologically sensitive area. When I traveled the entire proposed route in 2009, I saw hundreds of narrow-leaved gentian plants growing along the northern end,” said botanist and SWUP board member Steve Garske. He believes the EPA made the right decision. “This gentian is locally common around the Yellow Dog Plains but rare in Michigan — it occurs in only three counties in the state.” He also documented two populations of the rare Farwell’s water milfoil along the route.

The proposed road would have cut through the Dead River and Yellow Dog Watersheds, the Mulligan Creek headwaters, Voelker Creek, Wildcat Canyon and more. “I know the Wildcat Canyon area… it is a treasure of streams, rocky ledges and deep woods that would be destroyed if used as a corridor for a haul road,” said Lynn McGlothlin Emerick, a longtime Upper Peninsula resident.

Wildcat Canyon Creek crossing, along the proposed 595 route, which would require 22 stream and river crossings.

Wildcat Canyon Creek crossing, along the defeated CR 595 route.

“The EPA, The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers (USACE), and the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) all objected to the construction of this road, as did residents and property owners in the area who want nothing to do with mine-traffic passing their isolated and serene camps,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP interim director.

“595 would irreversibly impact high quality wetlands at the headwaters of several watersheds and foreseeably lead to additional roads that would open up one of Michigan’s last remaining wilderness areas to resource exploitation,” according to Jessica Koski, Assistant Mining Technician of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). “Michigan’s economy depends on tourism dollars from hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation businesses enabled by wetlands. Yet, wetlands are on the frontlines of development and their preservation is vastly underappreciated. Michigan has already lost more than half of its original 11 million acres of wetlands due to filling and draining.”

In recent weeks, the Road Commission has been seeking resolutions from local townships, county boards, and U.P. politicians, to back up their claims of ‘overwhelming support’ for 595. Demonstrated support has actually been lukewarm, despite much political drum-beating. The Marquette County Board failed to support the MCRC’s lawsuit, and half of the county townships are opposed. Northern Michigan University’s Board of Trustees – dedicating five minutes to discussion of the agenda item – voted to offer a resolution of support for County Road 595, but it should be remembered that the Trustees are political appointees.

In response to doubts regarding the costs and possible repercussions of the lawsuit, a group was formed to fund the litigation and inspire public support: Stand U.P., a 501c4 organization described as a ‘local non-profit, non-political group’ created to allow citizens to contribute money to fund the lawsuit. Formed at the request of Senator Tom Casperson, Stand U.P. will be able to accept unlimited corporate funding without disclosure and in turn, can support, endorse, and communicate on behalf of candidates.

“It undermines democracy. This so-called nonprofit will be siphoning corporate dollars to manipulate a public agency — the Marquette County Road Commission — into doing the bidding of special interests,” said Alexandra Thebert, former executive director of Save the Wild U.P. “Special interests are trying to tell us this lawsuit is a David versus Goliath battle, but a quick look at abandoned downtowns across the U.P. and the piles of mining waste across our landscape reveals the true Goliath — multinational companies getting rich off our labor and resources while leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for environmental and economic destruction.”

“The people in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan aren’t stupid,” said Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) tribal member and former federal oil regulator. “They know what Stand U.P. is. It’s a comedy act.”

“Let’s be honest. The plan for 595 collapsed under the weight of its own inadequacies, and now there’s no mining money left on the table to pay for it. This is a zombie road,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s president. “This is a dead idea, dug up by politicians who want to frame the EPA as a ‘big bad federal agency’ that only cares about wetlands and clean water. Our elected officials are comparing the ‘freedom to burn wood to heat our homes’ with the ‘freedom to build roads.’ Freedom to build more roads? Our county doesn’t have enough money to fix potholes and rusty bridges and keep our existing roads plowed, so it’s outrageous to talk about funding another Road to Nowhere.”

Kennecott proponents first dreamed of a ‘South Road,’ a napkin-drawing which soon became the “Woodland Road,” backed by private developers, including Eagle Mine, who stood to gain financially from a new route into the wild interior of Marquette County. But when the Woodland Road was rejected by the EPA, USFWS and USACE, Kennecott withdrew their application in May of 2010, citing “environmental obstacles imposed by federal regulators coupled with the uncertain timelines and cost.”

The Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) persisted, however, changing the name of the project to County Road 595, citing the public’s need for recreational and emergency vehicle access. In written comments objecting to the 595 proposal, the USACE stated “there are no references to the need for a north-south connector west of the Basin, in county planning documents or resolutions prior to 2010.” Clearly, this was still a haul road, dressed up as a county project.

“The Road Commission’s lawsuit against the EPA is being pushed by a consortium of private interests — logging, aggregate and real estate — that would benefit financially from County Road 595 being built,” according to Catherine Parker. “The suit is also about egos and the mistaken view that incremental ‘development’ does not equate with ultimate destruction.”

“Having sifted through years’ worth of letters, reports, and communications between various regulators, I can say with certainty that this project is far worse than most people realize. The Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan DEQ and Michigan DNR, along with the EPA, all had serious concerns that could not be resolved. Field staff in our state agencies did not support construction of 595 — only the political appointees at the top did so,” said Catherine Parker. “Let them sue. Perhaps EPA will revoke the state’s somewhat dubious wetlands permitting authority as a result.”

“The lawsuit being brought against the EPA by the MCRC is shocking and feels more like a child’s tantrum than anything that has legitimate standing in a court of law,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s interim director. “The EPA’s objections to the construction of this road were valid and protective of one of the region’s most important headwaters .”

Save the Wild U.P. demands full disclosure and transparency concerning the recent decisions of the Marquette County Road Commission, which is attempting to circumvent federal regulations — and the will of the people. Private interests are trying undermine hard-won environmental protections for clean water and wetlands — federal regulations intended to protect our drinking water and our trout streams. Save the Wild U.P. urges citizens to fully consider the long-term implications of the CR 595 proposal, and question the motivations of any elected officials who support this lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency.

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.

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TIMELINE – COVERAGE OF THE COUNTY ROAD 595 ISSUE


4-22-10 “Mine Opponents Comment on Woodland Road Plan” (Save the Wild U.P.)
http://savethewildup.org/2010/04/mine-opponents-comment-on-woodland-road-plan/


1-18-11 “Kennecott Abandons Woodland Road” (ABC-10)
http://abc10up.com/kennecott-abandons-woodland-road/


8-29-12 “Strong Public Opposition to CR 595 at Hearing” (Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve)
http://www.yellowdogwatershed.org/blog/strong-public-opposition-to-cr-595-at-hearing/


8-30-12 “EPA notes CR 595 objections: wetlands impact central to federal concerns” (The Mining Journal)
http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/579258/EPA-notes-CR-595-objections.html


9-11-12 “Reps push EPA on CR 595”  (The Mining Journal)
http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/581667.html


12-5-12 “EPA drops one objection to CR 595 proposal” (TV6)
http://www.uppermichiganssource.com/news/story.aspx?id=833953


12-6-12 “EPA Partially Removes Objection to CR 595” (Lake Superior Community Partnership)
http://marquette.org/epa-partially-removes-objection-to-cr-595/


1-7-13 “County Road 595 Kicked to the Curb” (Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve)
http://www.yellowdogwatershed.org/blog/county-road-595-kicked-to-the-curb/


3-17-13 “D.C. hearing to address CR 595 roadblocks” (The Mining Journal)
http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/585411.html


3-1-14 “Specter of CR 595: Will the Zombie Rise Again?” (Jon Saari, UPEC Newsletter)
http://www.upenvironment.org/newsletters/UPEC_2014_SpringNewsletter.pdf


7-8-14 “CR 595 – Under Construction?” (Save the Wild U.P.)
http://savethewildup.org/2014/07/cr-595-under-construction/


8-1-14 “DEQ investigating road work: Environmental groups concerned…” (The Mining Journal)
http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/602472/DEQ-investigating-Plum-Creek-road-work.html


12-26-14 “State lawmakers discuss future of County Road 595” (TV6)
http://www.uppermichiganssource.com/news/story.aspx?id=1141395


12-29-14 “County not suing EPA over 595, reps say they’d back litigation…” (The Mining Journal)
http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/611220/County-not-suing-EPA-over-595.html


1-22-15 “Road Commission prepares for lawsuit against E.P.A.” (TV6)
http://www.uppermichiganssource.com/news/story.aspx?list=194550&id=1153222


1-28-15 “Marquette County Board, residents, environmental groups oppose Road Commission vote to sue EPA over CR 595; lawsuit funding sources undisclosed” (Keweenaw Now)
http://keweenawnow.blogspot.com/2015/01/marquette-county-board-residents.html


2-4-15 “(Ishpeming) Council to consider supporting CR 595” (The Mining Journal)
http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/613351/Council-to-consider-supporting-CR-595.html


2-4-15 “Michigan lawmakers sponsor resolutions supporting County Road 595” (TV6)
http://www.uppermichiganssource.com/news/story.aspx?id=1159366


2-6-15 “Boards and townships still split CR-595 while elected reps support EPA lawsuit” (TV6)
http://www.uppermichiganssource.com/news/story.aspx?id=1141395


2-9-15 “Environmentalists call lawsuit against EPA ‘child’s tantrum’” (ABC-10)
http://abc10up.com/environmentalists-call-lawsuit-against-epa-childs-tantrum/


2-11-15 “County Road 595 suit, project gaining favor” (The Mining Journal)
http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/613735/County-Road-595-suit–project–gaining-favor.html


2-3-15 “Stand U.P. group raising funds for County Road 595 lawsuit” (The Mining Journal)
http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/613283/Stand-U-P–group-raising-funds-for-County-Road-595-lawsuit.html

SWUP Urges DNR Director: Reject Graymont Proposal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Save the Wild U.P. Urges DNR Director: Reject Graymont Mining’s Proposed Land Transaction

MARQUETTE — Following yesterday’s meeting of the Natural Resources Commission meeting in Lansing, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh announced his approval for a massive exchange of mineral rights — totaling 1,700 acres — for the benefit of Graymont, Inc., a Canadian limestone mining corporation.

“We are disappointed by the DNR’s approval of the mineral rights exchange,” said Kathleen Heideman, president of grassroots environmental group, Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP).

“Upper Michigan environmental organizations, including SWUP, have submitted extensive written comments, outlining our serious objections to the Graymont proposal, including the exchange of mineral rights. This DNR decision fails to serve the DNR’s mission of conservation, protection, and public enjoyment of public natural resources. It benefits a foreign mining company at the expense of Michigan’s environment,” according to Steve Garske, biologist and SWUP board member.

On February 6th, the DNR received yet another revision of Graymont’s ever-shifting proposal. No decision has been announced regarding Graymont’s proposed land transaction, which remains open for public comment until March 19th, when a decision will be announced at the meeting of the Natural Resources Council in Roscommon, MI.

“The Graymont proposal has become an administrative circus,” said Jon Saari, vice president of SWUP. “First introduced in 2012, the proposal gets revised a bit every time objections are raised, including most recently a week before a decision was to be made by the DNR Director! How are we in the public supposed to comment on this moving target? Which proposal? The original one? The final one? The final final one? This is no way to conduct public business. It is a joke. The Graymont proposal should be thrown out for toying with the DNR and the public.”

“Save the Wild U.P. renews our call for Director Creagh to reject Graymont’s Land Transaction,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP interim director. “Public lands must be managed and conserved for public benefit.”

Still pending, the Graymont land sale threatens to sacrifice public lands for the benefit of a foreign mining company, at the bargain price of a few hundred dollars per acre, although a majority of the citizens and taxpayers in the affected areas are vehemently opposed to the Graymont sale.

“The Graymont Proposal makes no sense, economically,” says Maxwell. “Does the DNR have qualified mining staff involved in evaluating this proposal? Graymont promises that a handful of mining jobs would be created, but residents believe that any short-term economic gain is far outweighed by the loss of existing, sustainable, long-term jobs in forestry and tourism sectors.”

The Graymont proposal includes lands currently open to the public for hunting and recreational trails, lands supporting wildlife, and managed for timber — contiguous forest lands, considered “some of the most productive forest land in the Eastern Upper Peninsula” by the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition.

The targeted area also includes fragile wetlands and critical ecosystems. These public lands support unique hydrology and biodiversity, including protected karst habitat identified in Michigan’s Natural Features Inventory. Karst landscapes include 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 supporting the endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, termed “one of North America’s rarest dragonflies” by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Graymont proposal area

Graymont proposal area

Graymont proposal area

Graymont proposal area

Graymont proposal area

Graymont proposal area

Graymont proposal area

Graymont proposal area

In opposing the proposed sale of lands to Graymont, Save the Wild U.P. affirms the conclusion of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition: “We can see absolutely no justification for the State to even consider the sale of such a large and important parcel of public land to a mining company, or any other private entity for that matter (…) this sale will undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of DNR to manage our public lands for the benefit of all citizens of this state.”

Save the Wild U.P. collectively voices our opposition concerning this unprecedented, environmentally-destructive sale of publicly held lands. The proposed sale would fail Michigan’s taxpayers, tribes, and the Eastern Upper Peninsula’s growing sustainable forest and tourism economies, and especially Michigan’s environment, including critical habitat and endangered species. We urge the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to reject the Graymont Proposal “Land Transaction” as being inconsistent with the DNR’s mission, and a bad deal for Michigan.

The public is urged to submit written comment to: DNR-GraymontProposalComments@michigan.gov

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

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 Save the Wild U.P.’s work at savethewildup.org or follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup

meme-Graymont-whatsatstake

Concerns raised about proposed discharge permit for Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill

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Concerned citizens from across the U.P., residents of Humboldt township, members of the grassroots organization Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), and others gathered at the Westwood High School in Ishpeming on Tuesday night, to discuss a draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit for Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) held the Public Hearing to discuss a proposed “reissuance” of an expired NPDES Permit, which originally authorized Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill to discharge wastewater into a wetland located between the Humboldt Pit and US-41.

During the hearing, residents raised serious questions and provided critical feedback to the MDEQ. Many believe that draft permit will degrade water quality in the Escanaba River. Unresolved environmental issues plague Humboldt Mill. Tailings produced by Eagle will be deposited into an existing pit, adding to legacy contamination. There is an ongoing investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the mill’s status as a Superfund site. An additional outflow pipe was recently built between the tailings pit and wetlands of the Escanaba River without permits or public involvement.  Residents are especially alarmed by increased discharges— 2.8 million gallons per day (MGD), compared with 0.82 MGD in the first permit. The new discharge pipe (“Outfall 002”) will handle 50% of that discharge.

“As we learned at the State hearing Tuesday night, in addition to problems like flooding the private property of nearby residents, MDEQ’s proposed NPDES permit for discharges at the Humboldt Mill is inconsistent with federal law and it fails to protect the Escanaba River Watershed that once was cherished fishing ground,” said former federal offshore oil regulator and KBIC tribal member Jeffery Loman. “I intend to hold the EPA accountable for these failures. The EPA is responsible for overseeing the Clean Water Act and they are the trustee for treaty-protected tribal resources at stake here.”

During the hearing, Steve Casey, MDEQ’s District Supervisor of Water Resources, seemed uncertain as to why baseline environmental assessment were needed for a wetland receiving NPDES discharges, or why “additive impacts” (such as legacy pollution of wetlands and sediment scouring) must be calculated before a NPDES permit is granted. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Agencies have an obligation to evaluate waters in terms of how they interrelate and function as ecosystems rather than as individual units, especially in the context of complex ecosystems where their integrity may be compromised by environmental harms that individually may not be measurably large but collectively are significant.”

“The MDEQ was obviously unprepared for the level of precision shown in the commentary at this public hearing. But our community has been tirelessly committed to protecting our land and water from mining interests for more than ten years now. We know that regulators aren’t enforcing the rules and are instead relaxing them to benefit multinational mining companies — threatening our clean water as well as our democratic process,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s Interim Director.

Residents voiced concerns over numerous changes (deemed “Insignificant Changes” by MDEQ staff) which have allowed Eagle Mine to radically change plans for Eagle Mine and Humboldt Mill, violating Michigan’s Nonferrous Mining Regulations. Under Part 632, Eagle’s permits require amendment. There was no public input or environmental impacts assessment for construction of a pipeline terminating at the newly-constructed “Outfall 002” — this significant structure and related wetland impacts were deemed “insignificant” — yet the draft NPDES permit will authorize use of the outfall, a clear violation of due process. The public was not notified when the location of Humboldt’s Water Treatment Plant (WTP) was switched, and the draft permit fails to mention the WTP’s treatment capacity, 1.44 MGD.  Given the WTP’s design flaws, up to 50% of Humboldt’s wastewater discharges may bypass the treatment plant, sending the mill’s tailings water directly into the environment. “Environmental concerns and due process concerns are one and the same,” said attorney Jana Mathieu.

Richard Sloat was angered by the permit’s failure to require stream monitoring or discharge monitoring.  “Water temperature data is not being recorded for the Escanaba River. This pipe will discharge ‘treated or untreated’ waste into that river. There is only one instance of a recorded temperature at the water treatment plant, documented because of a contamination leak in September, when the wastewater temperature reached 78.1 degrees — they want to discharge warm water into the Escanaba River, a cold-water fishery, in September?!”

“I find it outrageous that MDEQ and Eagle Mine failed to consider the environmental impacts of increased discharges — 240% more! — authorized by this permit!” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president. “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! No wetland hydrology or biology data was included in the draft permit, so there’s no way to calculate the risks, and the certain degradation that will result.”

humboldt-meme1

Water quality will clearly be undermined by this permit, a violation of the Clean Water Act, but Eagle Mine is seeking an exemption in its Antidegradation Demonstration, stating that the lowering of water quality is necessary for “important social and economic development in the area” — however the Humboldt Township Board announced during Tuesday night’s hearing that they were unanimously opposed to the permit. Concerned citizens and representatives of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) raised objections to Eagle’s Antidegradation Demonstration, collectively requesting updated and comprehensive proof of the social and economic benefits.

Residents are concerned about the enormous increase in discharge — from 0.82 to 2.8 million gallons per day (MGD). Both mass limits and concentration limits for pollutants have been increased, allowing more pollution of wetlands, and the Escanaba River. The first NPDES permit allowed discharge from only a single pipe (“Outfall 001”).

Pollutant limits are substantially increased for multiple parameters, according to the draft NPDES permit. Below are two tables showing increased limits for quantity (Figure 1) and increased limits for concentration (Figure 2):

pollutant-increases.jpg

Attorney Michelle Halley, who has worked extensively on Eagle Mine issues, said, “This NPDES permit allows discharges  to the Escanaba River that do not protect the fishery. Because of that, it violates the Clean Water Act.”

“It is important to remember that ore being processed at the Humboldt Mill comes from Eagle Mine, containing valuable copper and nickel — along with dangerous sulfides, salts, and a long list of toxic metals,” said Maxwell. Water monitoring at Eagle Mine has documented more than 100 exceedances of groundwater discharge limits since the permit was issued in 2007, including serious exceedances of arsenic, copper, lead, molybdenum, silver, and vanadium —  and uranium levels in water at the Eagle Mine facility have risen to 103 ug/L, more than 3 times higher than the EPA’s Maximum Concentration Level.  Since uranium monitoring was not included in Eagle Mine’s permit, the mine claims that no permit violation has occurred.

To protect aquatic life, conservative water quality standards should be calculated for all potential contaminants. The draft NPDES permit fails to list limits for many contaminants, including: Aluminum, Antimony, Barium, Boron, Calcium, Chromium, Fluoride, Iron, Lithium, Magnesium, Molybdenum, Potassium, Silver, Sodium, Thallium, Tin, Titanium, Strontium, Sulfate, Vanadium, and Uranium.

“The problem really boils down to a regulatory process focused on permitting rather than preventing pollution,” said Steve Garske, SWUP Board member and western U.P. resident. If contaminants are present in the ore from Eagle Mine, it is reasonable to expect they will also be present in Humboldt Mill’s tailings. It is unclear why discharge limits at the mill do not reflect known contaminants from the mine, and all legacy contaminants previously found in testing of the Humboldt site.

At the hearing, MDEQ’s Steve Casey provided a brief update on Eagle Mine’s Groundwater Discharge Permit, which was considered deeply flawed by concerned citizens.  Casey acknowledged Eagle’s ongoing vanadium exceedances, shared some theories as to why contaminant levels might be increasing in the groundwater — and confirmed that MDEQ has still not approved Eagle Mine’s Groundwater Discharge Permit, which expired two years ago. “You cannot understand the impacts of this endeavor until you understand the water,” said Cynthia Pryor, watershed resident and longtime community watchdog. “Neither the mining company nor MDEQ understand how hydrogeology functions at the Eagle Mine and at the Humboldt Mill.”

 

View Save the Wild U.P.’s written comments re: Proposed NPDES Permit, MI-0058649submitted to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency on January 16, 2015 (PDF)

 

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.

 

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.

 

SWUP President to MDEQ: Regulate, don’t facilitate

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meme-quote-EOWilson

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!