Open Letter To Governor Mark Dayton Regarding Your Recent Tour Of Eagle Mine In Upper Michigan


As published in the Minnesota StarTribune:

When talking PolyMet, don’t be fooled by Michigan’s Eagle Mine

You call this a good example of environmental protection?  Hardly. This facility poses threats to the surrounding air, water and land. 

Dear Gov. Mark Dayton,

When we learned you’d be touring Eagle Mine in Michigan’s wild Upper Peninsula, we — Board and Advisory Board members of grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. — asked to meet with you, to share key concerns about the Eagle Mine. We’d like you to make an informed decision on the PolyMet project. Since you were unable to meet with us during your visit, we’re sharing our concerns publicly.

You toured Eagle Mine’s facility, which the sulfide mining industry deems an environmentally responsible sulfide mine. Did you happen to notice the newly constructed, heavy-duty paved haul road you traveled on from Big Bay, pavement which ends at the gates of Eagle Mine? Under Michigan’s Part 632 Legislation governing sulfide mining, that road should have been regulated as a mining haul road, subject to an environmental impact assessment and permit revisions. Through a series of political-corporate sleights of hand, however, the haul road was paid for by Eagle Mine, but constructed as a County Road.

Did Eagle show you their air pollution? For example, did Eagle proudly show you the Main Vent Air Raise on the bank of the Salmon Trout River, a wild blue-ribbon trout stream flowing swiftly down to Lake Superior? During the mine’s permitting phase, Eagle pledged to use environmentally responsible baghouse filters to remove heavy metals, sulfide rock particles, exhaust from underground equipment, and cancer-causing particulates ejected from the mine following blasting. Did they mention that they changed the design, revised the permit, and removed all filters? Now, twice daily, the underground sulfide orebody is blasted, and a plume of heavy metals is blown from the stack at high velocity. The pollutants are carried on the winds, falling out over the surrounding environment. Only one stack test was ever done, more than a year ago, prior to the mine becoming fully-operational. Twice daily, we are told, someone stands at the vent site and views the plume to rate how dark it is, a sort of visual opacity test — although one blast takes place at night. The actual contents of Eagle’s air pollution plume remain entirely unassessed and unregulated.

Did Eagle Mine show you the Salmon Trout River, a pristine, groundwater-fed river? At their treated wastewater infiltration system, the mine’s deionized wastewater is returned to the shallow groundwater aquifer, where it bonds with metals in the ground as it percolates. Almost immediately, it is outside of Eagle’s fenceline. Did Eagle Mine explain they are utilizing groundwater as if it were a sewer pipe, conveying wastewater directly to springs which feed the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River? We’d like you to understand that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA have allowed Eagle Mine to use the wrong permit — a Groundwater Discharge Permit, meeting only human drinking water values, rather than an NPDES Clean Water Act permit, with the more sensitive pollution limits for copper and other contaminants needed to protect macroinvertebrates and other stream life, including trout. We hope you learned there are no monitoring wells tracking the movement of Eagle’s wastewater toward these critical springs. The Salmon Trout River will be harmed — it’s simply a question of when.

Eagle Mine LLC’s milling facility, the Humboldt Mill, also poses multiple threats to clean water, with discharges from its tailings degrading the Escanaba River watershed, and the Lake Michigan basin. Note that Lundin Mining has provided a mere $23.2 million in total financial assurances for both the mine ($18m) and the mill ($5.2m) — a tiny sum, inadequate to fund even an EPA cleanup investigation.

The sulfide mining industry would like you to ignore these serious issues — impacts to the air, water, and land, as well as grossly inadequate bonding assurances — while falsely portraying the Eagle Mine as environmentally protective. The Eagle Mine should be viewed as a dire warning, rather than a good example. We urge you to deny the PolyMet permit, and protect Minnesota’s most valuable natural resource: clean water.

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

Board of Directors, Save the Wild U.P.
Advisory Board, Save the Wild U.P.


Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to preserving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources. For more information contact or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at on Facebook at or on Twitter @savethewildup.

Environmental group asks EPA to review Eagle Mine permits


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save the Wild U.P.

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

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to preserving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources. For more information contact or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.orgor follow SWUP on Facebook at or Twitter @savethewildup.

Environmentalists Outraged By New Mineral Lease To Eagle Mine


Mineral Lease On Yellow Dog River Approved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


DEQ Issues Deeply Flawed Eagle Mine Groundwater Discharge Permit


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


U.P. Environmental Groups Criticize DNR’s Decision


Unified Opposition to Graymont ‘Land Transaction’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graymont proposal area

Graymont proposal area


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

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to preserving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources. For more info about their work, see, or follow on Facebook


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.


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWUP President to MDEQ: Regulate, don’t facilitate



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.


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.


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.


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 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?


The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that drinking water should have a pH between 6.5 and 8.5 (; 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.


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.


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 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 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.


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.


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.


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):

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.


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.


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!


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 or by mail:
224 Riverside Road, Marquette MI 49855.


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

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


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]

A Mining Renaissance? | Louis V. Galdieri

Reprinted with permission from Louis V. Galdieri’s blog.

On the Almanac program I discussed in yesterday’s post, Kathryn Hoffman cited “42 exceedances of water quality standards” at Eagle Mine to make the point that reverse-osmosis technology isn’t as effective as mining proponents in Minnesota make it out to be. I was expecting some rundown of those exceedances in Codi Kozacek’s January 8th article about Eagle Mine on Circle of Blue; but Kozacek focuses, instead, on the Eagle Mine water-monitoring agreement Rio Tinto struck with Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust two years ago.

It’s not hard to see why. Kozacek seems to have traveled from Hawaii (where she’s based) to the UP to do some interviews and take some photographs: it appears she was there in summertime. But so far as I can tell she’s based her article on a “case study” jointly commissioned by Rio Tinto and the Superior Watershed Partnership, a piece of bespoke research entitled Unity of Place: Giving Birth to Community Environmental Monitoring.

In fact, the opening of Kozacek’s article documenting – or should I say celebrating? — this “unprecedented” water-monitoring agreement seems to be nothing more than a loose paraphrase of that publication, which tells the story of how the community around Eagle Mine gained “a measure of power over the mine. And it was Rio Tinto that gave it to them.”

Leave aside for the moment the preposterous idea that that power was Rio Tinto’s to give in the first place: the Unity of Place case study simply asks us to accept that business can and will decide the power society has over it, and Kozacek seems untroubled by the notion. That Rio Tinto sold Eagle Mine to Lundin Mining after descending from the heights to strike this unprecedented power-sharing agreement with the little people living around the mine does not give her pause, or raise questions about the mining giant’s good faith or much-touted commitment to the community around Eagle; and Kozacek only gets around to mentioning the sale to Lundin 28 paragraphs into her 34-paragraph story.

For the sake of balance, she includes a couple of interviews with “skeptics,” people who remain, to this day, distrustful of the water monitoring agreement but express the hope that it will have some good effect. She mentions the uranium leakage discovered at Eagle last year, which she offers as proof of the success of the program in alerting “the public to potential water quality threats,” quoting the Superior Watershed Partnership’s Jerry Maynard (who is also featured prominently in Unity of Place): the monitoring program, he says, “is gaining the trust and respect of the community….We want this to get out there—we want other mining communities to say ‘we want this too.’” But she fails to mention any other exceedances or violations – I guess she missed that episode of Almanac before filing her story — and apparently didn’t bother looking into the new water story now unfolding around Eagle Mine: the renewal of the mine’s groundwater discharge permit. (Michele Bourdieu has that story over at Keweenaw Now.)

My guess is that Kozacek is unfazed by any of these questions and complications, because the real story she wants to tell here is the story of a mining “renaissance”: she uses the word a few times in her article, once as a header and then twice in the body:

The Eagle Mine is viewed as either on the leading edge or the troubling future of a mining renaissance in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a region that has seen more mining bust than boom in the past 50 years. Just as in the oil and gas industry, improvements in mining technology are making previously overlooked ore bodies economically attractive. Rapidly developing countries, particularly China and Brazil, are driving demand for iron, copper, nickel, silver, and gold.

But many of the once booming mine communities in the U.P. and northern Wisconsin, operating with a fraction of their historical populations and downtowns darkened by empty storefronts, are eager for a mining renaissance.

Not a return of mining. Not a re-opening of the mines. Not a new mineral leasing, exploration and mining boom (which would have to be followed by yet another bust). A mining renaissance. It’s an odd word for someone writing about water issues to choose. I wonder if the ungainly use of the word “birth” in the subtitle of the Rio Tinto-Superior Watershed case study inspired Kozacek here: with the “Birth” of “Community Environmental Monitoring” advertised on the cover and on every recto page of that pamphlet, why not imagine a rebirth – and wouldn’t the word “renaissance” be so much more elegant? – of mining?


Renaissance miners, in the early 16th-century stained glass window of the Villanders parish church.

It’s at best an ugly parody of historical discourse, but I take it that it’s intended to give the new mining around Lake Superior a historical stature that it would otherwise seem to lack. In the second of the two paragraphs I’ve quoted here, Kozacek even imagines the area longing to emerge from a kind of Dark Age, or at least “darkened” downtowns, into renewed prosperity.

But in the first of those paragraphs, I must admit, she does a pretty good job of spelling things out. New extractive technologies have made it not only possible but “economically attractive” (read: highly profitable) for large multinational players to mine previously neglected or abandoned ore deposits, extract oil from tar sands and drill for natural gas by fracking. Chinese urbanization and rapid development in the BRIC countries continue to drive and raise demand for minerals and fossil fuels, as economic power shifts away from developed, Western economies.

Communities in the Upper Peninsula and all around Lake Superior are now feeling the pressures of these bigger changes. Whether they will bring renewal — or more boom and bust, or just catastrophic demise – is another question altogether.

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