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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

MinersAtVillanders

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.

Read more from Louis V. Galdieri at lvgaldieri.wordpress.com.

CR 595 Back among the Living? Not so quick | Jon Saari

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When in January, 2013 the Mining Journal headline proclaimed “CR 595 Project Killed,” many opponents were skeptical that this was the last we would hear about it. CR 595 in all its incarnations is like a zombie. It seems dead, but then reappears in new guises.

First it was a private Woodland Road, then a public county road funded by the mining company. Its latest incarnation is as THE LONG-TERM SOLUTION to the trucking dilemma of the City of Marquette and Marquette Township. The City recently proposed a highly restrictive trucking ordinance within the city, thus forcing all parties anew to the negotiating table. A bypass around Marquette is being proposed as the short-term solution, but reviving CR 595 within a regional transportation plan is seen as a long-term solution.

The proponents cheering this revival are a familiar cast – County commissioners Gerald Corkin and Deb Pellow and Road Commission engineer-manager Jim Iwanicki – but there is a new voice among them, State Senator Tom Casperson (R – Escanaba) and his aide Matt Fittante. Fittante mesmerized a group of local administrators, planners, and politicians in Marquette township recently, who were all too eager to see the proposed CR 595 as the solution to their transportation woes — never mind that the mine was permitted without a comprehensive look at its outside-the-fence regional impacts. In the 2006 permit application the ore from the Eagle Mine was to be trucked to a railhead north of Marquette. But when Kennecot/Rio Tinto in 2008 purchased the Humboldt Mill, the transportation route was changed to CR 550 and US-41 through the City of Marquette. Efforts began to promote a direct north-south route from mine to mill mostly through undeveloped wild lands.

It is an intense issue made to the liking of Senator Tom Casperson. He seems to enjoy taking on controversies, such as the first wolf hunt in Michigan. He has championed some of the most anti-science natural resource legislation ever seen in Michigan, including a bill to eliminate biodiversity as a value in state forest planning (SB 78). His interest in CR 595 is to use it as a case study of “bad behavior” by federal regulatory agencies, particularly the EPA, and of over-reaching environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. He was invited to Washington, D.C. recently to make that argument at a House hearing, using CR 595 as an example.

Casperson’s agenda of weakening federal environmental regulation must be taken seriously. But local officials and planners should not be lured into serving his long-term agenda, just because CR 595 appears to give them a solution to a truck traffic problem.

There are good reasons why this latest revival of CR 595 should not, and probably will not, succeed.

First, the collusion of public officials in brokering a haul road for an international mining company sets a bad precedent. It creates an illusion that the road is a multi-purpose undertaking when in fact it is a haul road directly from mine to mill. This repurposing of a haul road did not pass the scrutiny of the Corps of Engineers the first time around, so why should it the second time around when the Corps is the lead permitting agency?

Second, after the DEQ denied the permit, the game changed. The mining company returned to its original permitted route and is investing in improving county roads AAA, 510, and 550, not to mention a Marquette bypass and street improvements within the city. How can anyone with a straight face argue that CR 595 with its significant wetland destruction is still necessary because there is no viable transportation alternative? The route may take longer to travel but it will be an upgraded trucking route ready to use by the time the mine opens.

Third, Rio Tinto/Lundin is unlikely to reoffer $80 million for the constructing of CR 595, now that it has invested over half of that into the “alternative” original route. It needs the other half to pay for the greater energy costs of the longer route. This calculus could change if the period of mining is extended through the discovery of new viable mineral deposits; that is not guaranteed. Using public money for a mine haul road (or a haul road disguised as rural development) would be an affront to taxpayers. So where is the money for CR 595 to come from?

Marquette county residents will be treated to an intense lobbying spectacle around CR 595 over the next months and years. The zombie may get up and start walking again.
But it is hoped that the intact wildness of the area north of Wolf Lake Road will never be fractured by an all-season highway, and that local officials will accept that part of their job is protecting the landscape from such degradation.

Jon Saari is a Board member of Save the Wild U.P. and former President of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition. He has written extensively about CR 595 since 2010. This article first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Marquette Monthly as a letter to the editor.

Here is example of what a compromise is not | Gene Champagne

November 3, 2013| The Mining Journal

The recent controversy surrounding truck routes has brought to light some glaring vulnerabilities in the way permitting decisions for the Eagle Mine have been handled by affected municipalities.

When Kennecott Minerals first applied for a permit to operate Eagle Mine, the City of Marquette, the Marquette County Board, and many other local elected and appointed boards and officials could not get it passed fast enough.

Consequently, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was allowed to get away with the absurd declaration that there were no impacts outside of the mining area (fence).

Hopefully some valuable lessons have been learned and past mistakes will not be repeated for those errors that are still correctable.

Although the city of Marquette has seemingly ‘dodged the bullet’ this time, our region is not out of the woods yet.

A similar rush to permit is currently unfolding at north end of the prescribed haul route for Eagle Mine.

The Marquette County Road Commission has proposed a “realignment” plan for County Roads 510 and AAA from County Road 550 to the Eagle Mine.

MCRC’s design, foisted upon an unsuspecting public, was unveiled at a packed Powell Township Hall on Sept. 26. The public was aghast.

There was only one positive comment given by a single citizen. The plan, in the expressed public view, constituted a new road build, not an alignment.

It called for, and still does, a 55 mph road design that dictates immense amounts of clearing and will take private property if necessary, for corporate-funded interests.

Public comment and questions were allowed on the plan until October 4th, a period of only 9 days. This is a woefully inadequate time for thoughtful and informed feedback.

At the Oct. 15 MCRC meeting in Ishpeming, most questions that had been submitted to the public were answered by Jim Iwanicki, but perhaps due to the rather rushed time frame in which he was required to respond, many were not addressed completely or with clear definition.

At this meeting, which was standing room only, there were zero comments in favor of the “realignment” plan.

At the end of the meeting, Vice-Chair Dave Hall assured the public that “no decision has been made,” but that there was going to be a compromise with no one getting everything that they wanted.

Logically speaking, stating there was going to be a compromise was a decision in itself.

At the MCRC Oct. 21 meeting, a revised plan was presented that included some concessions to public concern.

This was heralded as a compromise and passed unanimously by the MCRC before the public had an opportunity to digest the information.

You cannot not take a plan that is so overwhelmingly opposed (by those who spoke), trim it a little, and expect it to be accepted by the public.

If there is a compromise present, it is the possibility that the public is even considering allowing an all-season road to be built here.

There is nothing in the mining permit, or law, stating there needs to be an all-season road from County Road 550 to the mine. The owners of the Eagle Mine assume the risks inherent in the permit.

They should not be put upon the public. We should not rush to begin work on the so-called “upgrades” to the mining company’s haul route. The minerals are going nowhere.

The MCRC needs to continue listening to the people who live and travel along County Road 510/AAA. These are our roads. This is our community, our lifestyle, and our culture.

The plan currently being considered by the MCRC is not necessary for the safety of either the traveling public or the safe transportation of the ore from Eagle Mine.

It has been soundly rejected to date by the public. The road needs to be designed for 35 mph. There can be no eminent domain for a privately funded project and beneficiary.

At least 30 days should be allotted for comment, followed by a minimum 30 days before a decision is rendered

At the risk of being called an “obstructionist” by this paper, I have to ask, “What’s the rush?” Do not blame the public if Lundin has to wait in order to make matters right and just.

This process could have been started a whole lot sooner than Sept. 26. Let’s take our time.

We have one chance to get this right, or live with the consequences.

Editor’s note: Gene Champagne is a resident of Big Bay.

Permalink: http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/592061/Here-is-example-of-what-a-compromise-is-not.html

Rio Tinto Targets Clean Water Advocates in Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

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

 

In victory at Crandon, lessons for a new proposal | Al Gedicks and Dave Blouin

Oct. 9, 2013

The end of this month, Oct. 28, marks the 10th anniversary of the historic victory over the controversial Crandon mine project adjacent to the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa Reservation.

Veterans of that 28-year (1975-2003) battle against the Crandon metallic sulfide mine will gather on the Mole Lake Reservation on Oct. 26 to commemorate the grass-roots environmental, sportfishing and tribal victory over the world’s largest energy company (Exxon) and the world’s largest mining company (BHP Billiton).

Situated at the headwaters of the Wolf River, the proposed underground shaft mine was one mile upstream from the tribe’s wild rice beds, five miles from the Forest County Potawatomi Reservation, and 40 miles (via the Wolf River) upstream of the Menominee Nation. The mine would have destroyed Mole Lake’s wild rice beds and threatened the tourism industry downstream on the Wolf River.

In the end, the Mole Lake Chippewa and the Forest County Potawatomi tribes purchased and divided the 5,000-acre Crandon mine property for $16.5 million. Mole Lake acquired the Nicolet Minerals Co., and quickly dropped mine permit applications. The land is now managed as a conservation area devoted to sustainable land-management practices, tribal cultural values and tourism suitable to this environmentally sensitive area.

The international mining industry was shocked when a broad multiracial, rural-based grassroots alliance defeated the world’s largest mining corporation. How could such a movement overcome the superior financial resources, and political access to decision-makers in the Wisconsin Legislature, governor’s office and the Department of Natural Resources?

Dale Alberts, president of Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of BHP Billliton, acknowledged that “a major problem in the beginning was the company did a poor job communicating to the local people. Environmental groups got out ahead and frightened people.”

But what really frightened people was the prospect of acidic mine waste piles 90 feet deep and covering 355 acres at the headwaters of the pristine Wolf. Native and non-Native groups mistrusted the DNR to defend their rights and found that tribal environmental regulations were stronger than state laws in protecting the Wolf River’s tourism economy.

After the Crandon defeat, the mining industry urgently discussed the need for a “social license to operate” where the mining companies work to win broad social support for their extractive activities. The failure to obtain such a social license raises the political and financial risks of a project and can often lead to the defeat of a mining project by widespread community opposition.

This is exactly what happened at Crandon and what is now taking place in the Bad River watershed where Gogebic Taconite has proposed a mountaintop removal operation to create the largest open pit iron mine in the world upstream from the largest remaining wild rice wetland in the entire Great Lakes basin on the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation.

GTac has followed Exxon’s strategy by using its financial and political power with the governor and the Legislature to write its own mining law, severely limiting citizen and tribal participation in the permitting process, and militarizing the mine site by deploying masked security guards with automatic weapons to intimidate the public.

The most recent public opinion survey from the University of Wisconsin-Superior shows that nearly two-thirds of the people in a random poll in Iron and Ashland counties oppose the mine project.

From the perspective of the mining industry’s own standards for a viable mine project, this project is dead in the water.

Al Gedicks of La Crosse is executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council. Dave Blouin of Madison is the Mining Committee chair of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter.

Permalink: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/in-victory-at-crandon-lessons-for-a-new-proposal-b99116285z1-227139641.html#ixzz2k4R9Uitz

To the editor: Road to ruin

Road to ruin | The Mining Journal | April 7, 2013

To the Journal editor:

The Upper Peninsula has a long history of mining and logging. Regardless of one’s personal position on this issue, don’t let the county leave public safety on the side of the road when considering proposed truck routes in Marquette County.

The Marquette County Road commission and Rio Tinto are negotiating plans to spend over $40 million restructuring the roads leading to the Eagle Mine, including over 20 miles of restructuring work on Marquette County Road 550.

The shoulder widths being called for by the Marquette county roads commission are below Federal Highway Administration recommended minimum widths of four foot paved, and below Michigan state standards of a six foot paved shoulder called for during restructuring work, that will endanger the public’s use of the Big Bay highway.

The three foot paved shoulder proposed by the county road commission is below acceptable standards. In the interests of public safety and to adequately plan for future use of this valuable traffic corridor, the county should rebuild the Big Bay highway with the minimum acceptable shoulder width called for during a restructuring project.

The county is failing to consider additional growth in northeast Marquette County, the demands of emergency responders, a projected increase in non-Eagle Mine truck traffic, other commercial development, private landowners, the residents of Powell and northeast Marquette townships and the tourists and travelers to Big Bay.

The county’s plan also fails to adequately provide for safe non-motorized and recreational use of this valuable transportation corridor.

Everyone that travels the Big Bay highway should be concerned. Everyone with an economic stake in Marquette County’s future should be concerned.

Demand the county provide adequately for public safety. Develop the Big Bay highway to the minimum acceptable roadway design standards.

In the interests of public safety, economic stimulus and future growth, the county has the duty before it to add six foot paved shoulders during the Big Bay highway restructuring project.

Mike Beck, member

American Planning Association

Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals

http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/585959/Road-to-ruin.html?nav=5067

Air filtration necessary on Eagle Mine air stack to keep air clean

My name is Kathleen Heideman, and I’m commenting tonight as a Marquette resident and tax payer, and as a Michigan citizen concerned about environmental quality. I’m also speaking on behalf of my family, which is an adjacent landowner to Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Eagle Mine site. When Rio Tinto says they want to be a “good neighbor,” they’re talking about being our neighbor.

Rio Tinto promised us a world-class mine with state-of-the-art environmental protections. The Bag House air-filter system they pledged to install was an environmental protection. According to Cynthia Pryor:

“This 65-foot-tall high stack sits within 150 feet of the Salmon Trout River. We worked hard to get the air filter included as part of Kennecott’s original air quality permit as they intended the mine exhaust to be vented directly to the air. Now, they are backpedaling and want this air filter to be removed. We are vehemently opposed to such a notion and want to make this clear…”

Let me be clear: Rio Tinto’s request to remove the air filter from their Main Vent Air Raise (MVAR) is based entirely on finances, with blatant disregard for environmental quality. It hasn’t been a good year for Rio Tinto. Perhaps tonight’s hearing should be called a “profit maximizing” permit review.

Rio Tinto wants us to believe their air filter is no longer necessary, due to changes underground, or that it would simply not be compatible with their special sort of mine. Actually, Rio Tinto wants to break this promise because air filter systems are notoriously difficult and costly to maintain. Regardless of the source or size of the emission particulates, emissions will build up on the filter, just as lint accumulates on a dryer screen, or dirt coats the air filter of a truck. Instead of discarding the filter, the bag house (depending on design) must shake, blow or electrostatically discharge the material that builds up on the filter, collecting this “caked” debris for proper treatment as a pollutant. This is a nasty cake, containing heavy metals from exhaust and sulfur-rich ore dust. Air filters fail when they develop tears in their fabric (allowing pollutants to stream through unchecked), or when moist material accumulates on the filter (reducing filter efficacy or blocking exhaust flow) or when acidic compounds in the emissions attack the filter fabric. While difficult to maintain, the whole point of installing an air filter and bag house is Process Control: avoid sending this stuff out into the environment, period.

According to their permit modification request, a mine worker will now simply stand near the MVAR stack once a day, and make a visual “observation” recording whether emissions other than water vapor from the stack are VISIBLE on a gray-scale (limit of 5% opacity). Seriously? This is an unacceptably primitive “alternative” to an air filter system.

It must be noted that Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine proposes to have a below-ground heating system functioning most of the days per year, Spring – Fall – and Winter, whenever the outside air temperature falls below 32°. Conveniently, their heater is considered “exempt” for purposes of emissions control, so we are supposed to disregard all the hydrocarbon pollutants present in their heater emissions (which also exit the MVAR stack). In fact, the mine is proposing to increase the amount of underground heating, increasing the BTU output (and emissions) of the heaters. This mine will be heated 24-7, most of the year. Air exhausted from this mine will contain vehicle exhaust from underground mining vehicles, emissions from the heating system, and clouds of ore dust particulates released through blasting, loading, and hauling — and on most days of the year, exhausted air will be warmer than ambient air temperature. Warm, moist air — from a damp mine!

Rio Tinto had to have known from the beginning there would be condensation issues for the MVAR filter they were proposing. Any other conclusion doesn’t make sense. Condensation is a common problem, which the air filter industry routinely handles by recommending insulation and heating of the air filter bag house. Again, this increases total cost of operation. Condensation issues reduce the effective life of the air filter, whatever filter fabric is selected, which again makes the air filtration system more expensive to maintain. Added to this situation is the fact that ore dust will be sulfide-rich, creating (sulfuric) acid condensate on the air filter (as well as the MVAR and bag house equipment), leading to yet more expensive maintenance.

Clearly, Rio Tinto’s proposal to remove air filter controls from the MVAR is a  cost control decision, not a pollution-control or process-control decision.

Sending an unfiltered plume of high velocity mine exhaust directly into the clean air over the Yellow Dog Plains is unconscionable. Notwithstanding the peaks of the Huron Mountains, the Yellow Dog Plains are the height of land for Marquette County. There has never been heavy industry in this location, but according to Rio Tinto’s air pollution dispersal maps (based on dubious weather models unconnected to the Yellow Dog Plains), mine pollution will soon be raining down over half of Marquette County. The unfiltered particulates they propose to send into our skies will be blanketing the blueberries we harvest, changing the PH of our lichen-covered soils (destroying these lichen, which are highly sensitive to acid rain), damaging the ecosystems of the Huron Mountains and Silver Lake Basin, accumulating in the watersheds of the Salmon Trout River, Yellow Dog River and countless wild streams, and contaminating our air with particulates that present an inhalation hazard for humans and wildlife. Rio Tinto may plan on issuing dust masks to employees at the mine, but they certainly won’t be handing them out to deer hunters, berry pickers, the deer and moose and wolves, or anyone with camps on the Yellow Dog, or homes in the Big Bay area. We all deserve clean air to breathe.

It is curious to note: Rio Tinto states in their Permit that they may need to change underground operations to respond to economic considerations, which are “constantly changing”:

“The underground ore handling system is based upon “best facility economics. Because economics are constantly changing due to market conditions, changes to the underground ore handling system may be necessary to reflect future market conditions.”

Of course, another factor that is “constantly changing” is industrial technology and the best facility practices related to process control and air pollution abatement measures! Curiously, the permit makes no mention of changing practices to align with future environmental practices.

Rather than use a filter system, Rio Tinto proposes to spray water inside the mine. Spraying groundwater on air-polluting dust? That’s a 19th century bandage, not a pollution control. Rio Tinto’s “solution” to air pollution assumes that Michigan groundwater is endlessly available, free for the taking, and unconnected to aquifers supplying drinking water to surrounding residents of Marquette County. Those assumptions are unacceptable.

Rio Tinto repeatedly promised to build a world-class mine, using world-class technology, and world-class safety practices. Was that a bait and switch strategy? If they made an empty promise, regarding their MVAR air filter, the Eagle Mine permit was fraudulent.

If allowed, Rio Tinto’s permit modification would allow the mine to spew an unfiltered plume of air pollution for the winds to disperse over Marquette County. The “Solution to Pollution is not Dilution” – that was 19th century approach. Rio Tinto received a mine permit from the DEQ because of environmental assurances they made, including the MVAR’s filter.

They do not have free license to pollute Michigan’s air and water. Please deny this permit modification on the grounds that it is based on economic considerations and terrible science, and will functionally increase both air and water pollution.

While the air filtration system Rio Tinto proposed will be expensive to implement and difficult to maintain, such control measures are essential, not optional. Clean air is priceless.

Kathleen M. Heideman
Marquette MI 49855