Don’t Flint the U.P. – “Something went wrong there.”

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Editorial by Jim Voss, resident of Lake Township

On November 9th 2015, the Detroit Free Press reported on the findings of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit organization that promotes government transparency and ethics. State governments were ranked using criteria like: accessibility, responsiveness, and accountability. This national study concluded that Michigan ranked last in laws on ethics and transparency.

Those of you that worked on the committee that developed Part 632 know the effect that businesses can have on interpreting and developing the rules for laws in the State of Michigan. The result is a document that, in some opinions, makes Michigan a “Most Mining Friendly” state.

The process for developing the rules for Part 632 did involve citizen accessibility through input, but did it demonstrate governmental responsiveness and accountability? Was there a level playing field for all participants? Were ethics involved?

At the January meeting in Stephenson, the DEQ took questions concerning the application process for Aquila Resources’ application regarding their Back Forty project. Joe Maki, the DEQ spokesperson that presided at the meeting, said the process was going to be as transparent as possible. There would be public meetings and opportunities for public input and suggestions. We were assured that questions would be considered, each suggestion evaluated and, when appropriate, acted on. A first small step indicating that Joe Maki was going to live up to his word was, after many requests, the granting of a two week extension of the deadline for submitting questions to the DEQ.

Listening to concerns, considering requests and acting on behalf of the people are all things any governmental unit should be doing. Especially a department that is ultimately responsible to the people of the State of Michigan, and not to the people that appointed them.

If the DEQ’s loyalty is to their bosses and not to the people, disasters can occur. A recent example where this happened is the Flint water crisis, which is under investigation in Michigan today. It appears that appointed city officials and appointed DEQ members were more interested in saving money and saving face than serving the constituents they were charged to protect.

A local doctor, an independent scientist, and local residents were ignored and discounted while the citizens of Flint continued to drink tainted water. Ironically, bottled water was being supplied (as an alternative) to state employees working in government buildings while local citizens were being assured their drinking water was safe to drink.

Something went wrong there. Somebody (more than one somebody) lost sight of the reason they were appointed to their position. That reason, in a nutshell, should be to preserve and protect the health and well-being of their constituents. The health and well-being of the people they serve.

They have no obligation higher than that. Not to business, not to lobbyists, not to the “bottom line”, and not to their bosses. Their obligation is not to circle the wagons and protect the well-being of the puppet-masters that appointed them. Their obligation is to us!

As this permitting process for Aquila Resources Back Forty Project continues to unfold, as we look at the time lines, as we worry about governmental expertise, as we fret over the influence of cronyism and money and lobbyists, let’s constantly remind the people that are reviewing these documents that their loyalty is to us, that their loyalty is to the health and well-being of future generations, that their loyalty is to this great place we call the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

 

“Don’t Undermine the Menominee” Forum a Success

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MARQUETTE —On Wednesday, February 17th, environmental nonprofit Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) hosted a forum on Aquila Resources’ proposed Back Forty open pit sulfide mine, to a packed room of concerned citizens, Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) staff, Northern Michigan University students, and worried homeowners.

Successful Forum

Wednesday’s “Don’t Undermine the Menominee” forum featured Denny Caneff, the executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin; Ron Henriksen, spokesman for the Front 40 environmental group; Dr. David Overstreet, a professor of archaeology at the College of the Menominee Nation; Doug Cox, the environmental program coordinator for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin; Guy M. Reiter, an environmental advocate and a member of the Menominee Conservation Commission; and Chuck Brumleve, an environmental mining specialist and geologist.

“It was a great forum and really rewarding to see everyone speaking to their expertise with passion. I think that the message came across loud and clear: concerned citizens don’t want a sulfide mine on the banks of the Menominee River”, said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP executive director.

Message to MDEQ: Deny Aquila’s Mining Permit

On Tuesday, February 16th, Save the Wild U.P. submitted a letter to the MDEQ asking them to deny Aquila Resources’ Back Forty application on the basis of fraudulent or misleading  “life of mine” statements. Over the past week, 829 concerned citizens signed onto the letter, some on behalf of organizations they represent, including Superior Watershed Partnership, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, The Western Mining Action Network, Save our Sky Blue Waters, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, Sugar Law Center, numerous fishing clubs, and more.

SWUP’s Public Comment re: Aquila Back Forty

SWUP provided substantial public comment to the MDEQ concerning the Back Forty mining application, and sent a strongly worded request to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), with supporting comments, asking that the MDNR deny an underlying “Land Swap” proposed by Aquila Resources. The proposed land swap between Aquila Resources and the State of Michigan would destroy critical habitat, threatened and endangered species, invaluable archaeological sites, and treaty-protected natural and cultural resources of the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin.

“The proposed Land Swap is not in the Public Interest, and would result in an uncalculated loss of ecological services, with adverse impacts on freshwater fisheries, wildlife including threatened and endangered species, human health and welfare, environmental justice and special aquatic sites,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

Aquila plans to develop a large open pit sulfide mine on the Menominee River northwest of Stephenson, extracting rock to create a pit over 750 feet deep and at least a quarter mile wide, processing ore – containing lead, zinc, copper, gold and other heavy metals using flotation, cyanide and smelting – and dumping their waste on the banks of Upper Michigan’s largest watershed.

SWUP’s public comments raised serious concerns about the mining application and the company’s environmental impact assessment (EIA), including: threats to sturgeon fisheries and freshwater mussels, shoddy or inadequate EIA surveys that missed or misidentified plants and failed to mention threatened and endangered species, the vulnerability of the mine site to flood hazards, the hazardous use of cyanide and mercury in smelting, reclamation plans based on the environmentally disastrous Flambeau Mine, the planned destruction of regulated wetlands and vernal pools, groundwater draw-down, the potential instability of highly-fractured and faulted rock at this site, Aquila’s plan to backfill the pit with acid-generating waste rock, and more.

As designed, much of Aquila Back Forty mine facility, including a majority of the Back Forty’s near-surface orebody, much of the Open Pit, and all of the Oxide Tailings Waste Rock Management Facility (TWRMF), would be built on State Land that is currently part of the Escanaba State Forest. The land that Aquila wants for an open pit mine and a perpetual waste rock facility are not currently owned by Aquila Resources.

“The Back Forty mine application raises more red flags than I can count – critical oak savannas, sturgeon fisheries, treaty-protected natural resources, and indigenous archaeological sites will be threatened or destroyed by this mining operation,” said Maxwell. “The U.P. is tired of being a long-term sacrifice zone for short-term profits.”

“We seem, as a society, to be ever ready to relinquish this public stewardship of the wild for the sake of private gains for a few, and contribute through ill-considered industrial-scale projects to an ongoing degrading of the landscape. Is reducing and mitigating damage the best that we can do?” asked Jon Saari, SWUP vice president.

Wednesday’s well-attended forum included multiple presentations from experts offering brief overviews of the proposed mining activities, the environmental impacts from mining activities, and significant regulatory steps taken by Menominee and Lake township residents to protect their citizens from the dangers of sulfide mining. During Guy Reiter’s presentation, he asked that the audience stand and pledge to “get involved” and every single person stood up and promised to work for the protection of the Upper Peninsula’s clean water and wild places.

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup.

Additional Info:

SWUP Public Comments to DEQ:
http://bit.ly/SWUPAQUILADEQ

SWUP Letter to DNR:
http://bit.ly/SWUPAQUILADNR

SWUP Sign-On Letter “Deny Aquila Back Forty Application”:
http://bit.ly/SWUPSIGNONLETTERPUBLIC

SWUP Essay on Fraudulent Life of Mine:
http://bit.ly/2131zPF

 

Don’t Undermine the Menominee: Forum on Aquila’s Back Forty Mine Proposal

MARQUETTE — Local environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is collaborating with the Menominee River Front 40 group, regional environmentalists, Menominee tribal leaders, archaeologists and mining experts to hold an informational forum on Aquila Resources’ Back Forty mine permit application. The forum will be held in the Shiras Room of the Peter White Public Library in Marquette on Wednesday, February 17th from 6pm – 8pm. The event is free and open to the public.

Aquila Resources has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for a mine permit. Aquila plans to develop a large open pit sulfide mine on the Menominee River northwest of Stephenson, extracting rock, processing ore – containing lead, zinc, copper, gold and other heavy metals using flotation, cyanide and smelting – and dumping their waste on the banks of Upper Michigan’s largest watershed.

“Sulfide mines are known to pollute indefinitely. This mine doesn’t belong on the Menominee River,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director.

The forum will include a slideshow, and experts offering brief overviews of the proposed mining activities, the environmental impacts from those mining activities, the potential loss of archaeological and cultural resources of the Menominee Nation and the significant regulatory steps taken by Menominee and Lake township residents to protect their citizens from the dangers of sulfide mining.

Wednesday’s “Don’t Undermine the Menominee” forum features a panel of experts from Michigan and Wisconsin, including: Gary Besaw, Menominee Indian Tribal Chairman; Denny Caneff, the executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin; Ron Henriksen, who joined the Front 40 Environmental Group to oppose the open pit metallic sulfide mine along the banks of the Menominee River; Dr. David Overstreet, a professor of archaeology at the College of the Menominee Nation; Doug Cox, the environmental program coordinator for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin; Guy M. Reiter, an environmental advocate and a member of the Menominee Conservation Commission; and Chuck Brumleve, an environmental mining specialist and geologist.

“We’re truly honored to host such a knowledgeable and passionate panel of experts. The future of the Menominee River is at stake,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s president.

The Back Forty mine permit application – over 37,500 pages, including environmental impact assessment – is currently under review by the Michigan’s DEQ. Concerned citizens, regional environmental organizations, and the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin are also scrutinizing the permit. “The Back Forty mine application raises more red flags than I can count – critical oak savannas, sturgeon fisheries, treaty-protected natural resources, and indigenous archaeological sites will be threatened or destroyed by this mining operation,” said Maxwell.

“Almost all of the rock Aquila plans to extract will be highly reactive, so acid mine drainage is going to be a serious issue here,” said Heideman.

“The DEQ has done almost nothing to educate the public about Aquila’s mining plans. This forum is long overdue. Yoopers have been hearing big promises from this company for over a decade. Everyone needs to be aware of the threats posed by this project,” said Maxwell. “This is a great opportunity for all of us to learn what’s really at stake — Michigan’s clean water, as usual, and the health and well-being of our communities. The U.P. is tired of being a long-term sacrifice zone for short-term profits.”

The public comment deadline for the Aquila application is Tuesday, February 16th at 5pm. Concerned citizens are urged to send comments and concerns to: MDEQ Back Forty Mine Comments, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, Michigan, 49855; or by email to Joe Maki: makij3@michigan.gov

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup.

MEDIA LINKS

“Don’t Undermine the Menominee” Event Page: http://bit.ly/MQTMenomineeForum

GUEST SPEAKER BIOS + PHOTOS

Gary Besaw is the Tribal Chairman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.
photo: http://bit.ly/BesawImage

Chuck Brumleve is an environmental mining specialist and geologist.
photo: http://bit.ly/CBrumleveImage

Denny Caneff is the Executive Director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin.
photo: http://bit.ly/DCaneffImage

Doug Cox is the Environmental Program Director for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.
photo: http://bit.ly/DCoxImage

Ron Henriksen is the spokesman for the group Menominee River Front 40.
photo: http://bit.ly/RHenriksenImage

Guy M. Reiter is a traditional Menominee Indian, an environmental advocate and a member of the Menominee Conservation Commission.
photo: http://bit.ly/GReiterImage

David Overstreet is the Principal Investigator at Center for Cultural Research, and professor at the College of the Menominee Nation.
photo: http://bit.ly/DOverstreetImage

Environmentalists Warn: Flint is Not A Fluke

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MARQUETTE – Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is calling on the Obama Administration to appoint an individual with proven leadership experience in environmental protection to fill the top position at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 5 headquarters, following the resignation of EPA Administrator Susan Hedman. On Thursday January 21, Hedman tendered her resignation, after admitting to the Detroit News that “her office knew in April 2015 that Flint’s action to switch its water supply could cause increased pipe corrosion and spiked lead levels.”

“This situation is urgent and new leadership is critical. The EPA needs a leader with an environmental track record, not a career administrator or an industry insider. All Hedman did was throw the problem back at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Meanwhile, an entire city was being poisoned,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director. In December, MDEQ Director Dan Wyant resigned his position as the scope of the water crisis was revealed.

“What has happened in Flint is egregious,” said Michelle Halley, Marquette attorney and advisory board member for Save the Wild U.P. “The public who relies upon their elected officials and the agencies they oversee should know that the problems do not stop in Flint. The same attitude of disregard for citizens and the environment has repeated itself in DEQ decisions across our state for well over a decade.”

“Administrator Hedman’s resignation comes as no surprise, honestly,” said Kathleen Heideman, Save the Wild U.P. president. “I’m afraid the problems in Flint are just the tip of the iceberg. EPA Region 5 has been turning a blind eye to environmental degradations happening right here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as well. For years, we’ve been calling on the EPA for transparency, accountability and enforcement actions.”

“Flint is not a fluke,” said Halley. “Flint reflects the failure of values and lack of thoroughness that has become habitual with Michigan politicians and environmental regulators. This happened in Michigan, and the EPA watched and did nothing.”

In 2015, Save the Wild U.P. brought water quality and permitting problems to the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency — specifically, discharges of industrial wastewater to the Salmon Trout River (from Eagle Mine), and the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River (from the Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill). SWUP petitioned the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board to uphold the Clean Water Act. The group also requested the veto authority of the EPA over wastewater discharges at the Humboldt Mill, which are known to pollute riparian wetlands of the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River.

“Instead of being a partner, EPA Region 5 worked to oppose the efforts of concerned citizens. Given new leadership, we hope the EPA will become a true environmental ally,” said Heideman.

“When it comes to water quality, mining companies view the U.P. as a Third-World economy; Lundin Mining called us a ‘low-risk jurisdiction’ when they purchased the Eagle Mine, referring to our historical experience with mining, the complicity of state regulators, and the EPA’s lack of interest in our environmental problems,” said Gail Griffith, professor emeritus of chemistry at Northern Michigan University and Save the Wild U.P. board member.

“Why hasn’t the EPA been more responsive? Politics and poverty are big factors, I think. In 2014, the median income in Humboldt MI was less than $36,000; the median income in Flint was over $49,000. Yoopers make the residents of Flint look wealthy,” said Maxwell.

“It took the poisoning of hundreds of poor children to demonstrate that the leaders of both EPA Region 5 and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality were incapable of properly managing those organizations. Why did it take a catastrophe after we provided an abundance of evidence over the last 5 years demonstrating that they were inept?” said Jeffery Loman, former federal oil regulator and Save the Wild U.P. advisory board member. “The EPA has been too busy commemorating, celebrating and congratulating — mostly themselves — to care about enforcing water quality.”

“Our message is simple,” said Maxwell. “Michigan and the Great Lakes deserve real environmental leadership. We look forward to establishing a positive working relationship with EPA Region 5 in 2016.”

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup.

MDEQ Needs Real Leadership in 2016

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MARQUETTE – Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is calling on Governor Snyder to appoint an individual with proven experience in environmental protection to fill the leadership vacuum at Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), following Director Dan Wyant’s resignation. Wyant resigned, along with a top MDEQ public relations staffer, after a State Task Force blamed MDEQ for Flint’s water quality crisis.

“This situation is urgent and new leadership is critical. The MDEQ needs a leader with an environmental track record, not a career administrator or an industry insider. The clock is ticking on a number of environmental permits currently under review by the MDEQ — including a mine permit application for what could be Upper Michigan’s second sulfide mine,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director.

“Under Dan Wyant’s tenure, the MDEQ made decisions that benefited industry, at the sake of the environment — he was hand-picked for that purpose by Governor Snyder. Wyant was totally incapable of managing the agency. Snyder needs to be held accountable for appointing Wyant, just as he should now be held accountable for the egregious mismanagement of Flint’s water quality crisis,” said Jeffery Loman, former federal oil regulator and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member.

“At the highest level, MDEQ leaders have repeatedly failed to protect water quality in Michigan. The MDEQ can’t go on treating our priceless rivers like sewer pipes, useful only for flushing away wastewater discharges,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

“Michigan visitors, residents, and wildlife alike depend on clean water — for everything from habitats to recreation to drinking water. The Governor has apologized for the DEQ’s failure to ensure that the city of Flint had a safe water supply, for disregarding the concerns of local citizens and denying there was a problem. Now we hope he gets serious about reorganizing the MDEQ so that it works for the people of this state, instead of benefiting the big corporate polluters they’re supposed to be regulating,” said Steve Garske, SWUP board member.

“Lacking DEQ leadership, the task of defending clean water and wild places has fallen to grassroots organizations like Save the Wild U.P., F.O.L.K., Front 40, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, and so on,” said Maxwell.

“I applaud the concerned citizens in Flint who spoke out in order to sound the alarm about their contaminated water — that’s grassroots activism. These ordinary citizens are truly heroes. It’s clear that the EPA only got involved in Flint because of citizen efforts, while the DEQ tried to cover up the problem,” said Heideman.

“Our message to Governor Snyder is simple,” said Maxwell. “In 2016, Michigan deserves real environmental leadership.”

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup.

 

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

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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. 
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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.
president@savethewildup.org

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup.

Environmental group asks EPA to review Eagle Mine permits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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 info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.orgor follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup.

Environmentalists Outraged By New Mineral Lease To Eagle Mine

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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.”

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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 savethewildup.org or by calling (906) 662-9987.

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DEQ Issues Deeply Flawed Eagle Mine Groundwater Discharge Permit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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.”

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

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U.P. Environmental Groups Criticize DNR’s Decision

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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.”

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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, folkup.org, or follow FOLK on Facebook at facebook.com/folkorg.

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 savethewildup.org, or follow on Facebook facebook.com/savethewildup.

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