Michigan DEQ Permits Sulfide Mine, Imperils Menominee River

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Marquette, MI — Regional environmentalists are expressing outrage and disappointment following news that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has announced the final approval for two of four major permits Aquila Resources Inc. (Aquila) needs for its proposed Back Forty Mine Project in Lake Township, Menominee County, Michigan. The DEQ approved the company’s applications for a Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining Permit (Mining Permit), and the Michigan Air Use Permit to Install.

On December 28th, the DEQ published a press release headlined “Aquila Back Forty project gains conditional approvals by MDEQ; faces significant remaining hurdles; this press release disappeared midday, replaced by a second press release titled “Aquila Back Forty project gains two permit approvals by MDEQ.” The revised press release does not use the phrases “significant remaining hurdles” or “conditional.” 

“I’m disgusted by the process as well as the decision. Key stakeholders were not notified, including neighboring residents, tribal governments and environmental groups who’ve been involved for over a decade” said Kathleen Heideman, outgoing president of Save the Wild U.P. “Financial assurances that should have been established in the draft permit were just added, but now there’s no opportunity for public input as to their adequacy. There’s still no final permit for the mine’s wastewater discharges to the Menominee River which will degrade water quality and impair mussels and sturgeon. And the whole scheme hinges on a land swap between Aquila Resources and the State of Michigan, which has never been discussed in a public hearing.”

“The DEQ is violating its own regulations by issuing this mining permit,” said attorney Michelle Halley. “The permit application is incomplete, contradicts itself, and contradicts other public statements made by the applicant. This again demonstrates the DEQ’s deeply flawed permitting process.”

“Once again, it seems that the Michigan DEQ has set aside the wishes of the people, environmental concerns, and common sense, in order to help special interests pursue their objectives. It is apparent that the DEQ did not thoroughly review the information gathered during the public comment phase of this process,” said Ron Henriksen, spokesman for the Front 40 environmental group.

“No one, including the DEQ’s mine permit review team, was able to consider the project’s cumulative impacts to the Menominee River and wetlands because a wetland permit has not yet been submitted. The rerouting of River Road, still to be determined, promises to further impact riparian wetlands, the floodplain and cultural sites belonging to the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin,” said Heideman. “These are not ‘special conditions’ as the DEQ has implied. These are statutory requirements.”

“The DEQ’s approval is counterintuitive,said Alexandra Maxwell, member of the Mining Action Group. “Considering what will be destroyed – cultural properties and trust resources of the Menominee Tribe, fragile wetlands, water quality and the people’s trust in state government and due process – this decision is a betrayal. Once more, Michigan’s environmental regulators, who are trusted to enforce and protect the environment, have fallen far short of the mark.”

“This mine poses a grave threat to the water and land in the area. The edge of this open pit will come within 100 feet of the Menominee River. The DEQ is operating under the assumption that nothing catastrophic can occur. When there is a flood, acid mine waste will end up in the river and ultimately Lake Michigan. What will happen to recreational fishing? What will happen to the lake sturgeon, which have been rehabilitated through a $7 million project? What happens to the drinking water for downstream communities?” asked concerned citizen Nate Frischkorn.

“Shakey Lakes savanna, adjacent to the Aquila Back Forty mine site, is the largest and most intact oak savanna left in Michigan, and home to numerous rare, threatened and state-listed species. At the time of European settlement oak savanna was one of the most common habitats in the upper midwest, covering some 30 million acres. With less than 0.02% left, savanna is now one of our rarest landscapes. In 1990, this area was recommended for designation as a National Natural Landmark. The DEQ’s shortsighted decision to grant a mining permit here will further degrade one of Michigan’s rarest and most unique places,said botanist Steve Garske.

“The DEQ has a strange understanding of stewardship. Risky mining ventures, under and next to U.P. rivers, get permit approvals, in the face of widespread opposition from residents, Native American tribes, recreationists, and concerned citizens. Will the DEQ ever interpret a mining proposal as inadequate? Instead, we see more public land and waterways held hostage to industrial projects, more cuts into an already wounded landscape,” commented historian and Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition board member Jon Saari.

Environmentalist claim the Back Forty mine permit application was fraudulent. According to Heideman, “Aquila lied to regulators about the extent of their planned mine, to streamline the process. Aquila applied for a 7 year open pit mine and told the DEQ that NO underground mining would take place. But Aquila is promising something very different to international investors and local business leaders, saying the Back Forty is “two mines” — an open pit and an underground mine, with a combined life of 16 years. It is illegal and fraudulent to lie in a permit application. The Back Forty application should have been denied a year ago, on that basis alone.” Aquila’s corporate press release, published on December 29th, once again describes the Back Forty project as having a “16-year life of mine, of which 12.5M tonnes will be open-pit and 3.6M tonnes will be underground.” The mining permit granted by the State of Michigan is for a 7 year open pit mine only.

Two key permits are still needed before the Aquila Back Forty project can proceed: a NPDES permit authorizing the discharge of the mine’s industrial wastewater to the Menominee River, and a wetland permit, regulating the impairment and destruction of wetlands. The NPDES permit is “under consideration” according to the DEQ, given unresolved concerns raised by concerned citizens and the Environmental Protection Agency. Oddly, the “revised” DEQ press release states that a Wetlands permit application is also “under consideration,” despite the fact that the original application contained numerous errors and omissions and was rescinded, and a new application has not yet been submitted.

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Founded in 1976, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s purpose remains unchanged: to protect and maintain the unique environmental qualities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by educating the public and acting as a watchdog to industry and government. UPEC is a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, call 906-201-1949, see UPenvironment.org, visit our Facebook page, or contact: upec@upenvironment.org.

Previously known as Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), the UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) is a grassroots effort to defend the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining. Contact the UPEC Mining Action Group at info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Learn more about the Mining Action Group at miningactiongroup.org or follow MAG’s work on Facebook or Twitter.

Sing the Wild U.P.

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Welcome and thank you for your interest in our Sing The Wild U.P. songwriting competition! Sing The Wild UP is a video submission based songwriting competition sponsored by The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition/The Mining Action Group. Songs must be inspired by a love for the Upper Peninsula or make a statement about the importance of conserving our land’s natural beauty and resources. These songs may be written in protest to environmental issues and threats or may simply give a voice of appreciation for our land. This competition is open only to residents of The Upper Peninsula. Please view the links below for more information.

Contest Rules and Guidelines – these are important!

Submission Form – can’t go far without this one!

Pay Entry Fee – certainly can’t go far without this one, either!


Meet our Judges!

Kim Parlato and the Nerdfighters

The Marquette Senior High School Nerdfighters are a group of service-minded students inspired by the activism of brothers John and Hank Green, who – as the VlogBrothers on YouTube and as themselves in real life – have been speaking out for truth, justice, and decreasing world suck. Musicians, writers, artists, and overall good human beings, the MSHS Nerdfighters organize the MSHS food drive for local food pantries and celebrate the talents of their peers by hosting “Music in the Mornings” in the MSHS Library, which provides attendees with free coffee and inspired entertainment by school music groups. This year, the group also collected books for the Marquette-Alger Reading Council’s Gift of Reading program and is working toward establishing a mural proposal protocol to ensure the walls of MSHS become covered in student art. These Nerdfighters are advised by English teacher and Marquette musician Kim Parlato, who fancied herself a singer-songwriter in one of her (many) former lives before she dedicated herself to the education of the Upper Peninsula’s amazing young people.

Ben Weaver 

Be outside – Protect the land and water – Sing while you do it. Songwriter/Poet Ben Weaver travels by bike crafting human powered musical expeditions. Recently Ben’s expeditions have taken him down the length of the Mississippi River, around Lake Superior, across the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska and throughout the Netherlands. Ben has released eight albums of original music and four books of poetry. Given the choice, he will side with the animals, the lakes, the streams and the trees.

Michael Waite

Michael Waite’s songwriting is thoughtful Americana without any glitz, both brutally and joyously honest. A classically-trained singer, he lives with his family in Michigan’s Huron Mountains and enjoys a repertoire of hundreds of songs ranging in style from Irish folk to bebop. His delivery of his own songs and original interpretations of others is influenced by his first musical exploration, the jazz trombone.


Prizes
First Prize:
The winning song will be performed live at the Ore Dock brewing Company on Friday, March 24th at the kickoff event to the Annual Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Celebration! Then, you’ll get to record your winning song at Da Yoopers Studio! The top song and artist (or band) will get to work with local musicians/sound engineers Jesse DeCaire and Jim Bellmore of Da Yooper Studio in Ishpeming, Michigan. If the additional recording of songs is desired, a package price can be worked out at the time of recording. Mixing and a basic master of the winning song are included in the prize and a CD copy will be provided of the song at the end of the session. While a specific amount of recording/mixing time is not stated in the prize and will be very flexible and will depend on the availability of all participants, we ask that the scope of the recording be kept to a reasonable time frame (unless as stated above additional studio time was purchased).

Second Prize:
The second place song will be performed live at the Ore Dock Brewing Company on Friday, March 24th at the kickoff event to the Annual Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Celebration! Second place winners will also receive a $200 cash prize.

Third Prize:
The third place song will be performed live at the Ore Dock Brewing Company on Friday, March 24th at the kickoff event to the Annual Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Celebration and the winner will receive a gift card to Jim’s Music of $50.

Honorable Mention:
We will also celebrate an honorable mention for outstanding performance! This song will be performed live at the Ore Dock Brewing Company on Friday, March 24th at the kickoff event to the Annual Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Celebration and the winner will receive a musician’s gift basket, all the goodies a budding musician needs!


 Have Questions?

Contact Alexandra Maxwell at miningactiongroupUPEC@gmail.com or Rebecca Rucinski at rebeccalrucinski@gmail.com

Public Comments from DEQ Hearing on Aquila – IN FULL (10-6-16)

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Save the Wild U.P. would like to extend a hearty THANK YOU to all of our friends, allies and activists who came to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s public hearing on the proposed Back Forty project on October 5th. The Stephenson High School gymnasium was packed and the overwhelming message from concerned citizens was: Don’t Undermine the Menominee!

Individuals who signed up to speak were told they would have five minutes to share their concerns, but at the start of the meeting, it was dropped to three and then dropped again to two minutes. Folks who had prepared their comments ahead of time were unable to deliver the entirety of their concerns – but we have collected quite a few in full and have them available for you to read!

Public Comment from Jon Saari, vice president of Save the Wild U.P.

Public Comment from Bob Harrison, President, Badger Fly Fishers

Public Comment from Lanning Hochhauser, President, Dupage Rivers Fly Tyers (DRiFT)

Public Comment from Dr. Barry A. Coddens, President of the Gary Borger Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Public Comment from Richard Dragiewicz

Public Comment from Megan Berns, Secretary – Northern Illinois Fly-Tyers

Statement of Douglas Cox, Environmental Coordinator for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

Public Comment of Mr. Gary Besaw Legislator, Menominee Tribal Legislature

Public Comment of Ms. Joan Delabreau Chairwoman, Menominee Tribal Legislature

Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

Public Comment from Mr. Pershing Frechette, Legislator, Menominee Tribal Legislature

Public Comment from Rich Sloat

Comments from Alexandra Maxwell, director of Save the Wild U.P.

Public Comment of Laura Gauger

Public Comment of Kathleen Heideman

Public Hearing on Aquila’s Back Forty Project: October 6th, 6pm CST

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ACTION ALERT! We need your voices of opposition on October 6th! The public hearing for the Back Forty project is fast approaching! It will be held at Stephenson High School on October 6, 2016 from 6pm to 10pm CST in Stephenson, MI. The Department will accept written comments until November 3, 2016. Our friends in the group Concerned Citizens of Big Bay are offering gas and lodging stipends to people willing to travel to the hearing! Please contact Gene Champagne at genec_nsa@yahoo.com for more information.

As you all know, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has issued a proposed permit decision on the Back Forty Project. This means the MDEQ is seeking comments from interested persons on the proposed mining permit decision, as well as two other pending permit decisions for the project: an air emissions and surface waters discharge permit. The MDEQ will hold one consolidated hearing and public comment period for all three permit decisions. A fourth permit application for impacts to wetlands will be considered by the MDEQ in a separate review process. As soon as we receive notice on the wetlands permit, we will share it widely!

Aquila’s Back Forty Project, an open pit sulfide mine proposed for the bank of the Menominee River, poses numerous environmental, cultural and social threats, including: degraded water quality in the Menominee River, impacts to endangered Lake Sturgeon and native freshwater mussels, lowered property values, and the destruction of integral cultural resources of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. To help you understand the scope of the Back Forty project, we’ve summarized all the outrageous details on Save the Wild U.P.’s website. Please review our Aquila Back Forty Facts — we will update you as we learn more!

Our friends and allies of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin recently held the Menominee River Water Walk + “Remembering Our Ancestors” Gathering with great success! Activists, tribal members, and concerned citizens all came together last week to walk for the water, celebrate Menominee culture and to raise their voices in opposition to the Back Forty Project. Read all about the gathering here. Meanwhile, Marinette County (Wisconsin neighbors of the proposed mine) Board of Supervisors penned a strongly-worded resolution in opposition to the Back Forty project, citing environmental and health hazards and noting specifically the loss of the cultural resources of the Menominee Nation. “So what is in it (the mine project) for Wisconsin folks?” asked Marinette resident Dale Burie. “Absolutely nothing. Do we derive as a positive declining property values and chemically contaminated water? Water is life. Water determines the quality of life.” The resolution passed 28-0. We are coming together as a region, as stewards for the water, so please join us in this fight on October 6th.

Save the Wild U.P. and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Join Forces!

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NEW ERA OF COLLABORATION AS UPEC AND SWUP COMBINE FORCES

Marquette — The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) and Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) are joining forces to create a far-reaching, inclusive environmental advocacy group for the Upper Peninsula. Effective January, 2017 SWUP will become a part of UPEC, allowing the strengths of both groups to be highlighted in their cooperative work to protect clean water, healthy ecosystems, and wild places. UPEC will maintain its focus on environmental education and advocacy for U.P. wild lands, while SWUP, with its new partner’s support, will continue its activism as the SWUP Mining Action Group within UPEC.

Horst Schmidt, UPEC President, said “We’ve done it! UPEC and SWUP are becoming One Voice. With five decades of combined leadership and effort, the merger leads to a strengthened organization reaching out to the citizens of the Upper Peninsula. We could not have done it without the dedication of board members of both groups. ”

The leaders of SWUP, Kathleen Heideman and Alexandra Maxwell, will be joining the UPEC board, adding depth and knowledge to its discussions. SWUP’s strength lies in its social media contacts and in its hard-hitting public commentary on sulfide mining related permits, most recently on the proposed zinc-copper mine targeting the Menominee River and the proposed expansion of the Eagle Mine in Marquette County.

“UPEC’s perspective is broader and more historical,” said Jon Saari, who has served in leadership roles in both organizations. “The U.P.’s extensive public lands are the key to providing the needed core area for nature’s story to unfold. Enhancing the quality of these wild lands and containing the threats to them are UPEC’s goals. If we can do this, the U.P. has a rare chance to demonstrate what it means to be a sustainable place in the 21st century.”

UPEC’s activities have focused on community outreach through its quarterly newsletter, its annual Celebration of the U.P., and its grant programs in environmental education and community conservation. “We awarded $34,000 in grants in 2016 in these two programs,” said President Schmidt, “and going forward we want to enhance our presence and partnerships U.P. wide.”

SWUP has gone through several transformations in its 12 year history, but has always maintained a presence as think-tank for citizens concerned about the environmental and social threats brought by sulfide mining. In recent years its accomplishments have included stimulating impressive public participation in the permitting processes, providing college-level fellowship programs, leading one-of-a-kind outdoor excursions to threatened wild places in Marquette County, and providing intelligent analysis on mining-related permits, and all for the purpose of protecting clean water and wild places.

UPEC and SWUP complement each other, said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP President. “This organizational transformation will enable members of the SWUP Mining Action Group, now organized under the larger tent of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, to refocus on their grassroots work – defending Upper Michigan’s clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining. We’re not getting bigger as a result of the merger, we’re getting better.”

As the groups join and navigate the path ahead, they will speak with “ONE VOICE” for the environment of the U.P.

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Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to defending wild places and clean water of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining. For more information 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.

Action Alert – citizens oppose Aquila Back Forty sulfide mine!

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Citizen opposition to the Aquila Back Forty project is growing – ADD YOUR VOICE!

Please take a moment to let Michigan’s elected officials know that you oppose the Back Forty open pit sulfide mine, proposed for the bank of the Menominee River. First, click to READ THE LETTER OF OPPOSITION. Feel free to add your own specific concerns to the letter. When you’re ready, click SIGN AND SEND NOW – it’s that simple!

Your letter will be sent to Representative Ed McBroom, Representative John Kivela, Representative Scott Dianda, Senator Tom Casperson, Governor Rick Snyder, Senator Debbie Stabenow, and Congressman Dan Benishek. It will also be sent to Director Bill Moritz (Michigan DNR), Director Keith Creagh (Michigan DEQ), and Joe Maki (DEQ). Additional info is available on the DEQ’s website: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3311_18442—,00.html

Letter to elected officials, opposing Aquila Back Forty mine application

Thanks, the letter is now closed.

End date: Oct 01, 2016

Signatures collected: 196

196 signatures

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Will Michigan DEQ Reject Fraudulent Mine Permit?

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MARQUETTE – Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has announced that they will be asking Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to reject Aquila’s Back Forty mine permit application. SWUP is raising alarming questions about false or contradictory statements made in Aquila Resources’ Back Forty mine permit application. Aquila plans on developing an open pit sulfide mine on the Menominee River, extracting rock, processing ore – containing lead, zinc, copper, gold and other heavy metals – with flotation, cyanide and smelting, and dumping their waste on the banks of Upper Michigan’s largest watershed.

TAKE ACTION:  join our SIGN-ON letter to Michigan’s DEQ!

The Back Forty mine permit application – over 37,500 pages, including the environmental impact assessment – is currently under review by the MDEQ. Concerned citizens, regional environmental organizations, and the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin are also scrutinizing the permit.

When reviewing any mine proposal, one basic question must be answered: “what is the proposed Life of Mine (LOM)?” In order to correctly calculate a mine’s risks, benefits and cumulative environmental impacts, an accurate LOM estimate is essential. According to Aquila’s permit application, “The (Back Forty) Project will be an open pit mining operation” and the “Life of Mine (LOM) operation is planned to be approximately 7 years.”

This is misleading. Elsewhere, Aquila describes the Back Forty project as having a “16 year life of mine (LOM), of which 12.5 Mt is open-pit and 3.6 Mt is underground.” Back Forty is described as a 16 year mine in Aquila’s press releases, in communications with the Menominee Indian Tribe, and in letters to investors and local community leaders. According to their Project Fact Sheet: “we support a transparent process(…) visit our website at aquilaresources.com/projects/back-forty-project for more information.” Visitors to Aquila’s website find a 16 year mine described.

“Apparently, the only folks who haven’t been told about Aquila’s 16 year open pit and underground mining plan are the DEQ regulators who are busy at this very moment, reviewing Aquila’s application for a 7 year open pit mine,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

Significantly, the 16 year LOM is described in Aquila’s current NI 43-101 report, required by Canadian Securities Administrators. “Aquila’s NI 43-101 report should be used by Michigan regulators to truth-test whether this company is being ‘open and transparent’ concerning the Back Forty project,” said Michelle Halley, Marquette attorney and member of Save the Wild U.P.’s advisory board.

aquila-pit-and-underground-diagram-NI43101

Is Aquila Lying To State Regulators? Should DEQ Care?

Aquila’s application asserts that mining and milling facilities are scaled to accommodate the life of the mine. By minimizing LOM, the company can misrepresent all of the mine’s impacts, including tailings capacity, size of waste rock storage areas, total limestone needed for neutralizing total waste rock, total need for importing and storing cyanide and other chemicals used in the processing of the ore, total crushing and processing throughput, milling equipment capacity, water treatment plant capacity, dewatering and draw-down estimates, air pollution quantities, noise, pit backfilling estimates, remediation planning, post-closure timelines, and more.

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

Aquila-project-has-no-underground-plan

By claiming that “no underground mining” will occur, Aquila’s application sidestepped valid regulatory concerns under Michigan’s Part 632 rules governing sulfide mining. In the application checklist, underground items were marked “not applicable,” and Aquila skipped questions about Subsidence, Impacts to Public or Private Water Supply Wells, Closure of Openings and more, stating “project does not include an underground mine as such contingency planning for subsidence is not required.” In the permit application, Aquila flatly states “underground mining was considered but rejected (…) underground mining is not a prudent alternative for this ore body. The shallowness of the ore body, specifically the shallow ore zones, heavily influences the effectiveness of open pit mining.”

“Actually, Aquila hasn’t ruled out underground mining anywhere else — only in their permit application. Are they talking out of both sides of their mouth?” asked Heideman. “It undermines their credibility.”

Aquila-MDA-investors-June2015-underground-cut-off-value

“The Aquila Back Forty project must not be permitted on the basis of a fraudulent permit application for a short-lived open pit mine, only to have the company request endless revisions until Back Forty’s open pit gradually morphs into an unrecognizable and potentially unregulated underground mine,” warned Maxwell.

The Back Forty mine permit application for a 7 year mine appears misleading and inaccurate, at best, and fraudulent at worst. Aquila’s clear intent — expressed in every document except their mine permit application — is to develop a 16 year mine. Tacking on a subsequent underground mining phase could increase the mine’s life by a factor of 129%, forcing dramatic and non-public-involved revisions to every aspect of the permit application currently under review by the State of Michigan.

“If Aquila affirms that this 7 year open pit LOM is accurate, and defends the permit application, all public statements containing the Back Forty’s 16 year life of mine estimate should be viewed as baseless or fraudulent statements, designed to attract investors and gain greater political and community support,” said Heideman.

“Misinformation about the ‘life of mine’ has infected this permit application. We are asking DEQ regulators to act promptly to dismiss Aquila’s mine permit application, given the inaccurate statements. Public trust in our regulatory process is at stake,” said Maxwell.

DEQ Public Comment Deadline Extended

Concerned citizens are urged to submit their written comments by 5:00 P.M. on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. Mail comments 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 organization dedicated to defending the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the threat of sulfide mining. 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.

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Environmentalists Criticize Open Pit Sulfide Mine Planned for Menominee River

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banner-dont-undermine-menominee

MARQUETTE – In November, Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) learned that Aquila Resources (Aquila) submitted a mine permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for their “Back Forty Project” (“Back 40” in some sources, including MDEQ’s website). Aquila describes the proposed mine as “gold- and zinc-rich” but their investor materials list several other “metals of primary interest” including lead, copper and silver. The Back Forty, a volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit, also contains additional toxic metals, arsenic, corrosive sulfosalts, and radioactive elements including uranium. Aquila’s mine permit application has been deemed “administratively complete” by the MDEQ.

Several grassroots environmental organizations, including Save the Wild U.P. and the Front 40, with local property owners, have been deeply critical of the Back Forty proposal for years, contending that an open pit sulfide mine, with on-site processing and tailings, will pollute the adjacent Menominee River. Tribal natural resources, including archeological sites, are also threatened by any mining operation on the Menominee River, the largest watershed drainage system in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. According to the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, “our origin or creation begins at the mouth of the Menominee River.”

“With a watershed of over 4,000 square miles (4,070 square miles with 2,618 square miles located in Michigan and 1,452 square miles located in Wisconsin, according to the Environmental Protection Agency) and more than 100 tributaries, the Menominee is the U.P.’s largest river system. It supports large populations of smallmouth bass, walleye and northern pike, and provides spawning habitat for sturgeon. Nearby Shakey Lakes Savanna is one of the few intact savanna ecosystems left in the Upper Midwest, and supports rare prairie plants and abundant wildlife. Mounds, garden beds, and other remnants of an ancient Native American village are also clearly evident. Aquila Resources couldn’t have chosen a worse place for a mine,” said Steve Garske, biologist and Save the Wild U.P. board member.

“I question the wisdom of digging an open pit mine on the edge of a river,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director. “These metals are wrapped in an enormous amount of sulfides, so the risks to the U.P.’s clean water are real, unavoidable, and numerous.”

“In describing the Back Forty project, Aquila doesn’t mention the sulfides and pyrites in their rock. With a sulfide mine on a riverbank, acid mine drainage is a real threat. Aquila has no experience dealing with acid mine drainage. Back Forty would be their very first project, anywhere,” said Maxwell.

According to Ron Henriksen, spokesman for the Menominee River Front 40 environmental group, “This is not a done deal. Even though Aquila’s permit was deemed ‘administratively complete’ by the MDEQ, the company must comply with Lake Township’s ‘Mineral Extraction Ordinance’ and ‘Land Usage Approval.’ Front 40 will continue to do what is necessary to ensure that a metallic sulfide mine is not allowed to impact our rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands.”

“As a long-time Lake Township landowner and taxpayer, I am concerned that a foreign company can come in and dictate, through, what appears to be a flawed permit process, what will happen to the area,” said Marla Tuinstra of Lake Township.

In opposing this sulfide mine proposal, Save the Wild U.P. cites numerous threats to the Menominee River watershed. “Aquila’s press release never mentioned the Menominee River. That’s a very bad sign. This project would literally undermine the Menominee River – first with an open pit mine, and later with an underground mine, with milling and tailings proposed for the site as well. Furthermore, cyanide will be used in the processing, exponentially increasing the risks. I applaud all of the citizens who are fighting the Back Forty project, and defending Michigan’s clean water,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

“We still have the opportunity to help make “Pure Michigan” a reality, rather than just a catchy slogan,” said Jim Voss, a resident of Lake Township.

OPPORTUNITIES TO GET INVOLVED

Public Notice – Concerned citizens are asked to review the proposed Mine Permit Application, now available by following directions on the MDEQ website: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3311_18442—,00.html

Public Meeting – The MDEQ will hold a Public Meeting concerning Aquila’s Mine Permit Application. The meeting takes place on January 5, 2016, from 6 to 9 p.m. CST, at Stephenson High School, W526 Division Street in Stephenson, Michigan.

Public Forum – Save the Wild U.P. and Front 40 will host “Don’t Undermine the Menominee River!” an informational forum reviewing the Back Forty sulfide mine proposal, and what’s at stake. The forum will take place on Wednesday, February 17, 2016, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Shiras Room of the Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

UPDATE

Public Comment Deadline has been EXTENDED to February 16! – Concerned citizens and other interested persons are urged to submit written comments by mail or e-mail until 5:00 P.M. on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. Mail your comments 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

NEW:  DEQ Information Session – MDEQ staff have been asked to hold an additional educational session for the public, concerning Aquila’s Back Forty Mine Permit Application. This meeting is tentatively schedule to take place on March 9th, 2016, at 7p.m. CST, at the Lake Township Hall Co. Rd. 577/G-12, Stephenson, MI 49887. For confirmation, contact Joe Maki: makij3@michigan.gov – for directions, contact Lake Township at 906-753-4385. 

Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining, and to preserving the Upper Peninsula’s unique culture. 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.

SWUP To Host Winter Gala, Fred Rydholm Sisu Award To Be Announced

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MARQUETTE— Grassroots environmental group, Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) will hold their Winter Gala at the Steinhaus Market on Saturday, December 5th, from 6pm to 9pm. SWUP kicks off their 12th year of environmental advocacy by hosting an evening filled with locally sourced cuisine, music, keynote speaker Louis Galdieri and a Silent Auction. The Winter Gala is an opportunity for SWUP to update the community on their environmental work, while celebrating the hard work of their supporters, and members of the creative community. Tickets for the event are available at both Steinhaus locations or by calling (906) 235-9251.

During the evening filled with music, food and information, Save the Wild U.P. will announce the Fred Rydholm Sisu Award. Presenting the award will be Fred Rydholm’s son, Daniel.

The Fred Rydholm Sisu Award was previously awarded to educator and environmental activist Gail Griffith. Save the Wild U.P. established the award to recognize the dedication and perseverance of community-minded activists and environmental stewards. “We’ve created this award in honor of the late Fred Rydholm, who wholly embodied SWUP’s environmental values, as well as the yooper term sisu — perseverance, grit, resilience — a concept created by Finnish immigrants to the U.P.,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s Executive Director.

Maxwell, who began her work with Save the Wild U.P. as a grassroots outreach coordinator, running SWUP’s Summer Fellows program, stepped into the role of Interim Director last year, and was recently named Executive Director. “I am honored to serve in this capacity, to take up a torch that so many of our community leaders have carried. Environmental issues desperately need our attention in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and I am grateful to contribute whatever I can to the community and the region that I love,” said Maxwell.

Save the Wild U.P.’s Winter Gala will feature hearty appetizers and desserts from Steinhaus Market, live music from local jazz combo Soul Pasty, a spectacular Silent Auction featuring original work by dozens of U.P. artists, artisans and small business owners, environmental solidarity and issue updates.

The evening’s keynote speaker will be Louis V. Galdieri, writer, filmmaker and co-director of the acclaimed “1913 Massacre,” a documentary film which “captures the last living witnesses of the 1913 (Italian Hall) tragedy and reconstructs Calumet’s past from individual memories, family legends and songs, tracing the legacy of the tragedy to the present day, when the town – out of work, out of money, out of luck – still struggles to come to terms with this painful episode from its past.”

Following the Winter Gala, Galidieri will present his film with a special Q & A session at the Peter White Public Library on December 7th at 7pm in the Community Room, as part of their “DocuMonday Meets the Filmmaker Series.” The event is free of charge, for more information call 226-4318.

“I really look forward to seeing our supporters at the Gala” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president. “Save the Wild U.P. worked hard all year, reviewing permits and mineral leases, making a federal appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency urging them to require a wastewater discharge permit for Eagle Mine that would actually protect the Salmon Trout River, engaging regulators at Public Hearings, leading well-attended hikes to remote wild places and pristine wetlands, and educating a whole new generation of environmental leaders! Critical work remains to be done, of course — but there’s much to celebrate as we enter a new year of environmental advocacy.”

Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining and to preserving the Upper Peninsula’s unique culture. 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.

Louis V. Galdieri and Alexandra Maxwell are available for interview. For more information or to schedule an interview call (906) 662-9987 or write info@savethewildup.org.

PUBLICITY MATERIALS

Photograph of Louis V. Galdieri: http://bit.ly/1MoWZT0

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Suggested caption: “Louis V. Galdieri will be the keynote speaker for Save the Wild U.P.’s upcoming Winter Gala on December 5th.”

Bio: Writer and filmmaker Louis V. Galdieri co-produced and co-directed 1913 Massacre, the 2012 feature-length documentary about the Italian Hall disaster and the Woody Guthrie song it inspired. He blogs regularly about the ethics of mining and the new mining around Lake Superior.

Photograph of Soul Pasty: http://bit.ly/SoulPastyImage2
Suggested caption for band photo:  “Soul Pasty will provide musical entertainment at Save the Wild U.P.’s Winter Gala at the Steinhaus Market. Left to Right, Harry South on bass, Bud Clowers on drums, Travis Swanson on guitar and Zach Ott on keys.”

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Bio and Photograph of Alexandra Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P.’s new Executive Director: http://savethewildup.org/about/board-staff/

 

Join SWUP’s Wild Summer Events!

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Save the Wild U.P. Announces Calendar of Wild Summer Events

Marquette — Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has announced a series of “wild events” for the coming summer. Save the Wild U.P.’s guided outdoor programs are perfect for nature-lovers, concerned citizens, history buffs, hikers, artists and budding environmental activists.

“These are awe-inspiring experiences, intended to lead folks off the beaten track, and out into the Wild U.P.,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s interim director. “With each event, we’re highlighting the intrinsic value of wild and scenic places, clean rivers, and undisturbed wetlands. Folks can check Save the Wild U.P.’s facebook page to learn about about additional events, including summer speakers and concerts.”

Save the Wild U.P.’s 2015 Summer Events Calendar
Available in PDF format: http://bit.ly/1IQp2tz

2nd Annual Grassroots Organizing Bootcamp — Marquette
May 23 and May 24, 9:30am – 5:30pm each day
Become an environmental advocate for your community! This year’s 2-day Bootcamp agenda is packed with engaging information — 9 special guest speakers covering 13 critical topics, including wolves, local geology, the hydrology of the Salmon Trout watershed, indigenous environmental movements, and the regional fight to protect Lake Superior from the dangers of sulfide mining. Weekend wraps up with a guided geology hike around Presque Isle. Lunches are provided, but space is limited. ENLIST NOW: rsvp@savethewildup.org, or call (906) 662-9987.

Guided Hike in the Caving Grounds — Negaunee
May 28, 6pm
Join SWUP for a guided walking tour of the “Caving Grounds” of Negaunee’s Old Town district. Experience ghostly neighborhoods and sunken streets, learn about early iron mining methods, hear stories recorded by Negaunee residents, and see first-hand the social cost of mining: undermined homes and struggling economies. Meet at 6pm Old Town Park in Negaunee. RSVP appreciated: rsvp@savethewildup.org.

Guided Hike to Pinnacle Falls — Yellow Dog Plains
June 24, 12:30pm
Enjoy a guided hike to Pinnacle Falls on the Yellow Dog River, truly one of the wild gems of Marquette County. Your guides Cynthia Pryor and Kathleen Heideman will share stories of ecology, geology and local history. Learn how the Yellow Dog River was named, and threats from sulfide mining just upstream. Pack a bag lunch for a group picnic at the falls, bring bug spray or netting, hiking shoes and a camera. Meet at Big Bay Outfitters (Big Bay). Plan to arrive early — group will leave at 12:30pm. SAVE YOUR SPOT: rsvp@savethwildup.org, or call (906) 662-9987.

Attention ARTISTS and HIKERS!
Wildcat Canyon Creek Hike — Michigamme Highlands
July 15, full-day outing
Get off the map – start seeing wild places! Save the Wild U.P. and Painters on the Loose will guide a caravan of visual artists, hikers and environmental activists deep into the rugged, unpaved heart of Marquette County. Our special destination will be Wildcat Canyon Creek, which lies in the path of the defeated but still-controversial 595 road proposal. Artists will set up their easels, while others enjoy a rugged group hike along the Wildcat, which includes delicate waterfalls. To join this special event, please contact rsvp@savethewildup.org by July 12, so carpooling and caravan arrangements can be made in advance.

Threatened & Endangered: Native Plant Hike — Michigamme Highlands
August 1, 12:30pm
Native plants and creeping industrialization — what’s at stake? Search for the answers on this unique botanical hike in the Michigamme Highlands, led by botanist Steve Garske. We’ll explore two remote sites threatened by the route of proposed CR-595: lands near the Yellow Dog River and Mulligan Creek. Sponsored by the North Woods Native Plant Society, Save the Wild U.P. and the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve. Meet-up at Big Bay Outfitters (Big Bay). Plan to arrive early — group will leave at 12:30pm. FULL DETAILS: rsvp@savethwildup.org, or call (906) 662-9987.

Explore Marquette’s lost “Great Swamp” — Marquette
August 22, 3pm
What happened to Marquette’s “Great Swamp”? Join historian Jon Saari for a slideshow explaining how the city’s historic wetlands were drained, filled and lost to residential and industrial development. After the lecture, we’ll follow Jim Koski and Jon Saari on a colorful walking tour to see evidence of the lost swamp! Sponsored by Save the Wild U.P. and the Marquette Regional History Center. Special location: event starts at 3pm in the Wildcat Room of the Superior Dome. RESERVE YOUR PLACE: rsvp@savethwildup.org, or call (906) 662-9987. Suggested donation of $5 for Marquette Regional History Center.

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Summer events are offered in conjunction with Save the Wild U.P.’s Summer Fellows program, a dynamic, on-the-ground initiative designed to educate a new generation of environmental leaders. SWUP’s unique, interdisciplinary fellowship  program educates students on U.P. mining history, the hazards and risks associated with sulfide mining, industrial threats to wild places, and practical and effective ways for citizens to “be the change” they wish to see in the world.

Save the Wild U.P.’s 2015 Summer Fellows program is focussed on critical issues related to the controversial County Road 595 proposal. The program begins with an intensive two-day forum on sulfide mining, geology, Upper Peninsula mining history, mining legislation, wolves, hydrology and environmental advocacy, and other topics. Throughout the summer, fellows will learn from experts in their fields, while advocating for environmental justice and transparency in corporate and government relations. Students participate in hikes, lectures and community education on the most pressing issues facing the Upper Peninsula’s 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 or follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup.

 

Unified Opposition to Graymont ‘Land Transaction’!

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Unified Opposition to Graymont ‘Land Transaction’

MARQUETTE — Tribal officials, clergy, local residents and leading environmental organizations of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have joined forces to deliver a letter to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), outlining their collective opposition to the Graymont ‘Land Transaction.’

In a unified letter of opposition sent to the DNR’s Director Keith Creagh on Friday February 27th, they urge him to reject the Graymont land sale “which threatens to sacrifice public lands for the benefit of a foreign mining company, at the bargain price of a few hundred dollars per acre.”

Graymont, a Canadian mining company, first submitted an application to purchase over 10,000 acres of public land from the DNR in November of 2013. Graymont intends to construct surface limestone quarries and, eventually, an extensive underground mine. These lands are currently open to the public for hunting and recreational trails, supporting wildlife, and managed for timber — contiguous forest lands considered some of the most productive forest land in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

The area under consideration includes fragile wetlands and critical ecosystems. These public lands support unique hydrology and biodiversity, including “karst” habitat identified in Michigan’s Natural Features Inventory, limestone features (cliffs, pavement, sinkholes, caves) and special ecologies uniquely adapted to limestone: bats reliant on limestone caves, globally-rare “alvar” plant communities, and limestone wetlands critical to the endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, termed “one of North America’s rarest dragonflies” by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

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

In the letter, the groups enumerate serious environmental and economic concerns, including “…the displacement of existing limestone quarrying jobs, and the loss of sustainable, long-term jobs in the forestry and tourism sectors.” In addition, “the sale of these lands interferes with Indian tribes’ rights by having an adverse impact on fishing, hunting and gathering activities of tribal members under the 1836 treaty.”

meme-Graymont-simplemessage

“Graymont recently revised the land transaction for the umpteenth time, increasing their proposed royalty payments to 18.75 cents per ton — but only for a short duration,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s president. “That’s a pittance in comparison to current market values and contemporary royalty offers. It all adds up to nothing, really.”

“These are serious and unresolvable objections,” said Alexandra Maxwell of Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), who helped organize the collective letter of opposition. “Our message to Director Creagh is simple: don’t make this deal.” According to Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P. has been following the developments of this project since Graymont submitted its application; SWUP and other groups have consistently attended public meetings and submitted commentary critical of this potential land sale. “Now a majority of environmental organizations and concerned citizens throughout the U.P. have reached a clear consensus–the Graymont project must be stopped.”

The DNR will be accepting written comment from the public concerning the newest revision of the Graymont proposal through March 19th. “We strongly urge folks to review the facts,” said Maxwell, “and then write directly to Director Creagh, asking him to reject the Graymont land deal. Concerned citizen still have time to protect their public lands, in their own words.”

Written commentary may be submitted to: DNR-GraymontProposalComments@michigan.gov

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

“A foreign mining company wants to buy 10,000 acres of our public land?” said Heideman. “By my calculation, that’s ten thousand great reasons to reject the deal.”

The group’s letter can be viewed or downloaded here:  Letter of Unified Opposition to Graymont Land Transaction

meme-Graymont-whatsatstake

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Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources. For more information or to schedule an interview, contact info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987.

 

County Road 595: A bad idea in the wrong place

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By Jessica Koski*

Proposed Marquette County Road 595 would irreversibly impact high quality wetlands at the headwaters of several watersheds and foreseeably lead to additional roads that would open up one of Michigan’s last remaining wilderness areas to resource exploitation.

Wetlands are a foundation of our nation’s water resources and are one of the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth, rivaling that of tropical rainforests. Vital to the health of waterways, wetlands recharge groundwater, absorb floodwaters and filter pollution. They provide essential wildlife habitat, agricultural resources (berries, wild rice), timber production and economic activities. Michigan’s economy depends on tourism dollars from hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation businesses enabled by wetlands.

Yet, wetlands are on the frontlines of development and their preservation is vastly underappreciated. Michigan has already lost more than half of its original 11 million acres of wetlands due to filling and draining.

Aerial view of Mulligan Creek, showing the Snowmobile Trail #5 crossing, proposed route of County Road 595. Photo by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.

Before:  Aerial view of Mulligan Creek, showing the Snowmobile Trail #5 crossing, proposed route of County Road 595. Photo by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.

 

 

After:  Mulligan Creek fragile wetlands were degraded by Plum Creek Timber's illegal "road improvements" along the 595 route, as documented in 2014.

After: Mulligan Creek fragile wetlands were degraded by Plum Creek Timber’s illegal “road improvements” along the 595 route, as documented in 2014.

From an Ojibwe standpoint, many culturally significant plants, foods and medicines occur in wetlands and within the County Road 595 project area. These resources are an essential part of Ojibwe lifeway; and tribal rights of access, collection and use are guaranteed through treaties signed with the United States.

Threatened (legally protected) with a status of "imperiled" in Michigan.

Protected: Narrow-leaved gentian is threatened (legally protected) with a status of “imperiled” in Michigan. Found along the proposed 595 route.

Last month, the Marquette County Road Commission voted to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its “arbitrary and capricious” objection to County Road 595 over two years ago. In reality, the MCRC failed to submit an application consistent with federal Clean Water Act requirements.**

In EPA’s objection letter, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was given detailed requirements to address inadequate wetland minimization and compensation plans, and 30 days to satisfy the objection or deny the permit. MDEQ denied the permit, although the process could have transferred to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority.

Prior to a decision, EPA heard directly from the public in Marquette on August 28, 2012. Many citizens expressed concerns in opposition to County Road 595, contrary to many government officials.

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

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

The lawsuit’s price tag is $500,000 and road construction is estimated to cost $80 to $100 million, without additional maintenance costs. Eagle Mine says they won’t fund the lawsuit or road. Taxpayers are promised they won’t foot the bill. According to local officials, state Sen.Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, is a driving force behind the lawsuit and an assembly of secret private funders.

Casperson’s road rage is currently attempting to amend Michigan’s Constitution to rob the state’s Natural Resources Trust Fund for timber and mining infrastructure. This is contrary to the opinion of Michigan’s Attorney General and the original intent of the Fund since 1976 to support environmental preservation and enhance outdoor recreation benefits for the public.

Recent Eagle Mine trucking accidents are undeniably a public safety concern. However, even if MCRC is successful, it would be years before County Road 595 could be a reality. Are there alternative actions to more immediately protect the public from ore trucks? Yes.

In June 2013, the Marquette City Commission asked MDEQ to require Eagle Mine to amend its Environmental Impact Assessment regarding transportation. MDEQ denied the request claiming the city is not within the mine’s “affected area.”

Marquette County could object to MDEQ’s unwillingness to enforce the state mining rules. Part 632 states that an EIA shall define the affected area. Because the company significantly changed transportation from rail to truck after receiving a mining permit, the people of Marquette County were never rightfully provided an opportunity during the permitting process to weigh in on transportation impacts and the now inaccurate affected area.

Eagle Mine can also go beyond regulatory requirements and implement best practices. In fact, their original permit included hard cover trailer tops, but switched to soft cover tarps for easier loading and unloading. Is a convenience for Lundin Mining Corp. more important than public safety?

The company could also reconsider its original rail option. This would create jobs, alleviate stress on public road infrastructure and better protect public safety and the environment.

Rail probably could have saved much wasted investment and headache for the local community. Also, imagine if as much political support and energy exhausted into County Road 595 went toward a truck bypass around the city.

Ultimately, local officials are empowered with zoning and ordinance authority to establish more stringent conditions for how, when and where heavy ore trucks travel through the city.

Eagle Mine ore trucks

Note: author Jessica Koski is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). She is an alumna of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and currently serves as Mining Technical Assistant for the KBIC. This article appeared in the Marquette Mining Journal on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I find it outrageous that MDEQ and Eagle Mine failed to consider the environmental impacts of increased discharges — 240% more! — authorized by this permit!” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president. “No baseline information was provided, either for the wetland or the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River. Eagle Mine’s original permit failed to evaluate these sites, and now they want to dump wastewater into unassessed ecosystems! No wetland hydrology or biology data was included in the draft permit, so there’s no way to calculate the risks, and the certain degradation that will result.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Motives questioned on the Yellow Dog Plains

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Published in the Mining Journal, November 12, 2014.

To the Journal editor:

So the Eagle Mine has set its eyes on 40 more acres of state land on the Yellow Dog Plains (Oct. 30 article by John Pepin), for geological exploration and supposedly not for a new mine.

This exploration is, as Eagle Mine spokesman Dan Blondeau explains, “part of our commitment to the community,” apparently to grow the mine. At best, this is an odd use of “commitment” and “community,” and at worst an exercise in Corporate Speak.

I have watched this mine develop over the last ten years as a watchful and dismayed observer. It was to be a small remote mine site, a limited, respectful cut into the earth with minimal impact on its wildland setting.

And then the mine portal got pounded into Eagle Rock, a site sacred to the Anishinaabe. The generator-only power system ended up on the grid, with cables laid to the mine site. The trucking of ore to a railhead north of Marquette was forgotten long ago. The “woodland” haul road along the Triple A has turned into a full-blown super highway that has re-engineered the landscape. Lundin Mining Corp., which took over Eagle Mine two years ago, seems to have an eraser for a memory when it comes to commitments.

Eagle Mine seems to be betting that all the “community” wants is economic development that benefits humans. But the Yellow Dog Plains is one of those storied places in our collective imagination. That place, and the larger community we live in, includes rivers, forests, wildlife, rocks and waterfalls, and quiet backwoods camps.

Surface drilling, as Lundin intends on this parcel of state land, may or may not lead to a new mine, but will have impacts right on the edge of the Yellow Dog River floodplain. If this were private land, we would have little say, but this is our land, public land, and the public should have a big say in what happens there.

What would our reaction be if a foreign mining corporation wanted to do exploratory drilling in Presque Isle Park? You would hear the uproar all the way to Big Bay.

We need a public hearing on this proposal. Too much is at stake.

Jon Saari, vice president, Save the Wild U.P

* For detailed information on the proposed mineral lease, see our press release.

SWUP has worked closely with Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve to ensure that citizens have an opportunity to voice their concerns, and protect the wild lands and pristine waters of the Yellow Dog Plains. We’ve created a petition calling on Michigan’s DNR to deny this new mineral lease.

Protect your public lands and clean water: sign the petition here.

Eagle Mine seeks new mineral lease, Save the Wild U.P. demands Public Hearing

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MARQUETTE – The Eagle Mine LLC, currently owned by international mining conglomerate Lundin Mining, is seeking a new mineral lease from the State of Michigan for 40 acres of land (NE 1/4 SE 1/4, Section 13, T50N, R29W, Michigamme Township, Marquette County) beside the Yellow Dog River, a federally-recognized National Wild and Scenic River with a status of ‘excellent’ water quality.

According to documents obtained by grassroots organization Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has known about this application since July. The DNR’s announcement of Lundin Mining’s mineral rights lease application was published on Monday October 20th, 2014, commencing a legally-required 30-day public comment period.

SWUP contends the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have institutional conflicts of interest in regulating metallic sulfide mining. Most recently, the organization has found that just one month after Lundin’s Eagle Mine submitted a letter of interest to Michigan’s DNR, the DNR Fisheries Division changed its 2003 recommendation of “Non-development” to “Development, with no restrictions” in August of this year. DNR retains restrictions on the property for a recreational trail, endangered plants, and “neotropical migrants” including Kirtland’s warbler.plat

SWUP encourages concerned citizens to demand a Public Hearing and a transparent, democratic evaluation of the proposed lease by sending an email Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst, Minerals Management, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, at maidlowk@michigan.gov, while copying info@savethewildup.org as the organizations is maintaining an independent analysis of comments received. Comments regarding the mineral rights lease can be mailed directly to Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst, Minerals Management, DNR, P.O. Box 30452, Lansing, MI 48909.

“It’s no surprise that Lundin is seeking to lease more minerals,” says attorney Michelle Halley. “Save the Wild U.P., the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, and others have known that Eagle Mine is just the beginning of a regional mining development strategy. In the long term, the public will pay a high price for mining projects performed with inadequate permitting, monitoring and enforcement.”

Save the Wild U.P.’s president Kathleen Heideman is outraged. “It’s alarming that the State of Michigan is seriously considering this mineral lease request. The land in question is only one hundred feet from the Yellow Dog River’s 100-year floodplain, which means the land is vulnerable to extreme flooding events (King & MacGregor Environmental, Inc., 2011). For me, that’s a giant neon sign spelling R-I-S-K-Y: sulfide ore and water are a dangerous mix! Also, the DNR’s Wildlife staff identified the land as habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler, a state and federally-listed Threatened and Endangered species.”

“Mining activity on this land poses a direct threat to the Yellow Dog River: land disturbance, drilling contamination, groundwater impairment, surface water pollution, you name it. The DNR needs to reconsider their classification of the property’s restrictions. Given the river’s proximity, this land is absolutely too sensitive to allow mining development,” says Cynthia Pryor, watershed resident and dedicated environmental watchdog.

According to SWUP Director Alexandra Thebert, “Leasing mineral rights means drilling, and drilling can quickly lead to a new mine. We must ensure that the enormous liability of mining on State-owned land isn’t a burden shifted to taxpayers while increasing the profits of a foreign mining company.”

“Public lands belong to the public — not private corporations. This is not an isolated parcel of surplus land,” said Jon Saari, vice president of SWUP. “It adjoins another 840 acres of contiguous State Land on the Yellow Dog Plains.” Current recreational use includes camping, fishing, hunting, ATV riding, and snowmobiling. Marquette County’s Snowmobile Trail #5 runs right through the property – as does the controversial County Road 595 route defeated last year.

Gene Champagne, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, sees a pattern of deception and creeping industrialization of the Yellow Dog Plains. “Clearly, mineral leasing leads to surface operations – and the land under consideration in this proposed mineral lease is only half a mile from the freshly-paved Triple A road. We renew our call for a federal corruption investigation concerning the State’s failure to regulate Eagle Mine, fraudulent permitting, bait-and-switch electrical infrastructure, the steamrolling of road upgrades, and total disregard for cumulative environmental impacts.”

“This mineral lease request should be denied,” agreed Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP outreach coordinator. “Metallic mineral lease of this land would serve only the short-term goals of Industry at the immediate and long-term expense of taxpayers. Once again, the State of Michigan seems wholly incapable of serving the public trust. We demand that a Public Hearing be held.”

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

* Note: we’re partnering with the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve to send a unified, clear message to the Michigan DNR: deny Eagle Mine’s application for a mineral lease on the Yellow Dog River!

Protect your public lands and clean water: sign the petition here.

 

CR 595 – Under Construction?

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View CR 595 – Under Construction? in a larger map

CHAMPION – Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has released over 300 geotagged photos of bulldozing and road construction along the previously-defeated CR 595 route which was proposed as a direct route from the Lundin Eagle Mine near Big Bay to the Humboldt Mill along U.S. 41 near Champion in Marquette County, Michigan.

The photos were taken after SWUP was alerted to major road construction taking place at the remote headwaters of the Mulligan Creek by a member of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve’s RiverKeeper program.

Construction along this route included multiple instances of wetlands impacts, including unpermitted culvert installation and wetlands dredging and filling, with no evidence of a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit – a permit required by law to alter or destroy wetlands during the permitting review of the CR 595 proposal.

SWUP President Kathleen Heideman is outraged. “We’ve already been through an administrative process during which three federal agencies determined that the CR 595 development should not occur. If that’s what’s occurring now – if the construction happening out at the Mulligan Creek is just a backdoor for building CR 595 after all – then this is illegal,” said Heideman.

“The EPA’s decision was very clear: no CR 595 route should be constructed. Now the Mulligan Creek and its fragile headwaters are being gouged, dredged, driven-through, filled, and degraded – it is absolutely obscene. We’re demanding that the MDEQ, EPA, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers get involved up here — boots on the ground — pronto,” said Heideman.

In 2011, a Wetland Delineation Report was conducted on the CR 595 corridor for the Marquette County Road Commission, delineating the wetlands boundaries in the area.

“None of the contractors, logging companies, MDEQ, or the Marquette County Road Commission can claim they did not know there are wetlands here. There is a 742 page report clearly outlining the wetlands surrounding the CR 595 route, including the Mulligan Creek,” said retired chemistry professor and SWUP board member Gail Griffith.

Botanist Steve Garske, who also serves as Secretary for SWUP has personal experience with the area, said, “When I traveled through the proposed CR 595 route in 2009, I saw hundreds of narrow-leaved gentian plants beside the road in the Mulligan Creek headwaters area, as well as a population of the rare Farwell’s milfoil in at least one of the streams near the road. At that time, the CR 595 route was a rutted 2-track, a snowmobile trail. This gentian is rare in Michigan – it occurs in only three counties in the state. When they bulldozed this new, unpermitted road they undoubtedly buried, destroyed, or otherwise degraded colonies of this protected species, a clear violation of state law.”

“This is an egregious wetland fill. No attempt has been made to control erosion. The black silt fencing used in every other road construction project is nonexistent here. Already several of the culverts are completely plugged with sand, and sand and silt are washing down into the streams and wetlands – and no evidence of permits exists for multiple poorly-installed culverts,” said Garske.

“Any new roads being constructed in this environmentally sensitive area should be reviewed as part of a network of related actions. We need to stop the creeping incrementalism – a new bridge here, new culverts there, wetland destruction along the way. Cumulative impacts must be considered. That’s precisely what makes the CR 595 proposal a bad deal for taxpayers and environment. We will continue to report on this issue – democracy must not take a back seat solely for a haul road connecting the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill,” said Alexandra Thebert, SWUP executive director.

According to the one current permit granted by the Michigan DEQ (posted at 46.69° N and 87.9° W), only “snowmobile trail”-related bridge work is authorized. Bridge materials are documented in the photographs on the north end of the snowmobile trail near the Yellow Dog River by a site where a contractor is currently “replacing” a series of culverts installed during the late 1990s – no permits are visible for multiple culvert installations.

Save the Wild U.P. was formed in 2004 to protect the U.P.’s unique communities, lakes, and lands from the hazards of sulfide mining, which threatens to contaminate the Lake Superior Watershed with acid mine drainage.

 

SWUP President to MDEQ: Regulate, don’t facilitate

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

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

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

Dear Ms. Bailey and Mr. Rusz:

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

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

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

LUNDIN MINING BEARS BURDEN OF PROOF

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

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

STRICT, CONSERVATIVE ENFORCEABLE LIMITS FOR DISCHARGED POLLUTANTS

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

What has changed? Plenty:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIOLATIONS

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

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

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

MERCURY LIMITS

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

pH LIMITS

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

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

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

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

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

URANIUM MONITORING

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIFIC CONDUCTANCE TESTING

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

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

PART 8 LIMITS

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

KMH_groundwaterpermit-comments table

PART 22 LIMITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REQUESTED ACTION
2. REQUIRE TRACER FIELD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REQUESTED ACTION
5. DO NOT REDEFINE THE BACKGROUND QUALITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

REQUESTED ACTION
6. REEVALUATE PUBLIC ACCESS + PUBLIC IMPACTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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.

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

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meme---leopold--PE-test

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.

New highway proposed for Eagle Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uranium found at mine location | Mining Journal

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April 5, 2013

MARQUETTE – Testing by Rio Tinto and the Superior Watershed Partnership has confirmed the presence of uranium in water samples from the bottom of a rock storage area at the Eagle Mine, which exceeds the federal maximum concentration level for safe drinking water.

The finding does not violate any state or federal regulatory permits at the mine, but technicians will continue monitoring and testing to learn more about the uranium.

“The significance largely is that it was unexpected and (yet) there it is, present; and trying to identify the source and is it being contained and removed,” said Jon Becker, a communications and development specialist with the Superior Watershed Partnership in Marquette. “We feel the public is going to be interested in that and we want to make sure that they know that we’re all looking at it and evaluating.”
Article Photos

Superior Watershed Partnership senior planner Geri Grant collects a water quality sample from the Temporary Development Rock Storage Area sumps at Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township during the first quarter of 2013 verification monitoring.

The mine’s Temporary Development Rock Storage Area is designed to be an environmentally secure feature which holds waste rock from mining tunnel excavation until it is later put back underground to fill voids where ore was removed.

The bottom of the storage area has two multi-layered lining systems: a primary contact water sump and a lower secondary lining, called the leak detection sump.

Last month, a laboratory in Indiana determined a water sample taken from the leak sump in February by partnership staff – as part of its ongoing Community Environmental Monitoring of Rio Tinto’s mining activities – was found to contain 72.6 parts per billion of uranium.

Partnership staff was test sampling water quality in the leak sump to compare with previous test results produced by Rio Tinto.
Since December 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been regulating uranium in community drinking water supplies to reduce the risk of kidney disease and cancer.

A Western Upper Peninsula Health Department advisory on uranium said the EPA standards for safe drinking water are based on assuming a person drinks two liters of water each day for 70 years.

The EPA maximum concentration level for uranium under the Safe Drinking Water Act is 30 parts per billion, with concentrations exceeding that level considered unsafe. Consequently, the laboratory was required by law to report the uranium level from the leak sump water sample.

“It’s a reporting requirement of the act because they don’t necessarily know what the source of that water is,” Becker said. “If it was a drinking well, it’d be an issue of concern. This is not drinking water.”

Rio Tinto’s rock storage area and water treatment plant are not governed by the Safe Drinking Water Act, but by the company’s mining and groundwater discharge permits.

Dan Blondeau, a Rio Tinto spokesman in Humboldt, said the estimated 26,000 gallons of water in the leak sump came primarily from rain that fell when the rock storage area was being built three years ago.

Since September 2011, Rio Tinto has removed 2,864 gallons of that water to contact water basins and then to the mine’s water treatment plant for processing.

Blondeau said that process includes ion exchange and reverse osmosis filtration, which are two methods federal regulators recommend for removing uranium from drinking water.

After being treated, water is either recycled back into the mining process or discharged into the ground through the mine’s treated water infiltration system.

“The mine site is designed to collect and treat water that comes into contact with mining activities,” said Eagle Mine environmental and permitting manager Kristen Mariuzza. “We are confident in the system and the methods being used to ensure that only clean water is released back into the environment.”

Becker said the partnership has tested water going into the treatment plant and coming out of it to see if the uranium is being removed. Results are due back from the lab next week.

Until then, Becker declined to speculate on the possible impact.
“Just the word (uranium) is going to be alarming to some people,” Becker said. “It’s helpful to know that the processes that are in place at the water treatment plant are the processes that EPA recommends as the best treatment. But until we have monitoring results that demonstrate the efficiency of that, we don’t want to speculate.”

Meanwhile, Blondeau said tests on solid wastes from the water treatment plant showed uranium levels consistent with Upper Peninsula geology in one waste test and none in another, indicating the treatment plant is successfully removing the uranium.

However, those results have not been substantiated independently by the partnership, which will make new similar tests next week. The solids removed by the process are disposed of at a municipal landfill.
When the initial leak sump water sample results were received from the lab in mid-March, partnership staff quickly returned to the mine to retest the water.

Expedited results from the partnership’s lab showed uranium levels of 61 and 58 parts per billion and no uranium in the contact water sump.
Rio Tinto’s test results from its samples and lab showed 56 parts per billion of uranium in the leak sump and a low concentration of 0.13 parts per billion in the contact water sump.

To help identify the source of the uranium, the partnership requested core samples from Rio Tinto in addition to samples of the waste rock and the aggregate used in the storage area leak detection liner.

Steve Casey, district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s water resources division at K.I. Sawyer, said he thinks the uranium source may be the aggregate. If obtained from a Big Bay area quarry nearby, the material may contain Jacobsville sandstone.
The sandstone is known from several counties in the U.P. and its formation extends along the Lake Superior shoreline, east toward Big Bay.

Casey said the sandstone’s composition is known to include uranium, while the waste rock from the mine portal is not.

One Michigan Technological University study focused on testing bedrock wells in Jacobsville sandstone found 25 percent of 270 wells tested with uranium exceeding the EPA maximum concentration limits.

Casey characterized the uranium detection at the Eagle Mine as “not terribly surprising or uncommon.”

“We’ve seen numbers about three times that high in wells,” Casey said.
Casey said the DEQ tested 419 private wells and 20 percent exceeded the safe drinking water standard for uranium, including one well registering 202 parts per billion.

Western U.P. Health Department materials said uranium occurs naturally in some area bedrock and groundwater, making wells susceptible to contamination. High levels of uranium have been found in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw, Gogebic and Ontonagon counties.

The department said “the amount of uranium in bedrock and well water will vary greatly from place to place and without testing, it is not possible to determine if the water is safe for drinking.”

Health department officials said bathing and showering with water containing uranium is not a health concern.

Construction of the Eagle Mine’s rock storage area began in September 2010. By October, the secondary liner was installed and a leak survey performed. The primary liner, risers and the pumping system was completed by November.

In September 2011, the DEQ approved a certificate of quality assurance for construction of the liner systems. That same autumn, Rio Tinto began monitoring the rock storage area as it began digging the mine portal and storing waste rock.

Becker said early last year, Rio Tinto also discovered elevated sulfate levels, which periodically were above the reporting level and have been trending downward since August 2012.

A mining company investigation did not identify a source, but similar to Casey’s uranium source theory, Rio Tinto speculated a small amount of sulfate material was contained in the aggregate used to build the liner.

Monitoring of sulfates and uranium will continue regularly by Rio Tinto and the partnership, with results reported to the public at:www.cempmonitoring.org.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.

http://www.miningjournal.net/page/content.detail/id/585930/Uranium-found-at-mine-location.html

Setting the Record Straight on Highland’s Drilling in the Porkies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS
Horst Schmidt, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, horsthear@yahoo.com
Nathan Frischkorn, Mining Action Group, frischkornnathan@gmail.com (906) 251-0113
Steven Garske, Mining Action Group, (715) 663-0922
Kathleen Heideman, Mining Action Group

Setting the Record Straight on Highland’s Drilling in the Porkies, Environmental Damages

Houghton, Michigan – Those who’ve been following the problems created by Highland Copper Company (Orvana Minerals) exploratory drilling in and around the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (“Porkies”) earlier this year may have noticed a recent flurry of media stories featuring the mining company’s officials, touting their purported remediation of land along the County Road 519 (CR-519) right-of-way. After churning up more than half a mile of snowmobile trail paralleling the road, the company went silent on the issue until recently, when they presented a new, and largely fictionalized version of what happened last spring, and the environmental damage that resulted in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) halting Highland’s drilling activity on April 4.

Highland’s problems arose soon after they began drilling within the Park itself, on February 5th. Unseasonably warm weather forced the company to end drilling in the Park in late February, as required by their agreement with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Instead of halting *all* drilling in the area until conditions (thawing snow cover) improved – potentially delaying Highland’s exploration work for another year – the company charged ahead, and began drilling on a narrow strip of land along CR-519. This 466 foot “right of way” (233 feet from the center line in each direction) is owned by Gogebic County, although a legal description includes the east side of the right-of-way within the Presque Isle River Scenic area.

Highland’s contractor kept drilling for over two weeks, even as the warm spell continued.  “What was the company thinking?” asked Horst Schmidt, president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC). “Anybody could see that conditions had deteriorated. Highland’s drilling should have been stopped much sooner.”

In late March temperatures climbed into the 40’s and 50’s. The snowmobile trail used to access drilling sites on the east side of CR-519 soon thawed, and was churned into mud soup. Only after the heavy equipment sank several feet into the muck did the company admit that spring had arrived. The facts, damages, and the dates are undisputed.

Highland Copper’s most recent press conference presented company officials as clueless regarding the location or extent of wetlands, and unable to discern that the ground was thawing. Snowmobilers gave up and gravel roads were weight-restricted for spring breakup, but Highland continued drilling into early April.

The drilling stopped only after concerned citizens from the UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) published a press release, documented the environmental damages, and shared the photographs on their website. MAG’s alarming photographs of the damage were quickly picked up by the media, and brought to the attention of the Michigan DEQ. The DEQ promptly sent staff from the Marquette office to the site on Tuesday, April 4. The company was required to suspend work that day, and soon after were issued a Violation Notice by the DEQ.


Highland now maintains they didn’t anticipate the spring warm-up, and didn’t know that much of the land was wetland until they received a report from their consultant, King & McGregor. Meanwhile they turned  ½ mile of snowmobile trail into a muddy mess. April 2, 2017.

During their recent media event, Highland Copper’s Vice President of Project Development, Carlos Bertoni, said “When we were drilling here in the spring, early April, the weather became much warmer than we expected.” This is an unbelievable assertion, given that the spring thaw began more than a month earlier.

Bertoni also stated, “Myself as a geologist I could not tell you what is wetland and what is not wetland,” The claim that Highland did not realize they were severely damaging the land until their consultant (King & McGregor) completed a report pointing out that sections of the trail crossed wetlands is also not credible.

“Don’t you think they should be required to hire consultants before they drill?” asked UPEC board member Nancy Warren, who had also been monitoring the site. Neither the company nor the DEQ made any mention of the King & McGregor report at the time.

Now, five months after sediment eroded into protected wetlands and mud flowed down the ditches, what is the status of the company’s environmental remediation effort? First they threw straw bales and bundles into the ditch to slow down the flow of water.  Then they smoothed out the ruts and seeded English rye grass (not “native plants” as Bertoni claimed). The damage is still clearly visible along the trail as well as away from the road. Mud that ran north along the ditch and off the site last spring ended up on the floodplain of the Presque Isle River.


Five months later, the site has been stabilized. The trail (behind the hay bales) has been seeded with English rye grass, and native plants are slowly re-establishing on their own. September 3, 2017.


The company was cited for allowing muddy runoff to reach Gipsy Creek, on the southern end of drilling site. However, much of the mud flowed north along the ditch and down the wide ravine of the Presque Isle River, where it was deposited on the floodplain within the Park. Since the growing season is ending, this area continues to be susceptible to erosion going into winter. September 3, 2017

Why are MAG environmentalists concerned about a seemingly minor incident at the far western end of the Porkies? If Highland Copper (or their contractors) will not do the right thing when they think no one is watching, what will happen when they actually start mining? Since their Copperwood mine project sits on the shore of Lake Superior, the stakes are extremely high. Highland is already talking about mining not only next to, but underneath the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, which makes the project exponentially more risky.

In their original joint press release, the DNR and DEQ failed to acknowledge the critical importance of citizen vigilance in this situation. “I’m outraged that volunteer activists from the Mining Action Group were never recognized for monitoring Highland’s irresponsible drilling activities and documenting the damages to Michigan’s natural resources. I strongly feel that the vital watchdog role played by concerned citizens — environmentalists, not the state  — must not be scrubbed from the official record.” said Kathleen Heideman, UPEC board member and a member of the Mining Action Group (MAG).

“Highland’s actions are highly irresponsible. If they are going to make this much of a mess at such an early stage in the project, how can we expect them to mine responsibly? If they can’t even be bothered to pay attention to the condition of the land around them, how can we trust them to not pollute Lake Superior? Carelessness is not a culture that will change overnight, and this incident makes it appear that Highland has developed a culture of carelessness,” said Nathan Frischkorn, a 2017 Fellow working with the Mining Action Group.

“This incident shows once again that mining companies are so interested in appearances and retaining complete control that when forced to act, they may go so far as to fabricate their own stories.” said UPEC president Horst Schmidt.

RELATED NEWS STORIES

Smithsonian Magazine (February 17, 2017)
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/mining-exploration-begins-michigans-porcupine-mountains-180962108/

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (April 6, 2017)
State agencies addressing erosion concerns at Porcupine Mountains
https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/MIDNR/bulletins/192acad

Keweenaw Now (May 12, 2017)
DEQ cites Highland Copper’s wetlands, soil erosion violations from mining exploration in Porkies, along CR 519
http://keweenawnow.blogspot.com/2017/05/deq-cites-highland-coppers-wetlands.html

UP Matters.com (August 8, 2017)
http://www.upmatters.com/news/ local-news/highland-copper- company-provides- rehabilitation-work-update-on- county-road-519/785568630

ABC News 10 (August 9, 2017)
Exploratory drilling rehabilitation efforts underway
https://abc10up.com/2017/08/09/exploratory-drilling-rehabilitation-efforts-underway/

Fox News TV 6 Marquette (August 9, 2017)
http://www.uppermichiganssource.com/content/news/Highland-Copper-rehabilitating-wetlands-in-the-Porcupine-Mountains-439515913.html

The Daily Mining Gazette (August 11, 2017)
Drilling Fix Media Show: Gazette not invited to mine company’s unveiling of drill damage repair within park
http://www.mininggazette.com/news/2017/08/drilling-fix-media-show-gazette-not-invited-to-mine-companys-unveiling-of-drill-damage-repair-within-park/

Should Michigan lease 15,000+ acres of minerals to Eagle Mine?

Friends, another critical public comment period came to a close this weekend – concerning this outrageous mineral lease request from Eagle Mine targeting public lands in four counties —Baraga, Houghton, Iron and Marquette –  in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula:

“Eagle Mine LLC, of Champion, Michigan, has requested direct development metallic minerals leases from the State of Michigan covering Department of Natural Resources (DNR) metallic mineral rights located within T47N R34W, T47N R35W, T51N R30W, and T51N R31W, located in Baraga County; also T47N R35W and T47N R36W, located in Houghton County; also T46N R34W and T46N R35W, located in Iron County; and T50N R28W, located in Marquette County, containing a total of 15,274.27 acres, more or less.”

Our concerns with Eagle Mine’s alarming environmental record are well known. In reviewing these lease nominations, the Mining Action Group also identified problems with the DNR’s public process, and broad concerns about the scope of the proposed leases, the trend of increasing mineral exploration targeting public lands, and the specific threats posed to natural resources (water quality risks, habitat disruptions, industrial land uses incompatible with land management goals, etc.). On behalf of our supporters, advisors, and other concerned citizens, we submitted extensive written comments to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Conclusions:

Some of these state-protected and federally-owned public lands should absolutely not be leased. We believe that the landscape-scale expansion of mineral leasing and exploration is not the best or most desirable land use, and the stipulations and restrictions provided are insufficient to protect natural resources. As environmental stakeholders, we have identified several opportunities for process reform related to the DNR’s duty to inform the public of proposed Mineral Leases, and better safeguard the Public Trust.

Specific Requests:

  • We strongly urge the Department of Natural Resources to deny the mineral lease sought by Eagle Mine LLC for 40 acres of State-owned land on the Yellow Dog Plains (T50N R28W, Marquette County).
  • For parcels having stipulations of “Threatened or Endangered Species Habitat”, The DNR should consult its own records, the Michigan Natural Features Inventory database, and/or the Ottawa National Forest data to find out what state- or federally-list rare species are known to occur on these lands. The DNR should then consider whether mineral exploration on these lands has a significant chance of damaging or destroying any existing populations of these species. If so, the mineral rights beneath these parcels should NOT be leased for mineral exploration. Additionally, all of these parcels should be reconsidered in terms of the potential impacts to critical habitat for newly listed Endangered species, such as the Northern Long-Eared Bat (and protection of hibernacula) and the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee.
  • For mineral leases within the Wild and Scenic corridor of the Ontonagon River, we recommend no mineral leases be issued (deferring to federal protection of surface resources). These include parcels in T47N, R36W, Sections 9, 15, 23, 25, 26, 35 and 36.
  • Downstream from these lease requests, the East Branch of the Ontonagon becomes a designated National Wild River. If leases are considered, they must be re-evaluated in terms of the federal restriction of “1/4 mi on each side of designated Wild and Scenic and Recreational rivers.” Land within this corridor has special protection. Strongest protection is for for Wild Rivers, where federal mineral rights are withdrawn. Water quality within this segment is also strictly protected.
  • We strongly object to the proposed mineral leases that are partly or entirely within lands being considered for inclusion in the National Wild & Scenic River system. This includes parcels T47N, R34W Sections 9, 10, 15, 16, 22, 26, 27, 28, and 35, which fall partly or entirely within the National Wild and Scenic River study area for the Net River. We ask that the DNR defer to the federal study process and deny leases to mineral rights under these lands.
  • The DNR should consult with its own biologists and with Ottawa National Forest biologists and land managers before leasing any of the other parcels under these public lands.
  • Land management plans for forest units on state lands in these counties should be updated to accurately reflect the widening threats of mineral exploration and changing land use.

In closing, we repeat the statement made by the DNR’s Brian Roell, concerning the unexamined cumulative impacts of mineral leasing and the fact that “present and anticipated increase of mining exploration activity in this area could individually and/or cumulatively adversely impact the long-term viability of various wildlife populations in this region.” When and how will the DNR tally the cumulative environmental impacts of these pending mineral lease decisions? In our opinion, leasing decisions are made in a predictable and piecemeal fashion, disregarding obvious trends and cumulative impacts to natural resources. The current proposal to lease more than 15,000 acres of State forest land to a single mining company is staggeringly short-sighted, and if approved will further undermine our Public Lands and jeopardize Michigan’s long-term stewardship of public forest land, public access, clean water, sustainable forestry, and protective management of Michigan’s wildlife and fisheries. ALL of the proposed leases should be re-examined with an eye to the protection of wild lands, wild rivers, scientific study sites, and critical habitat, both known and potential, necessary for threatened and endangered species.”

Review

Download (PDF, Unknown)

 

Eagle East Public Comments

The public comment period on the proposed Eagle East permit amendment came to a close at 5pm today. The Mining Action Group hosted two public comment workshops on Tuesday to help guide people through the process of crafting and submitting public comments. We thank everyone who submitted public comments and voiced their concern about this incomplete and misleading permit amendment application.

Our conclusion:
“We believe the Eagle East amendment application does not meet the requirements of Part 632. The applicant has provided an incomplete analysis of the proposed project’s cumulative Environmental Impacts. The proposed amendment attempts to circumvent Part 632’s environmental protections in connecting two distinctly different orebodies through a single mining permit, which deliberately masks, underestimates or fails to consider the project’s cumulative environmental impacts. The proposed amendment also fails to insure that additional mining will not “pollute, impair, or destroy the air, water or other natural resources or the public trust in these resources” as required by Part 632.

We formally request that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality reject the proposed Eagle East amendment request and attached EIA as misleading and technically inadequate, and because permit segmentation is being used in order to secure a new mining permit without full consideration of the environmental impacts. We are concerned that the Eagle East review has divided public consideration of the mining (jobs) from the most negative environmental impacts (waste, and further degradations of the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River, caused by industrial wastewater discharges).”

You can read MAG’s full public comments on the Eagle East permit amendment request here.

ACTION ALERT – DIVEST FROM AQUILA’S BACK FORTY PROJECT!

TELL INVESTORS THIS PROPOSED OPEN PIT SULFIDE MINE NEXT TO THE MENOMINEE RIVER HAS NO “SOCIAL LICENSE TO OPERATE”

Aquila Resources has proposed a large open pit sulfide mine a mere 150 feet from the Menominee River (a major Lake Michigan tributary which forms the Wisconsin-Michigan border and flows into Green Bay). The mine footprint is located on the original tribal homeland of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. The tribe is concerned about pollution of the Menominee River and the destruction of sacred sites.

TAKE ACTION — Send a letter to the main financial investors in the Back Forty proposed mine letting them know that this project faces growing opposition* in Wisconsin and Michigan and does not have a “social license to operate.” According to mining risk analysts like Ernst & Young, the fourth greatest risk to mining investors comes from “ignoring community voices and their environmental and public health concerns.”

Send letters to the principal investors in the Back Forty project:

Mr. Oskar Lewnowski, CIO
Orion Mine Finance Group
1121 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 3000
New York, NY 10036

Candace Brule, Investor Relations
HUDBAY
25 York Street, Suite 800
Toronto, Ontario M5J 2V5
Canada
Email: investor.relations@hudbaymminerals.com

Ruffer
80 Victoria Street
London SW1E 5JL
United Kingdom

* Growing opposition as indicated by resolutions against the proposed mine by local units of government, including Marinette County, Brown County, the cities of Peshtigo and Marinette and the towns of Wagner and Porterfield in Wisconsin. Tribal governments that have passed resolutions against the mine include the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, the Bad River Ojibwe Tribe of Wisconsin, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of Michigan, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi,the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe and the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority of Michigan. American Rivers, a national conservation organization has listed the Menominee River as one of the 10 most endangered rivers due to the threat from sulfide mining”.

Open Letter to Orion Mine Finance Group by Al Gedicks

July 5, 2017

Mr. Oskar Lewnowski, CIO
Orion Mine Finance Group
1211 Avenue of the Americas
Suite 3000
New York, NY 10036

Dear Mr. Lewnowski,

I am once again writing in regard to Orion’s 19% investment in Aquila Resources’ Back 40 metallic sulfide project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Local and statewide
opposition to this project has grown considerably since my last update (November, 2016) and should be of great concern to your shareholders.

While Aquila now has three of the four permits for the project it still does not have the support of the people and communities that may be adversely affected by pollution from the proposed mine, including the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, that has filed a petition for a contested case hearing challenging the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) approval of the mining permit.

Since my last update several counties and townships downstream from the proposed mine have joined the Marinette County Board in passing resolutions urging the Michigan DEQ to deny permission for the mine. These include Brown and Menominee Counties in Wisconsin, the City of Peshtigo in Wisconsin, and the Towns of Porterfield and Wagner in Wisconsin. Door County in Wisconsin will be considering a resolution against the proposed mine at their next meeting. The headline from WeAreGreenBay.com (June 23, 2017) sums up the political sentiment succinctly: “Northeast Wisconsin county leaders making resolutions to condemn Back 40 Mine.”

In addition to the counties and townships opposed to the mine, there are ten tribal governments in Wisconsin and Michigan that have passed resolutions against the project. Seven intertribal organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), have also passed resolutions against the mine. The NCAI has promised to assist the Menominee Tribe to oppose the mine “through media exposure, governmental relations, and to support a call for Congressional oversight hearings to highlight the trust, policy and statutory responsibilities of federal agencies in these matters.”

The April 2017 designation of the Menominee River as one of the 10 most endangered rivers by the national conservation group, American Rivers, has given national visibility to local protests against the mine in Menominee, Michigan and Marinette, Wisconsin. In
announcing the designation of the Menominee River, American Rivers noted that “the proposed mine would pose a significant threat to the cultural and natural resources of the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region. Groundwater, rivers and ultimately Lake Michigan would become contaminated if acid mine drainage were to seep into surface and groundwater, posing a significant danger to fish and other aquatic life.”

If you have been reading the press releases from Aquila celebrating the progress of the permitting process, you may be surprised to learn that opposition to the project has been steadily growing to the point where Joe Maki, the head of the DEQ’s mining division has refused to participate in informational meetings before the Menominee and Marinette City Councils because he would rather avoid “a potentially hostile environment” (Penny Mullins, “City council hears mine talk,” Eagle-Herald, June 12, 2017). I have provided a sampling of the news coverage in this packet to document this political reality.

You may dismiss this growing opposition as irrelevant because Joe Maki has stated that public opposition will have no impact upon the mine permit decision. As long as Aquila meets the conditions of the permit requirements, they will be granted permission to mine.

As I pointed out in my last update, this perception is at odds with the growing realization within the mining industry that a social license to operate (SLO) “is an essential part of operating within democratic jurisdictions, as without popular support it is unlikely that agencies from elected governments will willingly grant operational permits or licenses” (Fraser Institute, “What is the Social Licence to Operate (SLO)?” 2012).

As early as 2003, Business for Social Responsibility warned investors “that where there was well-organized, significant opposition to a mining project, no matter their country or political stripe and no matter the prevailing laws, politicians were reluctant to go against
it. In fact, global companies are under greater pressure to respond to broader social expectations today, regardless of the prevailing legal structure, than at any other time in recent history.” (“The Social License to Operate” San Francisco, CA).

Once again, I urge you to review the extensive documentation of community opposition in this packet and make your own judgment about whether this project has a social license to operate.

Sincerely,

Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary
Wisconsin Resources Protection Council

Public Comment Period Extended for Eagle East

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

Friends,

ACTION ALERT! Tell the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality exactly what you think of Lundin Mining’s requested amendment of the Eagle Mine permit — which would require building more than 8 KILOMETERS of NEW tunnels to reach a totally DIFFERENT orebody, called “Eagle East.”

Eagle East is a new orebody located beyond the previously permitted project boundary for the Eagle Mine. This major expansion could have serious environmental impacts that were never considered under the original permit. More mining will mean more tailings, more dewatering, and increased risk of contamination. Read the proposed Eagle East permit amendment for yourself!

QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK ABOUT EAGLE EAST

1.) Lundin Mining claims the life of Eagle Mine will be extended only 1 or 2 years by extracting the Eagle East deposit. Is it worth the environmental impact to the beloved Yellow Dog Plains, or the Salmon Trout, Yellow Dog and Escanaba Rivers? Eagle East will result in increased hauling, air pollution emissions, tailings waste problems for Humboldt Mill,  and increased discharge of pollutants to the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River.

2.) Lundin describes the combined ore as “Eagle ore” but Eagle and Eagle East are different orebodies, born from different volcanogenic sources. The new Eagle East orebody contains higher grades of copper and nickel, as well as other toxic heavy metals. These metals can be extremely dangerous for aquatic life, headwater streams, and wetlands. Were these threats taken into account in the initial environmental impact assessment, or does this represent a significant change from the original permit?

3.) The Eagle East orebody is located three thousand feet below the surface, much deeper than Eagle, so the ore contains high quantities of entrapped salts from ancient brines. These salts will create long term problems for Lundin’s Humboldt Pit, where the addition of Eagle East tailings are expected to nearly fill the pit with waste, dramatically increasing Total Dissolved Solids. Eagle’s wastewater treatment plant will also need a new crystallizer.

4.) Mining experts have repeatedly warned that the Eagle orebody is filled with hard-to-map “smaller-scale discontinuities that could weaken the rock mass.” Last year’s undisclosed underground “collapse” at Eagle Mine throws the overall safety of the mine’s expansion into question. Has Eagle Mine’s stability been dangerously overestimated from the beginning? Are you concerned about last year’s rock failure at Eagle Mine?

Please let the DEQ know that you want ALL of these serious questions thoroughly reviewed and resolved, before the Eagle Mine permit amendment is considered.

The DEQ has extended the public comment period to July 20th, instead of the previous July 6th deadline. Following the federal holiday for the 4th of July, we will share more details about Eagle East and the environmental impacts, citing specific concerns.

SUBMIT WRITTEN COMMENTS! Public comment on the proposed permit amendment will be accepted until 5 PM on Thursday, July 20th, 2017.
Send all comments to DEQ-Mining-Comments@michigan.gov or mail them to:

DEQ Eagle East Permit Amendment
Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals
1504 West Washington Street
Marquette, MI 49855

Caption: Industrialization of the Yellow Dog Plains? Eagle Mine’s environmental footprint expands with Eagle East exploration — far beyond the original mining permit. This aerial photograph shows (1) Eagle Mine facility, and active drill rigs in the (2) southern drilling area for Eagle East (3) northern drilling area for Eagle East and (4) eastern drilling area for Eagle East. * The general location of the Eagle East orebody, some 3000 feet below the surface, is outlined by the large circle. May 2017, photograph by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.

Finally, please support our work – even a small contribution makes a big difference.

Onward,
Kathleen Heideman, MAG/UPEC Board Member

Links:
Lundin Mining Corp – Cover for Application to Amend Mine Permit MP012007
Lundin Mining Corp – Mining Permit Application Amendment (Volume I)
Lundin Mining Corp – Environmental Impact Assessment (Volume II)
Lundin Mining Annual Mining and Reclamation Report on Eagle Mine 2016
Michigan’s Part 632 Nonferrous Metallic Mining Regulations

Note: the active Eagle Mine permit, and the original Environmental Impact Assessments, are now available through the DEQ’s ftp server, under
Geowebface > Mining > Eagle Project.
Follow these instructions to log into Geowebface:
http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/DEQ_FTP_372266_7.pdf

Eagle Mine Buries Underground Collapse

Marquette, MI — Concerned citizens are publishing the details of an underground collapse incident at Eagle Mine, citing grave concerns with the company’s lack of transparency. The revelations follow several “Eagle Mine Community Meetings” in which the company failed to disclose the details of a significant incident that happened in 2016.

“I attended Eagle Mine’s meeting anticipating some honest discussion of their 2016 underground collapse. Instead, they demonstrated how to use a virtual fire extinguisher to fight a virtual fire. Their 2016 safety review mentioned only medical incidents: a contractor who fell from a ladder and sprained an ankle, an employee who experienced a heart attack, etcetera. Eagle claims that ‘providing transparent information is important to the way we do business,’ but Eagle Mine’s behaviour is anything but transparent,” said Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member and former federal oil regulator.

“Representatives of Eagle Mine failed to address the collapse until they were asked by a concerned citizen at a community meeting in Big Bay, at which point they tried to claim it was an insignificant and harmless incident,” said Nathan Frischkorn, a resident of Marquette.

“Eagle Mine’s failure to disclose a serious underground collapse is outrageous, in light of their request for more permits to expand mining into the new Eagle East orebody. Permitting hinges on public accountability. At the same time, Eagle Mine wants to remove more ore from the very highest levels of the Eagle Mine – a move which experts have long warned could cause the mine’s ceiling or ‘Crown Pillar’ to cave in,” said Kathleen Heideman, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) board member and a member of the Mining Action Group.

RUMORS SURFACE

Rumors of the underground collapse at Eagle Mine first surfaced in fall of 2016, when a story circulated that some “mine contractors” had quit over an underground incident they felt was “dangerous.” Responding to the direct question “Was there a partial pillar collapse?” Eagle Mine confirmed that an incident had taken place, but did not use the term “collapse” and provided only a few details:

“In early August, there was a fall of ground incident that occurred during a routine blast in an active stope. The fall of ground occurred due to an unidentifiable natural horizontal feature that failed during a blast, causing a section of ore to fall. Eagle Mine safety standards require all employees to be on the surface during a blast, therefore no employees were underground or at risk at the time of the incident. The situation was identified by employees during the post-blast inspection. Eagle Mine notified the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) who conducted an investigation.  MSHA notification is required whenever an unplanned fall of ground occurs at or above the anchorage zone in active workings where roof bolts are in use.”

Documents received in May of 2017 from the federal MSHA via a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request filed by a local concerned citizen make it clear: the unplanned “fall of ground” was a significant “large block failure.”

  • Eagle Mine’s Wilhelm Greuer told the MSHA investigator, “this was a wake up call.”
  • A large portion of an underground stope unexpectedly collapsed. The mining term used by the company is an “unexpected fall of ground.” It was described by MSHA  inspector as a “substantial” event, and could have happened at any time.
  • While it is true that no one was working in the drift below the stope when it collapsed, a crew of Cementation employees had been installing rock bolts into the stope prior to the collapse. It could have been a fatal accident.
  • The “unidentifiable natural horizontal feature that failed” (as described by Eagle Mine) was actually a fault, a critical fracture or flaw within the orebody. Was it truly unidentifiable – or simply unidentified? The geological fault or crack ran diagonally through stope 1485 on level 215, which is a “secondary” stope (unit or compartment of ore) contained between two primary stopes, which were already mined out and backfilled. A large quantity of ore below the fracture collapsed without warning. Mining experts describe these fractures as “rock discontinuities” and have warned that the Eagle orebody is filled with hard-to-map “smaller-scale discontinuities that could weaken the rock mass.”
  • The blast that “triggered” the collapse actually took place elsewhere in the mine, in another stope. Eagle said the collapse took place in an “active” stope, but it was not targeted for blasting when it collapsed.
  • The stope dimensions were approximately 33 feet wide by 80 feet high. A working access drift (tunnel) had been widened to the full width of the stope, further destabilizing the ore block. MSHA’s report states “the back broke approximately 9 meters (30 feet) above the existing 20 foot cable bolts.”
  • According to the MSHA investigation, the bolts that were installed “represented approximately one-quarter of the capacity” that was actually necessary for supporting the ore block.

CONCLUSIONS

Alarmingly, MSHA concluded that “because the planar discontinuity (…) was unanticipated, and the failure block was too large to support with a reasonable bolting system, it must be assumed that similar discontinuities could be encountered, any time.”  For greater stability, MSHA recommended leaving ribs of ore in place between stopes to increase safety: “rib pillars should be left in place in secondary stopes to provide physical, standing support.” According to Parker, this mining method was recommended from the beginning. Why was this common sense safety practice (leaving ribs for better support) not done? Simply put, the company did not want leave behind valuable ore. Full-stope mining means taking everything – leaving no ore behind.

While questions were raised about the integrity of cemented backfill, MSHA concluded “this event is not considered a backfill failure issue.” In the wake of the incident, however, several changes were made to Eagle Mine’s backfill regime: changing the cement recipe, heating water before adding it to cement, and even the method of cement placement. Edges of backfilled stopes were found to contain voids and loose material, which may have further contributed to the instability of the ore block.

It is not clear whether MSHA’s recommendations were suggestions or requirements, or whether Eagle Mine has modified their mining practices to avoid future unexpected collapses.

“Criminally defective decisions made by the Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) caused the permit to be issued despite obvious and serious legal and technical shortcomings. Eagle Mine’s permits were built upon false design and false data provided by amateur consultants who blatantly fabricated numbers, maps and sections which are in no way representative of the conditions in and around the orebody. The mine owners and their consultants still share responsibility for these errors, some of them life-threatening, all of them jail-worthy,” said Jack Parker, a veteran miner and mining consultant.

“Lundin and the Eagle Mine management have demonstrated to the general public what we have known all along: they will withhold information from the public if it might be damaging to their image. Lundin could have disclosed this information at the Eagle Mine forums held last fall or last week. They chose not to,” said Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay.

“It is incomprehensible why Lundin would widen the access drift below the stope without providing additional support. The MSHA report indicates that the affected area was only 28% supported. Greed is indeed a powerful force. This was not the fault of some overactive employee trying to impress the bosses and become employee of the month, as suggested by Matt Johnson’s comment in the Big Bay meeting. Someone gave the order to widen that stope. The public needs to know who. This was an accident waiting to happen and possibly could have happened without a blast occurring and while our working neighbors and relatives were still underground,” said Champagne.

EAGLE WANTS TO TAKE MORE ORE

Prior to the collapse, Eagle Mine submitted a stability report to the MDEQ, seeking to revise the mine’s critical “Crown Pillar” design. Lundin wants to extract an additional two levels of ore from the top of the orebody. The Michigan DEQ reviewed and quietly granted their request, with no opportunity for public comment. Reports were made available only recently, after a request made by the Upper Peninsula Environmental Stakeholders Group.

Lundin Mining acknowledges in their most recent Technical Report on Eagle Mine that “due to the location of the mine under a significant wetlands area and overburden cover, a crown pillar is necessary for the Eagle Mine to prevent surface subsidence and/or large-scale collapse.” The precise thickness and strength of the mine’s “crown pillar” or rock roof has been a hotly debated issue for more than a decade. Several mining engineers, after examining drill cores and rock quality data, have concluded that Eagle Mine’s design is fundamentally unstable, based upon flawed or falsified stability data. Some stated under oath that a crown pillar less than 300 feet thick would be likely to collapse. Eagle Mine, with DEQ’s approval, has now thinned the crown pillar from 287 to only 95 feet, in order to extract more ore.

“Eagle’s secretive behavior, in the wake of the collapse, is alarming. Is Eagle Mine stable, as the company insists, or will unmapped faults prove catastrophic, as experts have warned? Nobody wants to see a serious collapse at Eagle Mine. That would devastate the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River, directly above the mine,” said Alexandra Maxwell, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve administrator.

“No one in the Upper Peninsula should feel comfortable about the planned activities at Eagle until the financial responsibility assurances required by government regulators are at least an order of magnitude greater than what they are today,” said Loman.

“In light of last year’s significant underground collapse, which was hushed-up and passed off as a minor fall of ground incident, an independent professional review of the Eagle Mine’s data and design is needed. Ultimately, the Michigan DEQ must take steps to correct this unfortunate situation and forestall others. Mining of the Eagle East orebody must not be permitted until Eagle Mine’s design and rock data finally pass muster,” said Parker.

MORE INFO

“The analysis techniques used to assess the Eagle crown pillar stability do not reflect industry best-practice. In addition, the hydrologic stability of the crown pillar has not been considered. Therefore, the conclusions made within the Eagle Project Mining Permit Application regarding crown pillar subsidence are not considered to be defensible.”
– David Sainsbury

 

“A discrete sub-vertical fault plane that intersects the Eagle deposit has not been considered in any of the stability or subsidence analyses.”

– Sainsbury

 

“…the possibility of complete crown pillar failure should be a serious concern.”

– Sainsbury

COVERAGE

Copper Drilling Makes Mess of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness

UPDATED on May 1, 2017:   Porkies Drilling, Mud on the Move? new site photographs taken by the UPEC Mining Action Group on April 26th. 

April 26, 2017:  sediment-filled muddy water is seen passing through fiber rolls (erosion control) on an access road left chewed up by drilling equipment. Muddy water is flowing into ditches of CR-519, which convey the water to a ravine which feeds Presque Isle River.

Michigan DNR public information officer John Pepin has defended the drilling activity, and “compared the use permit the agency granted Highland Copper to what the DNR would give someone wanting to use state land for a wedding.”

Houghton, MI — As warmer weather melts the blanket of snow and the ground below, exploratory copper drilling in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (widely known as “the Porkies”) in the northwoods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula continues. The result is a big muddy mess, and potential violations of the state’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of 1994 (NREPA).

“It looks like hell – far worse than I was expecting,” said Steve Garske, UPEC board member. “Considering the exceptional natural and recreational features threatened by this drilling activity, it simply amazes me that the DNR is sitting on their hands and doing nothing.

Photographs taken on April 2, 2017 document extensive damage caused by the use of heavy equipment in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, by Orvana Resources and their contractor, Idea Drilling. For additional geotagged photos, see: http://bit.ly/2oCh7JX

In February, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a surface use permit authorizing Orvana Resources – a subsidiary of Highland Copper – to begin exploratory drilling in the Porkies. The company contracted to do the work is Idea Drilling of Minnesota. The DNR has defended their surface use agreement and the company’s “Environmental Management Plan” as “protective” in press releases and interviews, touting the use of the “least impactful”routes to access drill hole sites, and claiming that drilling would be done in the winter months “to reduce and limit compaction and erosion impacts to soils.”

In its broadly-worded management plan, Orvana promised to follow strict guidelines guaranteed to protect the Porkies from the destruction of public resources, old growth forest, soil erosion and other damage to the land. They claimed that “Wetlands and hydric soils will be avoided” and that “All activities will adhere to the MDNR and MDEQ Sustainable Soil and Water Quality Practices on Forest Land (February, 2009 revision)”. Despite these reassurances, members of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) now report that Orvana’s exploratory drilling work has turned the site into an ugly, mile-long mudhole.

The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is an all-season draw for the region, well known for its hiking trails, rugged terrain, old growth forests, miles of wild and scenic Lake Superior shoreline, wilderness campsites, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. The “Porkies” have been featured as a premier hiking destination by Backpacker Magazine, USA Today, and other national media. Widely considered the crown jewel of Michigan’s state park system, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the midwest. The park is prominently featured in the PURE MICHIGAN tourism campaign: “Undisturbed on the edge of Michigan is an untamed world of uncharted woods and unseen stars…” Visitors are urged to “Come to the Porcupine Mountains (…) and see nature in its purest form.” (See “Pure Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains: Call of the Wild”).

While the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness land is owned by the State of Michigan, County Road 519 is managed by the Gogebic County Road Commission, which issued a permit in February for drilling activity to take place within the “Right of Way” (ROW). That permit states that Orvana must “RESTORE ALL DISTURBED AREAS BACK TO EXISTING CONDITIONS”, a condition that, given the severe rutting and damage, now seems impossible.

According to DNR spokesman John Pepin, Orvana’s management plan only applies to the 12 drill holes that are on State Park land but outside the 466-foot county right-of-way. Yet the plan is carefully worded so that it seems to provide protection to the lands within the right-of-way as well. A subsequent DNR press release (February 23, 2017 – see link below) misleadingly implied that the company would be suspending drilling in the park, stating that “Highland Copper hopes to resume its exploration of the minerals – which are not owned by the State of Michigan – should prolonged wintry conditions return soon to Gogebic County“ and that “The company plans to reassess the situation in a couple of weeks. If exploration is not resumed in March, the drilling program will be postponed until next winter.”

The February 23 press release gave no indication that the company would return to drill in the CR-519 right-of-way during spring break-up, without regard for ground conditions or how much damage they would do. However, a March 15 press release (see link below) quotes Pepin as stating that “This work today does not restart Highland Copper’s exploratory work on park land situated west of County Road 519” and that “Barring a significant return to wintry conditions, there is not expected to be any additional borings on state park land this winter.”

Given the overlapping layers of jurisdiction – mineral rights, surface use agreements, and right-of-way access, it is unclear whether the DNR will enforce any of the provisions of the Environmental Management Plan. According to Doug Welker, former UPEC board member, the DNR has neglected to enforce stipulations in the state’s Wilderness and Natural Areas law (Part 351) which prohibit mineral exploration in designated State Natural Areas. “Drilling within the Presque Isle River Scenic Site is in conflict with State law,” said Welker.

The land east of the road where the most severe damage has been done is part of the Porcupine Mountains’ Presque Isle River Scenic Site, according to Welker. “The legal boundary of the Scenic Site is the road itself, not the east boundary of the right-of-way, according to a rule within the Michigan Administrative Code. The Presque Isle River Scenic Site is a legally-dedicated State Natural Area, and exploration for or extraction of minerals is prohibited in State Natural Areas according to Michigan law (NREPA).”

“Every citizen should be disgusted by the environmental damage being caused by the mineral exploration underway at the Porcupine Wilderness State Park,” said UPEC president Horst Schmidt.

“Although the DNR said Highland Copper would minimize any harm to natural features in the park, the pictures clearly contradict those claims. The DNR needs to stop further exploration drilling while it clarifies the legal status of drilling on State Natural and Wilderness Areas and other protected areas, as required by NREPA Part 351, 324.35102: ‘Wilderness, wild, and natural areas; duty of department to identify, dedicate, and administer.’ We ask the DNR to conduct a thorough investigation of its legal duty on behalf of our wilderness and natural areas,” said Horst.

“If we can’t trust Highland Copper to behave responsibly and take adequate precautions at drilling sites, and if we can’t trust the State to make sure that they do, why should we believe that Highland and the State will act responsibly if mining takes place?” asked Welker.

According to the senior planning team at the Superior Watershed Partnership, “The proposed Porcupine Mountains project seems to ignore sound science, environmental ethics and common sense. The risk is simply too great for groundwater, surface water, Lake Superior and this unique wilderness park.”

“I’ve seen industrial-scale pig farms that made less mud than Highland’s drilling – and this is happening in a State Natural Area! Drilling activity using heavy equipment during spring thaw churns the forest floor into flowing mud, and threatens water quality in nearby streams, rivers and lakes, including Lake Superior. It seems obvious that severe impairment and destruction of our natural resources is taking place. The DNR needs to act quickly to protect our natural resources and the public trust,” said Kathleen Heideman, UPEC board member.

In allowing exploratory drilling in the Porkies, and failing to monitor and regulate the resulting environmental impacts, the DNR has demonstrated a stunning disregard for the health of the land and the wishes of its citizens. “Those who care about Michigan’s future need to remind state representatives and agencies (in this case the DNR) that they serve the public, not multinational mining companies intent on short-term profits at the state’s expense. This is no way to treat our unique Wilderness park,” notes Garske.

“The ‘public’ in public land seems to have no clout. In our name, public lands can be sold, traded, and drilled, often with little or no public input. Shouldn’t there be tighter restrictions on what can be done in a wilderness state park like the Porkies? Why are we stuck in a legal mindset from the 1880s that allows “reasonable” mining exploration in areas where such activity, from a 21st century perspective, is entirely unreasonable?” asked historian Jon Saari, a UPEC Board member.

“The damage and the aggressive nature of these test drilling has to be first stopped, and then understood. No one is doing that,” said Pat Egan, conservation chair of the Three lakes Sierra Group in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. “The DNR has an obligation, as stewards of the state park, to protect the surface and the commonly owned natural assets of that park. We don’t know if there is permanent damage; as yet, no one does.”

“As people begin thinking about spring and summer camping in the state’s largest and arguably most beautiful state park, they need to know that the DNR and the DEQ are protecting their park,” said Egan.

 

UPDATE – May 1, 2017

Porkies Drilling, Mud on the Move?
photos taken April 26, 2017

 

What do these photographs show? Why is erosion and sediment control important?  According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s website: “Sediment is the greatest pollutant by volume impacting our lakes, streams, and wetlands. Sediment is the product of uncontrolled erosion. Everyone in Michigan is affected by erosion and off-site sedimentation. Erosion and sedimentation result in: loss of fertile topsoil, filling of lakes and streams, increased flooding, damage to plant and animal life, and structural damage to buildings and roads. Construction is one of the major causes of erosion in Michigan. Without proper planning and management, over 100 tons of sediment per acre per year can be generated on some construction sites. Why was Part 91 passed? The primary intent of Part 91 is to protect the waters of the state and adjacent properties by minimizing erosion and controlling off-site sedimentation. What activities require a Part 91 permit? A permit is generally required for any earth change that disturbs one or more acres, or is within 500 feet of a lake or stream. Exempted activities include plowing and tilling for crop production and some logging and mining activities. Access roads to the logging and mining sites and ancillary activities associated with logging and mining operations are not exempt.” For more information about erosion and sediment control, see: MDEQ Part 91 SESC FAQs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE – April 20, 2017
Upper Peninsula Mining Company Cited for Soil Erosion DEQ Press Release

UPDATE – April 7, 2017
Muddy drilling mess at Porcupine Mountains under DEQ investigation published by Garret Ellison for MLive.com on April 7, 2017

UPDATE – April 5, 2017
Muddy Drill Rigs Pulled from Porkies Wilderness – photos taken April 4, 2017

 

LINKS FOR MEDIA

SUGGESTED CAPTION

“Photographs taken on April 2, 2017 document extensive damage caused by the use of heavy equipment in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, by Orvana Resources and their contractor, Idea Drilling.” The photos are geotagged, and may be viewed on this Google Map: http://bit.ly/2oCh7JX

RELATED DOCUMENTS

 

Wall Street Journal Prints ‘Alternative Facts’ By Lawyers Appealing CR-595

Marquette County Road Commission v. Environmental Protection Agency

Regional environmentalists are dismissing as “wildly inaccurate” an article published in the Wall Street Journal (*1) on March 3rd, entitled “How a Michigan County Road Got Stuck in Regulatory Purgatory”. The piece, co-written by two lawyers working on the Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “relied on ‘alternative facts’ and amounted to little more than a highly-placed publicity stunt,” according to Kathleen Heideman, a Board member of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s (UPEC) Mining Action Group.

The Wall Street Journal story plays fast and loose with the facts, according to Heideman, suggesting that the road proposal is a “shovel-ready” jobs initiative caught in “regulatory purgatory” and that the EPA was “vague” in their wetland objections, which ultimately “vetoed” a critical road building project.

In fact, the mine’s original (permitted) transportation plan matches the mine’s current haul route, and the “short cut” was only concocted after the mining company purchased the Humboldt Mill property for processing and refining their ore. The so-called “shovel ready” plan failed to clear the review of multiple federal agencies, including EPA, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Previously, the mining company told regulators that they would use “existing infrastructure” and develop a rail depot north of the city of Marquette. “Groggy college students” would not have been endangered by Eagle Mine’s original plan.

“REGULATORY PURGATORY”?  A FACTUAL HISTORY OF CR-595

From the beginning, environmentalists have contended that the Road Commission was trying to build an industrial road – a mining haul road for the benefit of a single company – rather than a County Road designed to benefit the public. “The Pacific Legal Foundation is attempting to recast this issue as an anti-EPA “states rights” issue, and revising history as they go. The facts of the case simply do not support their claims,” said Steve Garske, UPEC Board member and member of the Mining Action Group.

The CR-595 proposal was controversial from its first incarnation as the privately-funded “Woodland Road” proposal, which the owners of Eagle Mine (then Rio Tinto) offered to fund. Promoters of the “Woodland Road” claimed its main purpose was to provide local citizens with easier access to the roadless interior of Marquette County for hunting, fishing, berry-picking, and other recreational activities, while dodging massive ore trucks. Federal agencies objected to the “Woodland Road” plan on the grounds that impacts to wetlands and streams were poorly quantified, and because the road’s stated purpose was highly inaccurate.

Contrary to the Wall Street Journal article, the objections raised by federal agencies were always quite specific, as seen in early March 2010: “The application must quantify aquatic impacts, especially the following: the loss of headwaters and wetlands associated with headwaters, in each watershed; the loss of rare wetland plant communities, including bogs, fens and wet meadows; and water quality degradation due to runoff containing pollutants, and clearly indicate how the loss of each of these features would be compensated. This is necessary to allow (Michigan environmental regulators) to fully evaluate whether compensation is possible for the unique functions lost within each of the four watersheds… Woodland Road application is deficient in several areas, including reasonable comparison of alternative routes, an adequate 404(b)(1) analysis, and an adequate compensatory mitigation proposal.” (*2)

Remote Mulligan Creek wetlands complex, at the site of the proposed CR-595 crossing, photograph by Amy Cherrette (2016).

Woodland Road was later renamed “County Road 595”; the proposed route would have cut through 22 rivers and streams, including the Dead River and Yellow Dog River Watersheds, Mulligan Creek headwaters, Voelker Creek, and Wildcat Canyon Creek, destroying approximately 25 acres of wetlands, directly impacting 122 wetland complexes, and bisecting a major wildlife corridor, fragmenting both habitat and hydrology.

“The EPA’s decisions were not ‘arbitrary and capricious’ as the Road Commission has contended. Instead, they were in alignment with the concerns of the other state and federal agencies charged with protecting our natural resources,” said concerned citizen Catherine Parker.

Narrow leaved gentian growing at the Mulligan Creek wetlands complex, in the path of the CR-595 project. According to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, this rare native plant is a threatened species, ranked “S2, meaning imperiled in state because of rarity (6 to 20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of some factor(s) making it very vulnerable to extirpation from the state.” Photograph provided by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.

 

In 2012, when the EPA objected to the project’s failure to avoid or minimize impacts to wetlands and streams, it gave the MCRC and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) 30 days to modify their plans. On January 3, 2013, the DEQ announced that it would not be issuing a permit for the project. The implication was that the state regulators simply ran out of time, and the mining company, impatient for a secured haul road, decided to invest in improving the existing route specified in its mining permit.

So Eagle Mine paid for a different seasonal road to be widened and paved as far as the mine’s gate, and plans for CR-595 were abandoned – but not forgotten.

After abandoning the CR-595 proposal, the Marquette County Road Commission “improved” an unpaved, seasonal road to serve as a Haul Route for Eagle Mine. The pavement ends at the gate of the mine. Photograph by Kathleen Heideman (May 2014).

 

In July 2015, the MCRC filed a lawsuit claiming the EPA had unfairly “blocked” the road’s construction. To be clear, the CR-595 project still could have been built, but wetland permits would need to be secured from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Yet MCRC never applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permits to build CR-595. “It seems that Eagle Mine and the Marquette County Road Commission are allergic to federal permits. Certainly they’ve avoided federal oversight at every turn,” said Loman.

MCRC’s lawsuit against the EPA was heard by Federal Judge Robert Holmes Bell in 2016. Judge Bell dismissed the lawsuit, stating that the MCRC “doesn’t have a viable claim against the EPA.” The MCRC appealed, and Judge Bell denied the motion for reconsideration. According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, attorneys and a mediator appointed by the appellate court were to have discussed a possible settlement by phone on March 6. If no resolution was reached, the case will proceed to the 6th U.S. Circuit of Appeals.

According to a federal attorney familiar with the case, such mediation will “address only the pertinent questions of law.” The facts of the case were previously addressed by the lower circuit court, which dismissed the Road Commission’s lawsuit against the EPA as baseless.

JUST THE FACTS

While the Wall Street Journal pairs the story with a photograph of scenic downtown Marquette, Eagle Mine’s trucks do not actually run through downtown Marquette. Those most affected by the mining trucks are local residents along the route which runs along the outskirts of Marquette and other small towns, and the so-called “groggy college students” at Northern Michigan University, where ore trucks and logging trucks pass the north edge of campus.

Save the Wild U.P.’s Summer Fellows at the site of the proposed CR-595 crossing of the Dead River wetlands complex (2015).

“College students are the ones who will inherit this mining mess in a few years — along with the financial responsibility for a thousand other contaminated mine sites, milling sites, and haul routes that haven’t been properly cleaned up. If the Marquette County Road Commission gets its way, these young taxpayers will also be saddled with the cost of constructing and repairing another haul road for Eagle Mine, on top of their college debts,” said Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member and former federal oil regulator.

According to Parker, “MCRC never had a case. Period. The evidence is right there in the files I received through Freedom of Information Act requests.”

“The road proposal was not an environmentally responsible option, and doesn’t fix any of the problems created for our community by the sulfide mining industry. The MCRC’s proposed dredge-and-fill, slash-and-burn method of road construction would produce exponentially more greenhouse gas than would be saved by shortening Eagle Mine’s haul route,” noted Alexandra Maxwell, a UPEC Board member.

The proposed CR-595 road would have destroyed dozens of heavily forested wetlands along the route. According to new research (*3), forested wetlands provide extremely high carbon sequestration benefits, trapping anywhere from 2,750 to 4,100 pounds of carbon per acre per year.

“It is important to remember that any potential benefit to air quality from the shortened trip will be offset by the fact that road construction effectively converts forests into pavement. Construction permanently cuts and burns the surrounding forest, releasing stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Considering CR-595 would be approximately 66 feet wide for 22 miles (applicants stated that habitat removal would be at least 66 feet in width, totaling approx. 180 acres), this is a substantial loss for the climate,” said Emily Whittaker, Special Projects Manager for the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, another organization which has vigorously opposed the CR-595 project.

After the CR-595 road proposal was abandoned, the Marquette County Road Commission used slash and burn land-clearing methods to dramatically widen and pave the “Triple A” (a season unpaved road) as far as the gates of Eagle Mine. This photograph shows stumps and roots set on fire, using fuel accelerant, along the route. Photograph provided by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.

“More important than the question of carbon released or sequestered by the construction of a new haul road from mine to mill is the impact of the road itself to an undeveloped region of the Upper Peninsula. This road would be nothing like the ‘Woodland Road’ touted by its proponents. It would be an all-season ribbon of concrete within a wide corridor, a permanent swath fragmenting a sensitive and wild landscape,” remarked Jon Saari, historian and UPEC Board member.

“We should be thankful to the EPA for setting high standards for any big new highway. Our region is still recovering from the wounds of the last mining and logging era a hundred years ago. The Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017 guide (*4) just cited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a national treasure for its beaches, waterfalls, small towns, and old forests — in other words its natural setting. The EPA recognized that, too, and showed some backbone in this political and legal fight,” said Saari.

Back in 2012, when the road proposal became mired in wetlands concerns, Michigan lawmakers were quick to make statements of support for the road, which touted short-term jobs to be created by road construction. Michigan’s unemployment rate has fallen sharply since then. But unemployment rates and robust economic development may not be the ultimate value in many residents’ minds. According to the results of a newly published survey by Michigan State University researchers (*5), most Michigan residents — 59% — “favor protecting the environment, even when there could be economic risks of doing so, such as job loss” and they “prioritize the environment over economic growth.”

The environmental threats are real. According to the 2014 report “Status and Trends of Michigan’s Wetlands” (*6), Michigan has lost 40% of its original wetlands since the start of European settlement. While the rate has slowed, wetland losses continue, with 41,000 acres of wetlands lost since 1978. The pressure to sacrifice Michigan wetlands for the sake of poorly-conceived roads or short-lived industrial developments – like CR-595 and Eagle Mine – continues. In requiring the MCRC to prove that a road through the wild heart of Marquette County was needed and would be designed to minimize impacts on the environment, especially wetlands, headwaters and aquatic resources, the EPA was doing its job: protecting our natural resources.

Aerial view of remote Wildcat Canyon Creek wetlands complex and logging trail, site of proposed CR-595 crossing, photograph by Kathleen Heideman (2015).

NOTES

  1. https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-a-michigan-county-road-got-stuck-in-regulation-purgatory-1488585470
  2. Letter dated March 12, 2010 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to EPA Region 5, concerning the Woodland Road proposal.
  3. See: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/freshwetlands.htm, authored by Dr. William Mitsch at Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation.
  4. See: Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017 (2016), p. 169.
  5. http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2017/a-trump-twist-environment-over-economy-in-michigan/
  6. http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/DEQ-Water-Wetlands_-Status_and_trends_498644_7.pdf

###

Founded in 1976, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s purpose remains unchanged: to protect and maintain the unique environmental qualities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by educating the public and acting as a watchdog to industry and government. UPEC is a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, call 906-201-1949, see UPenvironment.org, visit our Facebook page, or contact: upec@upenvironment.org.

The UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) is a grassroots effort to defend the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining – previously known as Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP). Contact the UPEC Mining Action Group at info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Learn more about the Mining Action Group at miningactiongroup.org or follow MAG’s work on Facebook or Twitter.

Drilling in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Undermines Public Land

Houghton, MI —Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) members and supporters are expressing outrage and frustration following news that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a surface use permit authorizing Orvana Resources – a subsidiary of Highland Copper – to begin exploratory drilling in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (also called “the Porkies”). According to the DNR, drilling began Sunday — before the agency’s press release had been published.

The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is well known for its hiking trails, rugged terrain, old growth forests, miles of wild and scenic Lake Superior shoreline, wilderness campsites, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. The Porkies are an all-season tourism draw for the entire region, and have been featured as a premier hiking destination by Backpacker Magazine, USA Today, and other national media.

“The sulfide mining industry is leading the State of Michigan around by a leash. Environmental regulators are completely out of touch with public sentiment on this issue. Michigan residents and visitors from around the country love the Porkies, and are angered by this announcement,” said Kathleen Heideman, a UPEC Board member.

According to DNR spokesman John Pepin, the agency did not provide public notice or a public comment period before issuing a permit for exploratory drilling on January 31.

“Whether this is a violation of Michigan’s open meeting law (Act 267 of 1976) is an open question, but it seems clear that the state has little interest in the public’s opinion concerning exploratory hardrock mineral drilling in Michigan’s premier state park,” said Steve Garske, botanist and Board member of UPEC.

The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the crown jewel of Michigan’s state park system and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the midwest. In fact, the park is prominently featured in the PURE MICHIGAN tourism campaign: “Undisturbed on the edge of Michigan is an untamed world of uncharted woods and unseen stars, a magical place overflowing with waterfalls, where the Porcupine Mountains still whisper ancient tales and legends, and the rivers seem to flow into forever – a place known as the Wilds of Michigan, found in the Westernmost corner of the Upper Peninsula. Here we can get back in touch with nature, and back in touch with ourselves.” Visitors are urged to “Come to the Porcupine Mountains (…) and see nature in its purest form.” (Source: “Pure Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains: Call of the Wild”).

“Considering the exceptional natural and recreational features threatened by this decision, why wasn’t there an opportunity for public input?” asked Garske.

The mining of sulfide ore invariably leads to acid mine drainage, which threatens groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes, including Lake Superior.

“The ‘public’ in public land seems to have no clout. In our name, public lands can be sold, traded, and drilled, often with little or no public input. Shouldn’t there be tighter restrictions on what can be done in a wilderness state park like the Porkies? Why are we stuck in a legal mindset from the 1880s that allows “reasonable” mining exploration in areas where such activity, from a 21st century perspective, is entirely unreasonable?” asked historian Jon Saari, a UPEC Board member.

“The DNR’s actions – allowing a mining company to conduct exploration drilling in the Porkies – will outrage a lot of people. And the public should be outraged,” said Alexandra Maxwell, another UPEC board member. “Once again, we see there isn’t a single square inch of Michigan safe from the threat of sulfide mining and exploration – they’re mining under our rivers, drilling in fragile wetlands, drilling on state and national forest lands, and now drilling in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.”

In allowing exploratory drilling in the Porkies, DNR has failed to protect Michigan’s natural resources, and demonstrated a stunning disregard for the health of the land and the wishes of its citizens. “It’s up to those who care about Michigan’s future to remind state representatives and agencies (in this case the Michigan DNR) that they serve the public, not multinational mining companies intent on short-term profits at the state’s expense. This is no way to treat our unique Wilderness park,” notes Garske.

Updated 3-16-2017: map of the site including geotagged photographs by Steve Garske

 

UPDATE – May 1, 2017
Porkies Drilling, Mud on the Move? photos taken April 26, 2017

UPDATE – April 20, 2017
Upper Peninsula Mining Company Cited for Soil Erosion DEQ Press Release

UPDATE – April 7, 2017
Muddy drilling mess at Porcupine Mountains under DEQ investigation published by Garret Ellison for MLive.com on April 7, 2017

UPDATE – April 5, 2017
Muddy Drill Rigs Pulled from Porkies Wilderness – photos taken April 4, 2017

UPDATE – February 12, 2017 – photographs of the site by Steve Garske

Additional files related to Copperwood project (Orvana, Highland Copper)

UPDATE – February 8, 2017 – Michigan DNR spokesman John Pepin stated to TV6 news: “the state does not own the mineral rights and it is not a discretionary decision….” He also said that “Highland Copper notified all local government officials and tribes before exploratory drilling began on Sunday” (but not the public, or environmental stakeholders).

LINKS FOR MEDIA

SUGGESTED CAPTION

“Photographs taken on April 2, 2017 document extensive damage caused by the use of heavy equipment in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, by Orvana Resources and their contractor, Idea Drilling.” The photos are geotagged, and may be viewed on this Google Map: http://bit.ly/2oCh7JX

RELATED DOCUMENTS

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Founded in 1976, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s purpose remains unchanged: to protect and maintain the unique environmental qualities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by educating the public and acting as a watchdog to industry and government. UPEC is a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, call 906-201-1949, see UPenvironment.org, visit our Facebook page, or contact: upec@upenvironment.org.

The UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) is a grassroots effort to defend the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining – previously known as Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP). Contact the UPEC Mining Action Group at info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Learn more about the Mining Action Group at miningactiongroup.org or follow MAG’s work on Facebook or Twitter.