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.


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.


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).


  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.

Rio Tinto Targets Clean Water Advocates in Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

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


“Nonprofit” jointly created by regulators and industry execs heads to court Thursday

MARQUETTE — On Thursday, a nonprofit corporation set up by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) regulators and mining industry executives, the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association (NMGRA), will appear in Circuit Court in Marquette claiming that it is not a public body and therefore is not subject to public scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act in response to requests for financial information.

In 2008 high-ranking State officials directly charged with enforcing mining safety and environmental regulations formed the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association as a ‘non-profit’ corporation while Rio Tinto was in the process of planning and constructing Eagle Mine. The NMGRA Board of Directors features Rio Tinto and Bitterroot Resources mining executives in addition to DEQ officials.

The Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association is intended to fund and operate a “core shed” — a warehouse dedicated to storing mineral core samples which is a function of the Office of Geologic Survey according to Michigan law. As a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, the contributions the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository received from individuals and corporations, including over $32,000 from Rio Tinto in 2012, are fully tax-deductible.

While Rio Tinto executives assisted in the formation of the NMGRA with state regulators, Rio Tinto constructed a 10 megawatt substation — 400% the power previously existing in Big Bay — to electrify a core shed adjacent to the Eagle Mine site. Once the power infrastructure had been installed, the core shed was removed, and Eagle Mine permit was granted a minor modification without due process or public participation.

Jana Mathieu, the attorney suing NMGRA to disclose their financial information said: “The murky facts surrounding the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association exemplify the need for the Freedom of Information Act and the purpose for which it was enacted: to shine a light on the actions of government officials which directly impact the citizens whom they purport to represent.”

Local attorney Michelle Halley, who challenged the Eagle Mine’s permits in court, says the public deserves to better understand the NMGRA’s funding. “The MDEQ’s partnership with corporations demonstrates its inappropriate relationship with the mining industry. The MDEQ’s motto of ‘the industry is our customer and we trust them’ is plain wrong. MDEQ’s job is to regulate the industry, not form partnerships with them — they’ve got it wrong, again,” said Halley.

“It can’t be overstressed how valuable these rock core samples are — to both the mining industry and the State of Michigan. The cores are key to understanding the safety of the proposed mine, the valuation of the proposed mine, and the toxic cocktail of heavy metals that will soon be raining down on Marquette County, when the mine’s exhaust vent stack begins spewing unfiltered mining dust into our clean air. Further, as the TWS is currently permitted, Eagle Mine will discharge over 500,000 gallons of water that will flow into the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River. That’s why, from the beginning, public access to information has been denied, and the core samples have been kept from scrutiny,” said Kathleen Heideman, Save the Wild U.P. vice president.

“The collaboration with mining executives for the creation of a non-profit in order to accomplish state mandates by a high level state of Michigan manager is classic regulatory capture: when an agency is captured to operate for the benefit of a private entity and no longer functions in the state’s best interests. We must end this regulatory fiasco,” said Jeffery Loman, former federal oil regulator and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member.

“I find it interesting that NMGRA would bring in the same high-powered downstate law firm on a simple Freedom of Information Act issue that Rio Tinto hired to run interference for the MDEQ in the Concerned Citizens of Big Bay’s administrative law case over the permitting of electric lines for Eagle Mine. It almost makes you think they have something to hide,” said Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, a grassroots group which has been active in monitoring regulatory oversight of Part 632, the legislation governing non-ferrous mining in Michigan.

“It’s in the best interests of Michigan taxpayers and workers that state regulators are doing their jobs of watching the mining industry, not holding hands with its executives. That is why we are also calling for a federal investigation of this so-called nonprofit,” said Margaret Comfort, president of Save the Wild U.P.

On June 8th, Save the Wild U.P. joined with Concerned Citizens of Big Bay and others calling for a federal corruption investigation of the mining industry and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. 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.

60-Day Notice to Sue the Environmental Protection Agency for regulatory failure at Eagle Mine

MARQUETTE — On Monday, June 24, 2013, Jeffery Loman, a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member and Save the Wild U.P., a grassroots environmental group based in Marquette, filed a 60-day Notice to Sue the Environmental Protection Agency for violations of the Clean Water Act at the Eagle Mine near Big Bay, Mich.According to Loman, a former federal regulator with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in Alaska, the EPA failed to require a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for treated mine water discharges at Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine. In 2010 Rio Tinto told the EPA that the discharges from the revised treated water filtration system were not below the surface of the ground. The State of Michigan issued a groundwater permit while acknowledging that these discharges would actually flow into the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River.

Both Loman and Alexandra Thebert, executive director of Save the Wild U.P. agreed that “the decision to file the notice to sue was done after great circumspection and careful review of what is occurring at the Eagle Mine.”

“We seek to correct what is nothing short of a regulatory fiasco at the Eagle Mine. This is just the first step in a multifaceted plan to do that in full measure — we are also calling for a federal investigation of the relationship between State of Michigan regulators and the mining industry,” said Thebert.

“In order to protect our communities and environment, we must ensure that regulations are followed,” said Margaret Comfort, Save the Wild U.P. president. “Rio Tinto — and other mining companies — cannot operate outside the law.”

The 60-Day Notice to Sue was sent by certified mail Monday, June 24 at 2:00 p.m. EST. The notice went to the Acting Administrator of the EPA in Washington D.C., the EPA Region 5 Administrator in Chicago, the U.S. Attorney General, the Governor of Michigan, and Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine President Adam Burley.

Judge refuses to stop work on Eagle Mine

July 26, 2012
By JOHN FLESHER – AP Environmental Writer , The Mining Journal

TRAVERSE CITY – A federal judge has refused to halt construction of a nickel and copper mine in northern Marquette County.

In an order signed Wednesday, Judge Robert Holmes Bell rejected a request by the private Huron Mountain Club to stop work on the mine while the club’s lawsuit works its way to trial.

The exclusive club owns about 19,000 acres of forestland in Marquette County, including an 11-mile stretch of the Salmon Trout River. In May, the club filed a suit claiming the mine would damage the river and nearby wetlands.

The mine’s name recently was changed from Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. to Rio Tinto Eagle Mine.

State regulators and company officials say the mine can be operated safely. Drilling has begun and mineral production is expected to begin in 2014.

Court Rules Flambeau ‘Model Mine’ Violated Clean Water Act

Court Rules Flambeau ‘Model Mine’ Violated Clean Water Act

The Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, WI has a long history of controversy due, in part, to the proximity of the mine to the Flambeau River. This photo was taken in September 1994, when heavy rains   caused flooding at the mine site.


State Officials Urged to ‘Learn from Flambeau’ and Stop Proposed Mega-Mines in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan

A federal court ruled yesterday that Flambeau Mining Company (FMC) violated the Clean Water Act on numerous occasions by allowing pollution from its Flambeau Mine site, near Ladysmith, Wis., to enter the Flambeau River and a nearby tributary known as Stream C.

The lawsuit was filed early last year by the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC), the Center for Biological Diversity, and Laura Gauger. The complaint charged that Flambeau Mining Company (a subsidiary of Kennecott Minerals Company / Rio Tinto) was violating the Clean Water Act by discharging stormwater runoff containing pollutants, including toxic metals like copper and zinc, from a detention basin known as a biofilter. Continue reading

Judge doesn’t rule on mine injunction

Operations at Eagle site continue after matter taken under advisement in Grand Rapids court

June 7, 2012

By JOHN PEPIN – Journal Staff Writer (jpepin@miningjournal.net) , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE – A federal judge made no decision Wednesday after a roughly three-hour hearing in Grand Rapids on whether to grant a preliminary injunction that would shut down development operations at the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. mine on the Yellow Dog Plains, until a lawsuit by the Huron Mountain Club is decided. Continue reading

Club files legal challenge against Eagle Mine project

May 8, 2012
By JOHN PEPIN – Journal Staff Writer (jpepin@miningjournal.net) , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE – A federal court judge set an expedited hearing date Monday to decide whether work should be shut down at the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. mine in Michigamme Township while a new lawsuit by the Huron Mountain Club against the mining company and several governmental agencies is decided.

Continue reading



Roscoe and Evelyn Churchill were right. They said from the very beginning that the Flambeau Mine would pollute the water over there, and it has.Now we have a chance to do something about it, and WRPC is asking for your help. Please see the attached letter for details and submit your written comments to the Wisconsin DNR by February 20, 2012.

Continue reading