Local citizens skeptical of Rio Tinto Eagle Mine “Community Forums”

As Rio Tinto continues another round of community forums, local citizens voiced their skepticism surrounding Marquette’s Rio Tinto Eagle Mine Community Forum Tuesday.

“Rio Tinto portrays this data as scientific — but that could not be farther from the truth,” said Kathleen Heideman, vice president of Save the Wild U.P. “Their ‘data’ from the last round polled less than 300 people– hardly representative of the 76,502 residents of Marquette and Baraga counties. It’s a global mining corporation’s idea of democracy: first they show slides about how great they are — then we should click to indicate our agreement. That’s meaningless. It’s not voting.”

“I am surprised to see the addition of 30 miles of power lines referred to as ‘more wood on the woodpile,’” said Margaret Comfort, president of Save the Wild U.P. “Rio Tinto manipulated the public process by saying they needed 30 miles of power lines for mining exploration and then sought a small modification to their Eagle permit to bring the lines to the mine site. It might be illegal, and it’s definitely unethical. They should have had their Eagle Mine permit modified, which would have included public scrutiny to discover if the public approved of this action.”

“Rio Tinto touted 75 visitors to Eagle Rock as demonstration of their willingness to work with Native Nations. But we know full well that Rio Tinto placed the mine portal into Eagle Rock for one reason and one reason only: They knew that this would draw the attention away from what all Upper Peninsula residents value — water,” said KBIC tribal member and former federal oil regulator Jeffery Loman. “That worked yesterday but from this day forward we will, as guided by our Great Spirits, bring the attention squarely back to the protection of our waters and everything that depends on water.”

“Rio Tinto representatives announced the life of the mine has been extended to 8 years by discovering a 20 per cent increase in ore, but that’s no career for the people working in the area. The U.P. needs and deserves stable jobs to support families and send kids to college, not layoffs and short-term work,” said Alexandra Thebert, executive director of Save the Wild U.P. In early April, Eagle Mine announced the layoffs of 11 employees and downsized contractors by 20 per cent citing “economic headwinds.”

 

London Shareholders Meeting Comments – and Rio Tinto’s Response

In April, SWUP Executive Director, Alexandra Thebert, traveled to London as part of of a campaign to bring community concerns to Rio Tinto’s Annual General Meeting. Below are her comments before the board, and a response from Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh.

Alexandra Thebert: Thank you, Chairman, for the opportunity to speak today. My question is concerning the Eagle Mine project in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in America.

Our community has been fighting Eagle Mine since the project began nearly a decade ago, which you know because we have sent representatives to your London shareholders meeting for years to address your shoddy environmental protections, sloppy work, and poor work standards.

Mining engineers have said, for years, that this permit was fraudulently issued and the structure of this portal is unsound. I’d like to add that, too, that this located which is located directly underneath sacred land to the native people of this region, who have been living in the area far longer than than 140 years.

As a sulfide mine, Eagle Mine threatens nearby Lake Superior and other major watersheds– comprising over 20% of the world’s freshwater. There is no precedent for a similar mine that does not leak acid drainage. You know this because of your own Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin where your lawyers are appealing a Clean Water Act Violation next week. I’m coming to my question, thank you [in response to heckling].

With the recent reporting of uranium at the site, former federal oil regulator Jeffery Loman states the risks have now increased exponentially, potentially endangering the workers, community, and environment to radiation and radon exposure.

Further, you seek to remove your only air filter from your mine portal– added in response to community outrage upon discovering that unfiltered mine exhaust would be sent directly into our community.

Over 10,000 people oppose this mine in our small and rural community, including hundreds of health professionals and over 100 faith leaders. Your have an expensive and risky project, and we are a very expensive, and growing opposition to your mine as we are fighting to protect our health and environment. We do not plan to stop pursuing you. We will not going to stop suing you until you have left our community — intact.

My question for you is – at what cost to our health and environment to do you plan to continue this project for so-called “value” for your shareholders? Thank you.

Chair Jan du Plessis: Thank you for those remarks, I think most of those remarks have been made at last years and previous years AGM’s so I think, while I respect the fact that you needed to make them but of course they aren’t particularly new. Sam, would you like to respond?

CEO Sam Walsh: I can comment in relation to that project which, by the way, has state and federal environmental approvals. The mine operates or the project operates at the highest standards of environmental management and also community engagement. It’s been awarded all of the necessary permits to build and operate the project as originally designed and these permits have been upheld in court.

In 2012 Eagle filled a new air permit application in which we reduced allowable emissions by 80%. And also in 2012 the Eagle partnered with 2 world-known community organizations to implement an independent community monitory program with the Marquette Community Foundation and the Superior Watershed Partnership.

The state regulatory body requires that the company requests an air permit change if there’s any change in the quantity, quality, or composition of emissions, regardless of whether that’s an increase or decrease.

In relation to your comments about uranium, uranium is in fact naturally found. It’s found in very small percentages and this is being tightly controlled by the company.

In relation to Eagle Rock, your comments about that, that is an area that we are preserving. Quite clearly we are preserving the rock outcrop that remains in its natural state and during the last 12 months, we’ve had 50 individuals or groups visit that and we provide free access to that for visits by the tribal members.

I believe we are meeting all standards. I believe we are meeting the requirements. I note your comments.

Speaking Truth to Power: Rio Tinto’s Annual Meeting

LONDON NEWS UPDATE: Alexandra Thebert, attending Rio Tinto’s Annual Shareholders Meeting as a dissident shareholder, voiced the community’s concerns regarding Eagle Mine. She reminded Rio Tinto’s shareholders of the mine’s fraudulent permitting, transportation problems, the removal of air filtration at the mine portal, uranium, and the continually growing opposition to Eagle Mine and growing support for protecting our community’s health and environment.

AUDIO: Listen to this MP3 audio recording of Alexandra Thebert speaking truth to power earlier today — yes, that’s heckling (!) you’ll hear while she speaks — followed by a rebuttal from Rio Tinto’s CEO Sam Walsh.

NEWS CLIPPING: A detailed account of Thebert’s journey to London was featured on the front page of The Mining Journal (4-15-2013):

Article from The Mining Journal 4-15-2013

Stories of Resistance: London Mining Network

Check out this video footage of SWUP’s executive director, Alexandra Thebert, participating in a London Mining Network event held at the offices of Amnesty International!

UK journalist John Vidal of the Guardian moderated a passionate, informative panel discussion, in which Alexandra joined representatives from Arizona, Columbia, Mongolia, South Africa, and West Papua to highlight the appalling labor and environmental records of global mining companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American.

Please help spread the word about this important work by viewing and sharing the video today.

To hear Alexandra’s testimony, start video at 45:18

Uranium found at mine location | Mining Journal

Featured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen M. Heideman
Marquette MI 49855

Thursday, March 7th: Tele-Town Hall with Mining Expert Al Gedicks

Wow- our Tele-Town Hall with activist and scholar Al Gedicks was a total success. Stay tuned for more info and be sure to sign up for our upcoming Tele-Town Hall on a special topic. Have a recommendation for a Tele-Town Hall topic or speaker? Email info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Thanks!

DEQ details mine air quality hearing

MARQUETTE – Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials have released details on an upcoming air quality permit public hearing and comment period for Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine project.

The mining company has made several changes on-site since its original air use permit application was approved in 2007. Some of the modifications listed by the DEQ included eliminating on-site ore crushing, adding an enclosed aggregate storage building and eliminating a fabric filter dust collector.

An informational session and public hearing have been scheduled for March 12 in the Huron Room of the University Center at Northern Michigan University. The information period will be from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. DEQ staff will be available to answer questions. The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m.

The Eagle Mine site north of the city of Marquette in Powell Township is seen in this recent aerial photo. (Rio Tinto photo)

“The sole purpose of the hearing will be to take formal testimony on the record,” the DEQ said in its hearing announcement. “During testimony, questions will not be answered; however, staff will be available to answer questions outside the hearing room.”

A written public comment period is in effect on the draft permit conditions, which is required by state and federal regulations.

Written comments received during the comment period will be considered in the final permit decision.

Mail comments by March 12 to: Mary Ann Dolehanty, Permit Section Supervisor, Michigan DEQ, Air Quality Division, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, MI, 48909-7760. Comments may also be submitted from the web page: www.deq.state.mi.us/aps/cwerp.shtml. (click on “Submit Comment” under the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine LLC, Permit to Install No. 50-06B listing).

After resolving any issues raised during the public comment period and the hearing, a final decision will be made by the DEQ on the permit application.

A DEQ fact sheet is available on the issue, the public comment announcement and other information is also available at: www.deq.state.mi.us/aps/cwerp.shtml.

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

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