Do you Wanna Save the Wild UP? Join our Intern Corps!

We are delighted to announce our search for three superstar interns to join Team SWUP starting in the Winter 2014 NMU school semester.

Save the Wild U.P. is at the forefront of protecting our environment and unique culture while promoting sustainable economies. We’re calling for a federal corruption investigation of state mining regulators, tracking new mining developments, educating the public on the hazards of sulfide mining — and hosting free hikes, picnics, concerts and more to celebrate the wonderful wild U.P.!

Update: Our Winter 2014 Internship Application is now closed. Stay tuned for announcements on our Summer and Fall 2014 Intern Corps!

New highway proposed for Eagle Mine


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 — together we will keep da U.P. wild!

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.

Letter to Chairs of Natural Resources Committee regarding CR 595

Via Telefax delivery:

March 20, 2013

The Honorable Richard “Doc” Hastings
Chairman, Natural Resources Committee
1203 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-5929

Waves crashing on the rocky shoreline by Jacob Emerick

The Honorable Edward J. Markey
Ranking Member, Natural Resources Committee
2108 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-4273

Dear Chairman Hastings and Ranking Member Markey:

We write regarding the upcoming testimony of Mr. James Iwanicki, Engineering Manager of the Marquette County Road Commission. Mr. Iwanicki is scheduled to provide testimony at a hearing on “America’s Mineral Resources: Creating Mining and Manufacturing Jobs and Securing America.” His testimony is slated to take place this Thursday, March 21, 2013, before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources (Committee). We also ask that you allow the voices of those whose homelands are being sacrificed in the name of foreign mining companies currently operating in an irresponsible and unsustainable manner in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to be heard.

Collectively, we are members of a federally recognized Indian tribe, former resource extraction industry regulators, and environmental advocacy groups made up of many of the more than 200 practicing physicians, clergy, property owners, workers, residents, and frequent visitors of the Upper Peninsula who oppose irresponsible mining activities currently underway. Many of us provided testimony and written comments describing our concerns and made recommendations for the proposed mine haul road that Mr. Iwanicki is slated to testify about before the Committee.  Unlike Mr. Iwanicki, whose responsibilities are limited to road maintenance and construction in Marquette County, Michigan, we are prepared to provide the House Natural Resources Committee or any of its subcommittees, with a concise description of the unsustainable practices that threaten our resources, including treaty protected tribal trust resources, our environment and our way of life.

We expect that the testimony provided Mr. Iwanicki will downplay the relationship of the road to Rio Tinto’s operations and that the Committee will be told that the road would enhance safety, recreation and “economic benefits for county residents.” Because Mr. Iwanicki’s responsibilities are limited to roads there are many aspects of this debacle of which  the Committee will not be apprised. Many are directly related to the primary purpose of the hearing. Mr. Iwanicki is likely unprepared to talk about the impacts this proposed road would have had to National Wild and Scenic Rivers, the McCormick Wilderness, and the health and way of life of the people who work, live and recreate in this area. This is the case because there was no environmental impact statement prepared for the road project. This was possible only because Rio Tinto, which claimed that it would fund the road entirely but only if the project could be permitted within a truncated timeframe that did not allow for the analyses required by federal law.

We believe that Mr. Iwanicki will inform the Committee that he was operating under a budget set by Rio Tinto and under a timeline set by Rio Tinto. We urge the Committee to question Mr. Iwanicki accordingly and specifically ask for an explanation that reconciles the obvious elimination of any use of federal transportation funds to avoid National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements with the exclusive use of Rio Tinto funding. It’s only reasonable to conclude that if the project has all of the benefits that Mr. Iwanicki will tell the Committee it has, using some federal transportation funds would be acceptable. This however was impossible for Mr. Iwanicki as a result of Rio Tinto’s arbitrary time limit. By setting the timeline and funding limitations Rio Tinto simply made it impossible to incorporate mitigation requirements to fulfill the Clean Water Act’s wetlands protection mandates. Rio Tinto maintained control over the project Mr. Iwanicki was charged with managing. It’s important to note that Mr. Iwanicki only became the manager of this proposed project when Rio Tinto’s own road proposal failed to meet these same federal requirements. The failure here is not EPA’s, but Rio Tinto’s failure to recognize and comply with federal environmental protection laws.

Because the proposed road was primarily for the purpose of avoiding traffic problems associated with Rio Tinto’s mining activities, there are literally dozens of substantive natural resource related issues and legal concerns that Mr. Iwanicki will not relate to the Committee. For example, Mr. Iwanicki is not likely to tell the Committee that while Rio Tinto touts the use of health impact assessments through its role as a member of the International Council of Mining and Metals, none has been prepared for any of the activities Rio Tinto has conducted in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Natural Resources Committee also will not learn how Rio Tinto obtained permits from the State of Michigan to construct and operate a hard rock mine with insufficient financial responsibility assurances in place as EPA fails to complete its rulemaking to address the inability of our government to continue to clean-up the millions of pounds of toxic chemical releases to our environment from these mines each year. Mr. Iwanicki will surely not explain the regulatory fiasco at Rio Tinto’s Eagle mine where a State of Michigan ground water permit is the only thing in place to regulate up to 504,000 gallons of industrial mine water discharges that Rio Tinto itself told the EPA were “not discharged below the surface of the ground.” Additionally, we are very certain that Mr. Iwanicki will not tell anyone at the hearing that State of Michigan water program technical staff who worked on Rio Tinto’s Eagle mine permits and the Governor of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula District Manager who had a very significant role during the permitting process are now on Rio Tinto’s payroll and working at the Eagle mine.

Through his testimony, we expect that Mr. Iwanicki will explain how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through what has been described by our Congressional representative as “regulatory overreach,” eliminated employment opportunities in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We believe Mr. Iwanicki will testify that EPA’s “overreach” occurred in conjunction with a road construction project called County Road 595. Further, it is our understanding Mr. Iwanicki will state that EPA’s refusal to withdraw objections pursuant to provisions of the Clean Water Act that are in place to protect wetlands constituted this alleged “overreach.” We assure you that EPA’s decision to exercise its authority and follow the provisions of the Clean Water Act were not only completely appropriate – but long overdue and sought after by the citizens of the area likely to be impacted by the proposed road. To be clear, the proposed road was initially designed to address concerns related to the transportation of ore on existing roads from Rio Tinto’s Eagle mine, currently in the final stages of construction. Had EPA properly exercised its authority it would have required or prepared an Environmental Impact Statement, which EPA has the discretion to do. Through that process, issues involving the transportation of ore from the Eagle mine and other mines currently being proposed could have been addressed. Unfortunately, Rio Tinto, through extensive lobbying and other actions, set out to eliminate any and all federal environmental regulatory oversight of its activities. If one seeks to find blame with any aspect of mining and its ancillary activities in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan they would be prudent to look carefully at the actions taken by Rio Tinto.

The regulatory failures associated with recent mining activities in the Upper Peninsula are monumental. Conflicts of interest, inadequate financial assurances, catastrophic technical mistakes, inadequate and insufficient scientific and environmental analysis, significant lack of experience among technical staff employed by State and federal regulatory agencies, complete absence of cumulative impact assessments and more, all are certain to contribute to a situation where we will see a net reduction of jobs in the resource extraction industry. This does not have to be the case and we are prepared to explain this situation to the Natural Resources Committee in full measure. While they operate with breathtaking arrogance and an unfounded sense of entitlement, these companies continue to avoid public debate regarding the manner in which they operate. We hope you agree that respectful and informed debate is the American way to create jobs through responsible and safe development of our natural resources.

In closing, please know that we have placed our trust in your abilities and integrity, and we seek only to remain confident that the Natural Resources Committee will not make decisions that forsake the laws and federal trust responsibilities of the United States. Please feel free to contact us if you believe we can be of service to the House Committee on Natural Resources.


Gene Champagne
Concerned Citizens of Big Bay
Big Bay, Michigan

Jeffery Loman
Member, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
L’Anse, Michigan

Emily Whittaker
Executive Director, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve
Big Bay, Michigan

Margaret Comfort
President, Save the Wild U.P.
Marquette, Michigan

Catherine Parker
Marquette, Michigan

Richard Sloat
Iron River, Michigan

Congressman Douglas Lamborn, Chairman, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Via fax: (202) 226-2638
Congressman Rush Holt, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Via fax: (202) 225-6025
Congressman Daniel Benishek, Member, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Via fax: (202) 225-4710

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

Analysis: Rio Tinto’s Permit Modifications

By Cynthia Pryor

The main and substantive issue, in the new Air Quality permit application for the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine, is Rio Tinto’s assertions that an air emission control is not required for the Main Air Raise Vent (MVAR). The MVAR is a stack that is 128″ (10.6′) in diameter and 65′ high and is the only vent for all the underground workings for the mine. The emissions will include all those items associated with the development and retrieval of the ore body including blasting, ore handling, truck traffic, diesel fuels, large mine heaters, etc. Rio’s original Air Quality Permit was approved with the inclusion of a Bag House and air filter on this MVAR stack – that would capture 99% of all emissions which would include reactive sulfides resident in and broken loose from this ultramafic massive sulfide ore body.

Rio Tinto has reconfigured their plant so that they have moved the original underground cement batch plant and associated material silos (aggregate, cement) to the surface near Eagle Rock. They say there will be no crushing underground and an ore pass system will not be utilized – therefore reducing sulfide dust and emissions to such a low level that a bag house would no longer be required. In fact they say that a bag house would not even function properly – the emissions are so low. They will instead control all underground dust with water spray from a tank truck and and a hose.

All of Rio’s assumptions are based on modeling programs, heater systems whose emissions are exempt from regulation, and the assertion that will be able to control all dust with water spray from a hose. The DEQ does not require them to have controls on this huge MVAR stack, even though there will be controls on every other emission source at the mine, including an emergency generator. The DEQ does not require any air quality monitoring of the site or of this stack. Emission testing of the stack will only take place when Rio Tinto is producing 1,660 tons of ore a day. The DEQ will not require any emission testing during the blasting of adits or production of ore under this tonnage rate. Sulfide, heavy metals, blasting emissions, fuel emissions, etc. will be free flowing into the air on the Yellow Dog Plains with no control, no monitoring, and very limited testing.

The DEQ calls the Yellow Dog Plains an attainment area – which is a geographic area which has air quality below Federal Air Quality Standards. In other words, the air is good on the Plains and Rio has now the ability, under law, to pollute this air until they reach the limit of the air quality standard set by the EPA. Their models show that they can do this at 91% of the attainment level. That leaves 9% left for someone else to pollute to get them at a Saginaw, Detroit Chicago level of Air Quality. These emissions are only representative of the mine area itself. All diesel emmisons and fugitive dust from the transportation of the ore on public roads are not included in this emission standard calculation. The DEQ says they have no regulatory oversight of public roads. Nor do they have oversight of the underground workings to prove they can make their claims of low emissions. That is someone else who takes care of that (Mine Safety and Health – MSHA) . The DEQ is only concerned with what comes out of the stack and Rio’s models say they can do it and that is all the proof they need until they do their first production emissions test.

From the beginning, the State of Michigan has recognized that non-ferrous sulfide mining is different and that sulfides, from metallic sulfide mines, released into the environment and coming into contact with air and water can cause Acid Mine Drainage and damage to our land, our waters and our communities. The DEQ Air Quality staff do not seem to see any danger to the Salmon Trout River which flows a mere 150′ from this stack. They have required no impact assessment of the Yellow Dog watershed, nor an impact statement to Eagle Rock – the KBIC sacred site within the fence of this mine. They see no danger to the community of Big Bay and it’s peoples, lake and streams who are an immediate few miles downwind from the Eagle Mine.

Our job is to ask for proof that their models are correct – by demanding air quality monitors at the site that run 24/7 for the life of the mine.
We must also demand that Rio Tinto keep the promise that they made in their original permit (made as a result of public comment and pressure!) to put an air filter on the main polluting source at the site – the MVAR stack. “PROMISES KEPT” is Rio Tinto’s main motto. Let us make them hold to that promise.


KBIC appeals to UN, saying sulfide mining infringes on Native rights

Posted by Nicole Walton
May 7th, 2012

BARAGA, MI– The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is claiming sulfide mining infringes on its indigenous rights and lands.

The KBIC has submitted a document to the United Nations outlining how mines like the one in Marquette County are being approved without the tribe’s consent. Continue reading

TOUR the Eagle Site Catastrophe on the Yellow Dog Plains

TOUR Kennecott/Rio Tinto’s catastrophic Eagle Site – 120 acres of scoured landscape suitable for alien visitors. See Eagle Rock, a significant Native sacred site, now surrounded by a 12′ chain link fence and barbed wire,  heavily secured and inaccessible to anyone seeking worship and prayer. Note the various contractors from Wisconsin and Minnesota, here for the short term gain while living in a motel in Marquette. Ask about the ‘high-tech’ waste water treatment plant that has never been tested under these local conditions, potentially pumping over 50,000 gallons of waste water back into the high plains hydrocycle – uncharted territory.
While out on the plains, visit the nearby headwaters of the pristine Salmon Trout River, (located directly over the ore body) once a thriving fishery soon to be degraded to an unknown status or lost altogether.
Enjoy the tour!
To sign up for tours you need to call Checker Cab at 226-7772.
Dates and Times:
  • Friday, August 19th from 3-7
  • Saturday, August 27th from 9-1
  • Friday, September 9th from 3-7
  • Saturday, September 24th from 9-1
You must bring a picture ID and a barf bag.