More Mineral Exploration in the Upper Peninsula

Mineral Exploration in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Save the Wild UP–an environmental group organizing opposition to a proposed sulfide mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula–is reporting that Kennecott Minerals (who is pursuing the sulfide mine) and another company, Trans Superior Resources, are currently looking for uranium and metallic minerals in the Ottawa National Forest.

Save the Wild UP writes:

“Kennecott is pursuing three separate project areas located within the Ottawa. According to a Forest Service scoping letter, the company is looking for “all base and precious metals and other precious and semi-precious minerals”. The 640-acre “Watersmeet” parcel is located roughly four miles southeast of Watersmeet; the 200-acre “Haight” parcel is located roughly 8 miles northwest of Watersmeet; and the 395-acre “Bates” parcel is located on Perch Lake, roughly 20 miles north of the town of Iron River.

Trans Superior is also pursuing three parcels, totaling 920 acres in an attempt to locate “nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum, palladium and associated minerals.” All are located just east of Prickett Lake and roughly 8 miles southwest of the town of Baraga. The company had previously obtained federal uranium prospecting permits from the Ottawa for exploration activities adjacent to the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness as well as for locations east and northeast of Lake Gogebic. The new Prickett Lake projects are immediately to the northeast of the Sturgeon Wilderness.”

Both companies have been heavily involved in mining projects in the Upper Peninsula. Trans Superior’s parent company, Bitterroot Resources, has a joint venture agreement with the uranium mining company Cameco.

Public comment is currently being accepted and will be accepted indefinitely during the current “scoping” period. Once the forest service completes an environmental assessment for the projects, there will be another 30-day comment period.

Lawsuit Challenging U.P. Sulfide Mine Land Lease Dismissed

A Circuit Court Judge Has Ruled That The DNR Acted Appropriately When It Leased Land For A Controversial Sulfide Mine

Ingham County Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield dismissed a lawsuit file by opponents of a controversial sulfide mine that Kennecott Eagle Minerals is trying to open in Michigan’s Marquette County.

According to the Associated Press, the court ruled that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) acted appropriately when it decided to lease 120 acres of state land to the company:

“Manderfield said in her ruling Tuesday the DNR had not broken any laws and had acted within its authority by leasing the property to Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co., which wants to put the mine’s surface facilities there.”

The judge argued that she could rule only on matters of jurisdiction, not the merits of the mine.

Last month, it was announced that the mine is temporarily on hold due to the current economic situation. However, Kennecott is still moving forward with efforts to secure the permits necessary for the mine’s construction.

Additionally, a decision in a hearing over the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) issuance of permits for the mine is forthcoming.

UP Sulfide Mine on Hold

The Kennecott Minerals Eagle Project Sulfide Mine is on Hold

Buried within a 38-page assessment of mining company Rio Tinto’s fiscal performance is an announcement that the company has put plans to develop a controversial sulfide mine on hold. Rio Tinto–the parent company of Kennecott Eagle Minerals–says that the mine in Marquette County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been “deferred until market conditions recover.”

However, the company plans to continue efforts to obtain a permit and open the mine once the market improves:

“We are continuing to work on our permits, litigation, and engineering design so that when the opportunity presents itself we will be poised to evaluate economic conditions and our next steps.”

In response, Save The Wild UP–a group organizing against the mine–said:

“The Eagle permit application has been criticized by experts in the field as being ‘worthless’ and should be thrown out. The testimony given in the contested case against the Michigan DEQ and DNR proves that these agencies did not follow the law when evaluating and approving the mine permit. Thousands of citizens have signed petitions, written letters, and testified before the DEQ in efforts to bring attention to this project. Rio Tinto has not responded to the overwhelming public protest against Eagle project and remains isolated in London from these real issues surrounding Eagle.”

Senate Bill would Protect 11,739 Acres of Michigan Wilderness

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A Senate bill that will likely be considered later this week will protect 11,739 acres of wilderness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The land–located in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore–is part of the park’s Beaver Basin Wilderness. Congressional designation of the area as a wilderness was one part of a 2004 general management plan for the park, but it was stalled during the Bush years.

The measure was introduced in the Senate by Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and is being attached to a larger land bill that seeks the largest expansion of wilderness protection in 25 years. Overall, the package of 160 bills being considered by the Senate will expand protections over 2 million acres of wilderness.

Senate Democrats say that the combined bill only includes measures that had previously gained bipartisan support but that were stalled by the Republican controlled Senate. Republicans have criticized Democrats for refusing to allow amendments on the measure.

Michigan Sulfide Mining Permit Process Stalled by Court Ruling

On Thursday of last week, Lansing Judge Paula J.M. Manderfield sent back Kennecott Eagle Minerals’ request for the state’s first sulfide mining permit to the Office of Administrative Hearings and Rulings. The ruling overturned a ruling made in May by administrative Judge Richard Lacasse who rejected a petition by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, four tribal members, the Huron Mountain Club, and the Yellow Dog Preserve Inc. who allegied that the permit application filed by Kennecott was incomplete and that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) ruled in error when it determined that Kennecott’s application was “administratively complete.” Judge Manderfield further ordered that the hearing on the status of Kennecott’s application—which has not yet been scheduled—be heard by a different judge as Manderfield said that Lacasse created a conflict of interest in contacting the DEQ for advice on how to proceed with the petition filed by opponents of the mine.

The ruling last week prompted Save the Wild UP, a group organizing against the sulfide mine, to send out an email titled “We are Winning” in which Cynthia Pryor of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve stated that “the perception of ‘winning’ is in our favor.” Pryor’s email explained that until there is a new hearing on the contested permit, the application process is stayed and that Kennecott will not be able to commence mining. At this point, no judge has been appointed nor has a hearing date been chosen. The DEQ also submitted a letter to Kennecott outlining 91 areas where additional information is needed before a permit can be issued. The DEQ is seeking more information from Kennecott on a variety of issues including planned transportation routes, impact on endangered species, impact on groundwater, and mine crown stability.

Background information on sulfide mining in Michigan | Petition against sulfide mining

Resources on Sulfide Mining

Media Mouse has produced new resources on sulfide mining in Michigan. The resources, available both as a static web page and as a downloadable pamphlet are designed to educate residents of the state’s lower peninsula about the environmental threat posed to plans by the international corporation Kennecott Minerals to construct the state’s first sulfide mine in the Upper Peninsula. Kennecott has dubbed the effort the “Eagle Project” and there has been a considerable effort to organize to prevent the mine from opening by residents of the Upper Peninsula. It is our hope that the resources available that we have made available will facilitate increased involvement of those living outside of the Upper Peninsula in the struggle.

In the past month, the opposition has seen progress with a legal challenge that has delayed a decision on whether or not a permit for the mine will be awarded by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, as well as the discovery (confirmed this week by the United States Fish and Wild Service biologist) that the site of the mine is home to a federally protected bird species, the rare Kirtland’s Warbler.

International Mining Company to Request First Permit under Michigan’s New Sulfide Mining Regulations

Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company, an international mining company, applied for the first sulfide mining permits yesterday under Michigan’s new sulfide mining regulations. The company is seeking to operate the first sulfide mining operation in the Upper Peninsula despite the opposition of citizen and environmental groups.

Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company, an mining international company located in Salt Lake City and a subsidiary of Rio Tinto of London, England, applied Tuesday for the first mining permits under Michigan’s recently passed sulfide mining regulations. The permits are being sought by Kennecott for a mining endeavor called the Eagle Project in the Upper Peninsula’s (UP) Yellow Dog Plains near Big Bay, Michigan near the headwaters of two important rivers, the Salmon Trout and the Yellow Dog. Kennecott applied for a total of three permits for drilling, ground water removal, and diesel emissions and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Equality (DEQ) has 210 days to rule on the permit during which time one public hearing will be held on the issue.

The type of mining that Kennecott wants to conduct, metallic sulfide mining, differs substantially from the iron mining that occurs at other mines in the UP and has not previously been done in the UP. In order to obtain these sulfides, the company will mine ores, that, when they come in contact with air and water, start an anti-oxidizing process that creates sulfuric acid, other potentially toxic dissolved metals, and acid mine drainage (a term referring to the outflow of acidic water from mines). Consequently, all waters from a sulfide mining operation must be contained in lined holding pits and must be treated before being reintroduced to the environment. The pits run the risk of overflowing and flooding which then results in the introduction of acid mine drainage into surface waters and the underground aquifers. Kennecott has had problems with other mines it runs and acid mine drainage, most notably with its Green’s Creek Mine in Juneau, Alaska and the Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. According to research conducted by the Eagle Alliance, Kennecott tops the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of corporations with the highest toxic release in the United States.

Due to the possibility of pollution from the proposed mine, several groups in the UP have organized in opposition to the mining project, including the Eagle Alliance, Save the Wild UP, and Northwoods Wilderness Recovery. While obviously focusing on the environmental impacts, the groups have also been organizing around the Michigan DEQ’s failure to enforce regulations as well as around labor issues, both in terms how many jobs might be provided by the mining project as well as Kennecott’s parent company’s dismal labor relations record (Kennecott has actively tried to prevent unions from forming in its mines). Activists have been quick to point out that while the project will create between one-hundred and two-hundred jobs, the jobs will be of temporary nature, lasting an expected five to seven years. Moreover, if one looks at Kennecott’s Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin, a mine that is roughly the same size as the one proposed for the UP, only 20 to 25% of the employees were local with the majority coming from outside the state. Similarly, while the mine may bring up to $100 million in investment, the ore body may be worth up to $2.8 billion and 90% of the profits will leave Michigan.

While the new sulfide mining laws are “probably…the strictest in the nation” according to spokesperson Bob McCann of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, many residents of the Upper Peninsula and environmental activists are raising concerns that the new project will result in irreversible environmental harm, the full extent of which may be unknown to the public until after the mine is closed. Activists have pointed out that the sulfide mining regulations do not identify places where mining is inappropriate, for example those where erosion, landslides, and water pollution cannot be prevented, nor do they require companies to provide examples of other mines they have operated without harming the environment. There are also questions of transparency, as a confidentiality clause in contracts between the State of Michigan and lessee corporations makes it so that companies such as Kennecott are not required to reveal exactly what they are looking for, although they have publicly stated that they are hoping to mine nickel, copper, gold, zinc, and other base minerals. The US Geological Survey has identified the Lake Superior region as having great potential for Nickel and Copper Sulfide deposits, and as a result, activist groups are raising concerns that the UP may see a significant increase in mining and are citing the fact that in the last similar mining upsurge in the western United States, 40% of the groundwater became polluted by mining. Additionally, the infrastructure needed to support the mining project will require the construction of paved roads in previously unpaved areas, power grid expansions, and railroad expansion.

Already Kennecott owns 462,000 acres of mineral rights in the Upper Penninsula in Marquette and Baraga counties and leases an additional 4,200 acres from the state of Michigan and 5,500 from private mineral owners. Much of the land where Kenecott has mineral rights are located in the Ottawa and National Forest and the Escanaba River State Forest.

Save the Wild UP has prepared a number of action ideas for those interested in working on the issue and are encouraging people to contact their legislators and Governor Granholm.