March 2007 News
DEQ withdraws proposed approval of sulfide mine application
By Michele Anderson
MARQUETTE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced on March 1, 2007, that it has
withdrawn its Jan. 9, 2007, proposed decision to approve a permit for the Kennecott Minerals Company to conduct mining operations
for nickel and copper at the proposed Eagle Project Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains near Marquette.
According to the DEQ, this withdrawal was made after discovering that two reports on the structural integrity of the mine were not properly made
part of the public record or given a comprehensive technical review.
DEQ Director Steven E. Chester announced that the public hearings, scheduled for March 6-8 in Marquette and March 12 in Lansing, will be postponed and rescheduled at a later date.
"I regret that canceling the hearings at this time may create an inconvenience for those who were planning to attend, but it is critical
for us to gain a better understanding of the situation before we engage in that important part of this process," Chester said.
Local and national groups have opposed the potential mine because of the
danger of Acid Mine Drainage that results when sulfuric acid is produced from sulfide ore bodies
that come in contact with air and water.
"Ore body 150 feet down" is the title of this photo of the Salmon
Trout River, which flows above the site of Kennecott Minerals' proposed sulfide
mine near Marquette. The River contains a rare
population of Coaster Brook Trout. (Photo © 2007 Yellow Dog Watershed
Preserve and courtesy www.savethewildup.org. Reprinted with permission.)
"This department has committed itself to making this process as open and transparent as possible," said Chester.
"In light of this information, we must allow the needed time for ourselves, as well as the public, to give it the appropriate
Michelle Halley, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), one of several environmental and community groups opposed to the proposed sulfide mine, said the
DEQ's withdrawal of its draft decision to permit the mine was caused by "a 'smoking gun' memo critical of the mine that the agency's own employees covered up."
Halley referred to a 25-page report titled, "Technical Review: Crown Pillar Subsidence and Hydrologic Stability Assessment for the Proposed Eagle Mine," dated May 2006 and prepared for the
DEQ by the Itasca Consulting Group of Minneapolis, Minn. The report is now available on the
DEQ Web site.
According to Halley, "The 25-page memo, written by a DEQ consultant, was highly critical of Kennecott's mining application and raised serious concerns over a possible collapse of the mine."
The Executive Summary of the report states as follows: "The analysis techniques used to assess the Eagle crown pillar stability do not reflect industry best-practice. In addition, the hydrologic stability of the crown pillar has not been considered. Therefore, the conclusions made within the Eagle Project Mining Permit Application regarding crown pillar subsidence are not considered to be defensible."
The report raises several issues of concern about the safety of the Eagle Project, makes comparisons with other mines and includes mathematical and scientific diagrams and a list of scholarly references.
"The National Wildlife Federation, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and Huron Mountain Club learned about this memo last week and brought it to the personal attention of DEQ Director Steve Chester and Deputy Director Skip Preuss," Halley said. "To their credit, they took appropriate preliminary action."
second report is a seven-page Technical Memorandum with some of the same
criticisms as the longer report. It was also prepared for the
DEQ by the Itasca Consulting Group and is addressed to Joe Maki, DEQ
project geologist, and two consultants from MSG, Inc. This report is also available on the
In addition to a technical review of the reports, the department will be undertaking an extensive procedural review to determine how these
documents were not immediately given the proper consideration and to ensure that there is a complete public record of information related to
the mining proposal and its review. During this review, affected staff
will be reassigned to other projects.
However, Halley noted NWF has fundamental concerns with the DEQ and their decision-making process on this permit and other permits.
"We believe it is time for an independent investigation of the DEQ's process for the Kennecott mining proposal, as well as other major permits that have come before the department," Halley said.
"We stand firmly behind the position we've had since Day 1: This mine puts the health of our people and communities at risk for no good reason."
In their press release of March 1, 2007, Kennecott officials expressed disappointment with the DEQ announcement withdrawing its proposed decision to approve Kennecott's Mine Permit Application under Part 632 pending an internal review of DEQ administrative processes.
"To say that we are disappointed in this situation is an understatement," said Kennecott Eagle Minerals President David Salisbury. "To be clear, the situation is not due to any action or inaction on Kennecott's part. This is an MDEQ internal issue they must address themselves."
Kennecott claims it has provided all required information reports on a timely basis and has responded to requests by
DEQ and its experts to address issues related to all aspects of the design and operation of the proposed mine.
Kennecott's Eagle Project Manager, Jon Cherry, said, "We are very disappointed with this decision since it does not
appear to have anything substantively to do with the draft permit and conditions, but we will work cooperatively with MDEQ once MDEQ gets the
process back on track."
Nevertheless, Halley expressed the views of many groups and individuals opposed to the sulfide mine and concerned about the Upper Peninsula's valuable watersheds.
"Sulfide mining has proven deadly to rivers, streams and communities in other states," Halley said. "And jeopardizing the health of our state for 75 jobs -- that's not the future we want for Michigan and our families. It's not worth the risk."
Kennecott Minerals-Rio Tinto's Eagle Project is mentioned as a "recent success" in a March 2, 2007,
press release from Prime Meridian Resources Corp.
announcing "the beginning of its 2007 magmatic nickel-copper massive sulfide and Iron Oxide Copper Gold ("IOCG") exploration programs." The press release
states the following:
"Prime Meridian has been encouraged by the recent success of Kennecott-Rio Tinto's Mid-continent Rift related Eagle Deposit located in the eastern portion of the Baraga Basin. In January 2007, Kennecott-Rio Tinto received preliminary approval for a mine permit from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for mining at Eagle. During a Society of Economic Geologists Convention in Salt Lake City a paper about the Eagle Deposit, presented by a Kennecott
employee, reported the Eagle Deposit had 5.2 million Tons of 3.67% nickel, 3.06% copper and 0.01% Cobalt.
"All of the Prime Meridian nickel-copper-platinum-palladium targets are in Michigan and S.E. Minnesota and are in settings similar to the Eagle Deposit. Four of the six Baraga Basin targets are within 3 KM of the Eagle deposit and will be drilled later this year when access can be constructed."
Visit the Northwoods Wilderness Recovery Web
site and www.savethewildup.org
for more information on the sulfide mining issue.
See also the recent
article by Gabriel Caplett, "Mines and Communities: Refusing to Play by Company Rules."
To learn more about the National Wildlife Federation's
efforts to protect the environment, see the Action Report on their
also the Michigan
League of Conservation Voters Education Fund Web site for more on
Minerals' Description of the Eagle Project, visit
their Web site.
For background on Kennecott's Eagle Project see Keweenaw
Now's Nov. 22, 2006, article, "DEQ
proceeds with Kennecott sulfide mine application, still opposed by
community groups," by Emily Svenson and Michele Anderson.
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