November 2006 News
DEQ proceeds with Kennecott sulfide mine application, still opposed by community groups
By Emily Svenson and Michele Anderson
MARQUETTE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) resumed processing Kennecott Minerals' application for a sulfide mine under the Yellow Dog Plains and Salmon Trout River on Oct. 26, 2006. A debate over the
proposed Eagle Project mine, to be located about 30 miles northwest of
Marquette, has been ongoing since
the spring of 2003, when Kennecott’s proposition became public. Kennecott leased the mineral rights to the ore bodies in question in 1992.
The mine would take up 160 acres of state-owned land and would be in operation for 7-10 years, mining mainly for nickel. Gail Griffith, a retired professor of chemistry from
Northern Michigan University who's been studying the effects of sulfide or metallic mining for years,
said Kennecott Minerals would not be mining sulfide, but metals like copper, zinc, and nickel which are all ore bodies. Jon Cherry, project manager and environmental engineer for Kennecott,
explained they will extract about 85 percent nickel and 15 percent copper from the ore bodies in question.
A view of the Salmon-Trout River, which flows through an area proposed for
Kennecott Minerals' Eagle Project sulfide mine. The River contains a rare
population of Coaster Brook Trout. American Rivers recently gave it number four on their 2006 list of Most Endangered Rivers in
America. (File photo © 2005 Northwoods
Wilderness Recovery. Reprinted with permission.)
Many local and national groups have joined together in opposition to the mine. Local groups include grassroots organizations such as the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve as well as the Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
(KBIC), and UP Sportsmen. This issue has reached the national scope with the involvement
of the National Wildlife Federation, Michigan Environmental Council, Sierra Club, National Trout Unlimited, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
DEQ update issued Nov. 14, 2006
On Nov. 14, 2006, the DEQ issued a permit review update on the proposed Eagle Project mine,
which states, "The proposed mine represents the first application received under Michigan’s new comprehensive mining law - Part 632, Nonferrous
Metallic Mineral Mining, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection
Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended. Part 632 provides a comprehensive framework to assess
and evaluate the environmental impacts, operational controls, and closure activities
proposed by the applicant to ensure that Michigan’s natural resources are fully
The DEQ statement also notes the project will require a groundwater discharge
permit and an air discharge permit. The DEQ plans to schedule one consolidated multi-day public hearing for all three permit applications.
A legal challenge by three opponents of the original Kennecott application
(the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the
Huron Mountain Club) resulted in a County Circuit Court stopping review of the
application until a hearing could be held, but the Court of Appeals overturned
that decision. Consequently, on Oct. 27, 2006, the DEQ received from
Kennecott additional data, which responded to the DEQ’s 91 identified areas of technical
deficiency in the application. These had been submitted to Kennecott while the
legal proceedings were ongoing.
The DEQ's Nov. 14 statement adds, "In the absence of additional technical information, had the permit process
proceeded without legal challenge, the DEQ would of necessity have to issue a proposed decision to deny the permit application because it would not have been based
on further relevant technical information. The legal proceeding had the effect of altering
the timelines for submittals that would have governed the application process. The
legal proceeding also provided the applicant time to prepare additional information and
data that the applicant believes is responsive to the 91 areas of technical deficiency."**
The DEQ statement notes also that Kennecott submitted a letter on Oct. 27,
2006, waiving the deadline for the DEQ to issue a proposed decision. The letter
states, "Kennecott has also applied for permits under Parts 31 (discharges to
groundwater) and 55 (air emissions) of NREPA (Natural Resources and Environmental Protection
Act) in conjunction with the project. ...In accordance with Part 63205(15), this waiver will provide sufficient time to facilitate the
Department’s coordinated review of the Part 31, Part 55 and Part 632 permit applications. More
specifically, extending the deadline for making a proposed decision on the mine permit application to the
statutory deadline for making a decision on the groundwater discharge permit will allow the Department
ample time to review Kennecott's answers to the Department's questions on the mine permit application,
and facilitate a well evaluated proposed decision on the application that takes into account the
Department's evaluation of the air and groundwater permit applications."***
DEQ accepting public comments until Dec. 26, 2006
The DEQ now plans to accept public comments on Kennecott’s response until
2006. After taking 14 days to review the comments, the DEQ will make a proposed decision to grant or deny the Part 632
permit application on January 9, 2007, and will also issue notice of the consolidated public hearing, expected to be held in mid-February.**
Acid mine drainage (AMD) is the most critical concern with sulfide mining.
Griffith explained how it is produced.
"These sulfide ore bodies have come up from the middle of the earth, they have not been in contact with oxygen and water, and as soon as they come into contact with oxygen and water, they immediately produce sulfuric acid or battery acid," said Griffith.
The Northwoods Wilderness Recovery explains AMD as follows: "Acids seep through the rock much the same way water seeps through coffee, creating a brew of toxic heavy metals (called Acid Mine Drainage, or
AMD). AMD can drain into nearby rivers and seep into the groundwater -- killing fish, plants, and wildlife and contaminating local drinking water."****
This photo shows an area included in the proposed site for Kennecott's Eagle
Project sulfide mine on the Yellow Dog Plains near Marquette. (Photo © 2006
Doug Cornett of Northwoods
Wilderness Recovery. Reprinted from www.northwoodswild.org
In spite of the acid mine drainage potential, Kennecott promises economic benefits, minimal environmental
impact and sufficient funds for site reclamation. Cherry noted, “After site reclamation is complete you will not be able to tell that there was a mine on the Yellow Dog Plains.”
The Kennecott motto is, “Promises kept.”
Cherry claims Kennecott's mine will help the public (the State of Michigan)
and will contribute to increased economic activity.
"Around half of the ore body is on state land," Cherry noted.
"From this we pay a royalty to the state based on profits. This money goes into the state’s natural resources trust fund used to buy, enhance, or develop habitat,
wilderness and recreational areas for the public."
Non-union mining jobs vs. tourism economy
Cherry also says the mine will create 120 full-time jobs that will pay around $40,000/year before benefits.
"In the mining industry for every one job created you create three to five jobs in the area between service providers and
consumables," Cherry explained.
The Eagle Alliance, a grassroots organization that objects to the sulfide
mining, claims Kennecott will not help the local economy.
"Kennecott has stated that a mine on the Yellow Dog Plains would operate for 7-10
years," writes Eagle Alliance member Eric Hansen. "Kennecott does not hire union workers and will not allow a union to operate at their
Hansen says Kennecott has a track record for bringing in skilled employees from other parts of the country, leaving only low paying labor jobs for local workers.
For a few labor jobs, communities in this area will lose the income from snowmobilers, hikers, bikers, timber,
Hansen brings the Upper Peninsula’s reliance on eco-tourism into focus,
noting, "if our wild areas go -- so do the tourists."
According to Cynthia Pryor, executive director for the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, a non-profit grassroots advocacy group,
"The state of Michigan will receive 2-7 percent of royalties, or $17-34 million for an ore body that is worth $5 billion. Michigan will also receive $19 million in property
Pryor adds Kennecott will profit from the mine but will leave the local area at odds because the mining activity will involve intense construction and environmental degradation in a pristine wilderness area with minimal profit for Marquette County.
Speaking at the recent annual meeting of the environmental group, Friends of
the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK), Pryor noted she believes in "the power of the
people -- the power that citizens have in this process."
Cynthia Pryor, executive director for the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve,
addresses the issue of sulfide mining on the Yellow Dog Plains at the annual
meeting of Friends of the Land of Keweenaw Oct. 24, 2006, at the Keweenaw Bay
Indian Community Senior Citizens Center in Baraga. (Photo © 2006 Michele
"I want people to decide what they want for their community," Pryor
said. "This isn't really a battle of environmentalists; this is a battle of
Still, Pryor emphasized the environmental impact of the proposed sulfide
mining site, sharing with FOLK members the news that a "male Kirtland Warbler, one of the world’s most endangered birds, was found just two miles
east of the proposed site" and that "American Rivers put the Salmon Trout River as number four on their 2006 list of Most Endangered Rivers in America."
The Salmon Trout River is also home and breeding grounds for the endangered Coaster Brook Trout.
For many citizens, the environmental impact is the main concern of the proposed mine. Fred
Rydholm, former Mayor of Marquette, said, “I think nothing short of an atomic bomb could change the area more than a mine.”
Diane Miller, a Michigan Tech graduate student who enjoys kayaking, said,
“People who have spent time on these rivers know that a project to construct a footprint for the mining operation itself on this site -- not even considering the inevitable damage if it is allowed
-- should be unthinkable.”
Kennecott claims minimal environmental impact
Kennecott promises that their mining plans are environmentally sound; they even have the ISO 14001 certification. This is a third-party-audited, independent environmental management system. It insures compliance with regulations and the best technology available to minimize environmental impact.
Cherry said, "I’m a big outdoorsman, and I live here in the community. From a personal perspective, if we couldn’t mine in a way that was environmentally safe, I wouldn’t be
Joe Maki, UP district Geologist for the DEQ, said, "If the company meets the requirements of the statute (part 632, a comprehensive law specific for non-ferrous mining) then legally, we have to issue a
Maki noted the DEQ reviews applications for permits very closely. If the DEQ gives Kennecott a permit,
he adds, then it is environmentally safe and economically feasible to mine.
"If we were to issue them a permit to mine we don’t just go away. We would ultimately follow up with regular inspections and we have the authority to stop the
mining," Maki said.
After the DEQ makes its proposed decision they will announce a date for a public hearing, and there will be an 18-day public comment period.
Glen Bressette, Jr., of Baraga, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
and a participant in the Native American walk around the Great Lakes, also spoke
at the FOLK meeting.
Glen Bressette, Jr., of Baraga, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian
Community, speaks at the Oct. 24, 2006, FOLK meeting held in the KBIC Senior
Citizens Center in Baraga. (Photo © 2006 Michele Anderson)
"That's our big lake," Bressette said of Lake Superior.
"That's the last one that's left."
Bressette said he and fellow Native Americans believe in their connection
with Mother Earth and with this water.
"This is what I was taught as a child," Bressette said, "walk
lightly, tread softly."
Bressette said he doesn't think the public is being properly informed about
the sulfide mining.
"When this stuff happens it needs to be put into the public eye because everywhere I go people don’t really know what’s
happening," he added.
At a DEQ public hearing in December 2005 on the draft of the new rules and
regulations to govern sulfide mining, KBIC President Susan J. LaFernier
expressed the concerns of the local Native American Community:
"This area is the homeland of the members of the
Community and the treaties entered into by our ancestors with the United States of America preserved for our
members a homeland with the right to hunt, fish and gather in this area -- rights which we are determined to
preserve and protect for at least the next seven generations. It is a fundamental fact that when sulfide mining occurs in areas where water is abundant, discharge of acid
mine drainage into the adjacent water resources is the end result. This is a well-known and established fact in
every state where sulfide mining has occurred in areas that have lakes and streams as a natural resource. The
water that surrounds and exists within the Upper Peninsula is essential to the Upper Peninsula’s economy, its
environment, and the well being of its inhabitants. While a mining company may have legal rights to extract
the minerals from their land, they do not have the right to degrade or destroy the environment and natural
resources in the process of extracting those minerals. The legacy of sulfide mining is, and will continue to be,
one that primarily consists of the degradation and destruction of water
resources and ecosystems that depend on the waters."
People can learn more about the sulfide mining issue by consulting these Web
sites: www.ydeaglescry.com, www.savethewildup.org,
www.yellowdogwatershed.org and www.northwoodswild.org.
You can express your views on the sulfide mining by writing to Governor Granholm at:
Governor Jennifer Granholm
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909
Written comments to the DEQ should be mailed by the deadline of December 26, 2006, to:
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Geological Survey,
525 W. Allegan
P. O. Box 30256
Lansing, MI 48909 7756
E-mail comments are also welcome and can be sent to the DEQ at firstname.lastname@example.org
should also be received by the December 26 deadline.
Joe Maki of the DEQ can be reached at (906) 346- 8563. Visit the DEQ website
Contributions to any of the environmental and advocacy groups working together to prevent the
mine may be tax-deductible; for example, The Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve is a 501 C3 classified advocacy group. Donations count as tax write-offs.
*Part 632, Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as
amended, is new legislation introduced to regulate sulfide mining in
Michigan. Read the
final text of the DEQ mining regulations.
**For the complete text of this Nov. 14
statement, visit the DEQ
Web site. See also the Eagle
Project Permit Application Files.
For the full text of Kennecott's Oct. 27 letter, signed by Jon Cherry,
project manager, see the DEQ
**** Visit the Northwoods Wilderness Recovery Web
for more information on the sulfide mining issue.
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
Anyone opposed to the sulfide mining project on the
Yellow Dog Plains can sign an online petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/nosulfidemining/.
See especially the Web site www.savethewildup.org/alerts
for updates and suggestions on how to express your views.
Minerals' Description of the Eagle Project, visit
their Web site.
Emily Svenson, co-author of this article, is an English major
in her senior year at Michigan Tech University. She is studying writing,
literature and environmental issues. Emily enjoys the outdoors (hiking and camping) and dance.
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