Sulfide mining hearings set, by Kristy Basolo

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) granted preliminary approval to a series of permits for the Kennecott Minerals Company plan to drill into sulfide rock below the Yellow Dog Plains in northwestern Marquette County.
The DEQ will continue its technical review and, by law, make a final decision following a public hearing and comment period. The issuance or final denial of the permit will determine whether the project moves forward.
Public hearings will be held from 1:00 to 9:00 p.m. on March 6, 7 and 8 in NMU’s University Center.
DEQ communications representative Robert McCann said that last time a public comment session was held in Marquette, a lot of people were looking to make comment, and they want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to do so.
McCann also reminds the public that in the formal hearing room, DEQ officials can’t answer questions, but just take comments for the public record. Staff will be available to answer questions during the hearings in a separate room.
“We will have our technical team in a side room that will be able to talk one-on-one with individuals,” he said. “The public will have the ability to ask questions of our staff before or after they make comments.”
The DEQ’s proposed decision follows a period of review of Kennecott’s application, supporting information and previous public comment.
The Eagle Project Mine proposes to produce nickel, copper and other metals from a small but rich metal sulfide deposit located about twenty-five miles northwest of Marquette.
Kennecott’s proposed plan would use underground mining methods, and ore would be transported by truck and rail to a processing site in Ontario (Canada). Kennecott proposes to backfill the mined-out areas with waste rock, gravel and cement and reclaim the entire area to its original condition at the conclusion of mining.
The project is the first to be subject to Michigan’s new Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining rules that were enacted in December 2004.
Many local groups, including the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Save the Wild U.P., the Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and others have been joined by statewide environmental groups in advocating for a proposed denial.
Concerns about the economic stability of the area, the impact on tourism and recreation, human health risks, threat to water quality and environmental impact have united these organizations in their opposition to a type of mining that has a lengthy history of contamination.
The project would generate a small number of temporary jobs, and many concerned citizens have said it’s not worth the risk because once the jobs are gone, the people of Michigan will be left with the unfortunate legacy of sulfide mining.
In addition, concerns persist about the mining application itself, considering that the DEQ pointed out ninety-one information gaps in the document and Kennecott failed to address nearly half of those items, including concerns about transportation routes, which have not been addressed by the company or regulators.
“The permit application is filled with ambiguous responses,” said Michelle Halley, National Wildlife Federation attorney. “Kennecott is expecting the people of Michigan to trust that they can operate a sulfide mine that will not contaminate the surrounding areas, but the track record of both Kennecott and sulfide mining is filled with contamination and inaccurate predictions.”
Halley referenced a recent third-party study that found that faulty water quality predictions and regulatory failures result in the approval of mines that create significant water pollution problems at more than three quarters of mines studied.
Comparison of Predicted and Actual Water Quality at Hardrock Mines and Predicting Water Quality Problems at Hardrock Mines: Methods and Models, Uncertainties and State-of-the-Art by Jim Kuipers, P.E., and geochemist Ann Maest, Ph.D., analyzed water quality predictions and outcomes at twenty-five metal mines permitted in the United States during the last twenty-five years. Organizations opposed to the mine point to this research as additional proof that this project isn’t worth the risk to the region.
“It is astonishing that, with so many areas of Kennecott’s permit application deficient, vague or downright absent, the Michigan DEQ has granted preliminary approval,” Pryor said. “Utilizing untested technology and with a spotty track record at best, Kennecott has sold the Michigan DEQ a bill of goods and the Michigan DEQ is apparently buying.”
A petition drive last fall garnered more than 10,000 signatures in opposition to the mine. Those petitions have since been presented to Governor Jennifer Granholm. Organizers are hoping that those who signed petitions will attend and express their opposition at the upcoming hearings.
“An outpouring of opposition to this proposed mine by people from the U.P. and throughout Michigan is clearly illustrated by these petitions,” Pryor said. “It was important that the Governor see for herself that 10,000 of her constituents have grave concerns about this mine’s impact on our state.
“People who care about Marquette County cannot sit on the fence any longer. The time to stop this mine and preserve the uniqueness of this area for future generations is now.”
—Kristy Basolo and press releases

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