Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Public invited to commemorate Workers' Memorial Day Apr. 28 in Calumet

Poster for Workers' Memorial Service to be held Friday, Apr. 28, in Calumet.

CALUMET -- On April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers' Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew the fight for safe jobs.

A Workers' Memorial Service and Community Gathering will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 28, near the Italian Hall Memorial at 7th and Elm streets in Calumet. The public is invited to attend a short ceremony to commemorate the workers and children who died in the Italian Hall Tragedy of 1913 and to draw inspiration from the brave Copper Country workers who stood up for workers' rights and safety in the workplace. All are welcome!

Speakers will include the following:

Welcome by Katie Barglind, U.P. Regional Labor Federation

Invocation by Melinda Quivik, Portage Lake United Church

Bill Wanhala, Western UP Community Labor Council

Joanne Thomas, author of the book Across a Century: Annie of Red Jacket

(Laying Flowers)

Closing by Scott Dianda, State Representative, 110th District

If anyone knows how to play the guitar or can sing, a song at the end of the memorial would be welcome. For more information contact Katie Barglind at or call her at 906-282-1390.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sen. Debbie Stabenow learns about Michigan Tech's Great Lakes research during visit to GLRC

By Michele Bourdieu

During her April 1, 2017, visit to Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) is interviewed by local media. On display for the Senator, in the background, is Michigan Tech's buoy for the Straits of Mackinac.

HOUGHTON -- U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) heard from Michigan Tech faculty and students about projects related to the Great Lakes during her April 1, 2017, visit to the university's Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) in Houghton.

Several of the projects have received funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), including work on invasive species and algal blooms in the lakes, removal of the Gay stamp sand threatening fish in Lake Superior, and the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) that includes research buoys in the Great Lakes. 

During the Senator's visit she first heard a presentation from Amy Marcarelli, Michigan Tech associate professor of biological sciences concerning research on invasive species and algal blooms in the Great Lakes and the importance of the GLRI in funding such projects. Here is a video excerpt from Prof. Marcarelli's presentation:

During Sen. Debbie Stabenow's Apr. 1 visit to the Great Lakes Research Center, Amy Marcarelli, Michigan Tech associate professor of biological sciences, speaks about mapping and controlling algal blooms and invasive species such as Eurasian Watermilfoil in the Great Lakes. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Senator Stabenow expressed her own concern that GLRI funding would be cut dramatically by this administration.

Following Marcarelli's presentation, Sen. Debbie Stabenow comments on the importance of GLRI (Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) funding for Great Lakes scientific projects. Seated next to her is Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz.

Charles Kerfoot, Michigan Tech professor in biological sciences and director of the Lake Superior Ecosystem Research Center, presented an update on the Gay Stamp Sand and the U.S. Army Corps project to dredge the stamp sand (old mining waste) that has migrated into Lake Superior, threatening especially the Native American fishery at Buffalo Reef on the east side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Here are some excerpts from his presentation:

During Sen. Debbie Stabenow's visit, Michigan Tech Professor Charles Kerfoot explains how researchers have used Lidar (laser detection) technology to detect the migration of millions of tons of stamp sand from the former mining areas near Gay, Mich., into Lake Superior. Click on YouTube icon for larger screen.

Prof. Kerfoot described negative biological and economic impacts of stamp sand destroying benthos and fish at Buffalo Reef, the GLNPO (Great Lakes National Program Office)-funded U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to dredge the stamp sand (using a vacuum method) and the need for funding to support continued Michigan Tech research to support that project.*

Prof. Kerfoot points out how the stamp sand kills the benthos and fish and notes projected economic losses for local tribes that depend on the fishery. He also explains how the stamp sand is moving across the Big Traverse seawall into the Traverse River. Click on YouTube icon for bigger screen.

Guy Meadows, Great Lakes Research Center director, presented an update for the Senator on the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS), which includes Michigan Tech's buoys in the Great Lakes:

GLRC Director Guy Meadows speaks about the valuable information gathered through the Great Lakes buoys and the usefulness of Michigan Tech's Web site He also notes the fact that GLOS, which includes eight Great Lakes states, receives less funding than other regional observing systems.**

Finally, the Senator learned about Michigan Tech's research program for developing autonomous vehicles.

Sen. Stabenow hears from Brent Burns, director of industry and government relations for Michigan Tech; Michigan Tech Prof. Dan Fuhrmann, chair of electrical and computer engineering; and Jeremy Bos, Michigan Tech assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who will be the new faculty advisor for the university's Robotic Systems Enterprise program. Sen. Stabenow adds her own comments, based on her experience, on the need to be aware of the human side of autonomous vehicles -- how to make the person in the car feel comfortable -- as well as the technology.

Cameron Burke, Michigan Tech student in computer engineering, said he was excited to be working with the robotics program and autonomous vehicles and would probably focus on these in graduate school in the future. For example, he noted some of the experiments include sending the vehicles out into the snow or rain to determine how they could be safer than a regular car.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow meets with Michigan Tech students during her visit to the Great Lakes Research Center on April 1, 2017. Students pictured with the Senator are, from left, Ryan Van Goethem, graduate student in biological sciences; Carmen Leguizamon, graduate student in biological sciences; Mitchell Anderson, computer engineering; Jennifer Ling, electrical engineering; Jacob Prins, mechanical engineering; and Cameron Burke, electrical and computer engineering. In the foreground is a Clearpath Husky, an autonomous, battery-operated ground unit created by students working on autonomous vehicle research. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

"A lot more testing has to be done," Burke said.***

Following the presentations, Sen. Stabenow offered some closing remarks:

Sen. Stabenow comments on the need to educate the public on protecting the Great Lakes and expresses her appreciation for the research being done at Michigan Tech.

Keweenaw Now had the opportunity to ask the Senator about her views on climate change and what could be done about the present administration's plans to silence the Environmental Protection Agency and de-fund environmental projects.

She agreed citizens need to unite and "push back" against the Republicans' anti-environment agenda. The Senator said she was supportive of the March for Science (which occurred this past weekend) and the People's Climate March scheduled for April 29 and planned to participate in them.

GLRC Director Guy Meadows told Keweenaw Now he was happy the Senator was able to visit the GLRC. He noted the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a very important source of funding, especially for remediating damage to the lakes and protecting them.

GLRC Director Guy Meadows chats with Sen. Debbie Stabenow following the presentations.

"We greatly appreciate how hard Senator Stabenow works for the Great Lakes," Meadows said.


* Click here to read about the Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

** The buoy was in the GLRC on Apr. 1 because the buoys come out of the water for winter in late fall so they won't be damaged by ice. They are put back in the spring. See our Sept. 13, 2015, article, "Michigan Tech/Enbridge buoy deployed in Mackinac Straits; Gov. Snyder visits GLRC."

*** Michigan Tech is one of eight universities selected to participate in a new collegiate competition -- AutoDrive Challenge, a three-year project to design, build and test a fully autonomous vehicle. See the April 12, 2017, article, "Look, Ma, No Driver: The AutoDrive Challenge," by Allison Mills, in the Michigan Tech News.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Record number of voters elect Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District directors; residents learn about sea lamprey control

By Michele Bourdieu

Sue Haralson of the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) administers the oath of office to newly elected HKCD Board Director James F. Tercha of Calumet following HKCD's 65th Annual Meeting and Election held Apr. 20, 2017, in the Orpheum Theater in Hancock. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- A record number of Houghton and Keweenaw County residents voted to elect two new Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District board directors this week. While about 100 people attended the Apr. 20 Annual Meeting and Election, 99 of whom voted at the meeting, absentee ballots totaled 203.

James F. Tercha of Calumet, who has served for years as HKCD's attorney, received a total of 258 votes and will serve a two-year term. Steven C. Siira, incumbent board director, was re-elected for a four-year term with 250 votes. Both Tercha and Siira have participated on HKCD volunteer projects such as the Annual Tree Sale and the Annual Beach Cleanup at the Bete Grise Preserve.

Steven C. Siira, incumbent HKCD board director, recites the oath of office for his new four-year term with the assistance of HKCD's Sue Haralson.

Other candidates for the two-year term were Mark F. Ahlborn of Houghton, who received 30 votes, and Lawrence Butala of Calumet, 14 votes. For the four-year term, runner-up Thomas G. Bryant, PE, of Eagle River, received 45 votes.

Sue Haralson, HKCD volunteer and former HKCD administrator, said this year's voter turnout was the biggest she remembers.

"During the time that I worked at HKCD from 2002 to 2013, we did have some large audiences at our Annual Meetings depending on the presentation," Haralson told Keweenaw Now. "Our elections usually consisted of an estimated 30 to 50 voters. I never had any absentee ballot requests during that time."

Many people had other commitments or were out of town this week so they mailed their absentee ballots or dropped them off at the HKCD office in Houghton, she added.

Presentation on Sea Lamprey Control

Shawn Nowicki, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Larval Control Unit supervisor, Sea Lamprey Control Program in Marquette, displays a live sea lamprey following her presentation during the HKCD Annual Meeting Apr. 20 in Hancock.

A highlight of the HKCD meeting was a presentation on sea lamprey control by Shawn Nowicki, Larval Control Unit supervisor; Sean Lewandoski, fish biologist; and Nicholas Scripps, biological science technician -- all from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Station in Marquette.

According to a Great Lakes Fishery Commission brochure distributed at the meeting, sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean and were first observed in the 1830s in Lake Ontario. Slowed down for a while by Niagara Falls, a natural barrier, they spread to the rest of the Great Lakes after the Welland Canal was deepened in 1919 and were present in all the Great Lakes by 1938.

The lampreys' damage to fish is described thus: "They attach to fish with their suction mouth and teeth, and use their tongue to rasp through a fish's scales and skin so they can feed on its blood and body fluids. A single sea lamprey will destroy up to 18 kgs (40 lbs.) of fish during its adult lifetime. Sea lampreys are so destructive that, under some conditions, only one out of seven fish attacked will survive. Sea lampreys prey on all types of fish, such as lake trout, salmon, rainbow trout (steelhead),brown trout, whitefish, yellow perch,burbot,walleye, catfish, and even sturgeon."

Shawn Nowicki offers residents attending the HKCD meeting an opportunity to examine a sea lamprey close up and answers a question from avid fisherman Tom Collins, HKCD board director and vice chair.

Nowicki explains to a young visitor how a sea lamprey's suction mouth and teeth attack fish. To a question on whether sea lampreys are edible, she noted they bioaccumulate too much mercury to be safe to eat.

In their presentation, the visiting scientists explained the importance of sea lamprey control for the Great Lakes. The presenters explained the main methods of sea lamprey control: using lampricides to kill sea lamprey larvae, barriers to block the upstream migration of sea lampreys during their spawning phase, and pheromones that exploit lampreys' keen sense of smell in order to bait them and manipulate their behavior to disrupt reproduction.

This slide from the sea lamprey presentation explains various steps in detecting and assessing sea lamprey larvae present in streams. (Click on photo for larger version)

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife team, the lampricides used to kill larvae once they are identified and assessed are not harmful (at the concentration applied) to humans or other mammals and have minimal effects on other fish, aquatic plants and wildlife.

Nowicki noted more than 6,000 chemicals were tested in order to control sea lampreys.

This slide explains the importance of using lampricides responsibly to avoid risks to people or the environment.

Sean Lewandoski, fish biologist, describes the barriers used to block upstream migration of sea lampreys. Nicholas Scripps, biological science technician, operates the computer for the slide presentation, while HKCD Chair Gina Nicholas moderates. Lewandoski fielded several audience questions on the effects of removing a dam on the Otter River, one of many streams where sea lamprey need to be controlled. 

The United States and Canada created the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in 1955 to control sea lampreys and coordinate research for protecting the fishery. The following graph shows the success of their efforts in restoring lake trout to Lake Superior:

This graph shows how sea lampreys were discovered in Lake Superior in the late 1930s and began to decline after the first lampricide treatments began in the late 1950s -- allowing the return of lake trout. Click on photo for larger version. Click here for more details on sea lamprey control.

Nowicki noted the success of sea lamprey control means there is no need to stock lake trout in Lake Superior.

Handing the microphone to speaker Shawn Nowicki, Nancy Langston, Michigan Tech professor in social sciences who studies Great Lakes environmental policy and history, asks Nowicki why there was a steep increase in sea lamprey before 2012. Nowicki replied it was because they had decreased their use of lampricide before that. At left is HKCD Chair Gina Nicholas.

During the Apr. 20 meeting, Gina Nicholas, HKCD chair, gave a summer of the District's "Year in Review." She mentioned the Seneca No. 3 Bat Conservation Area near Mohawk, one of HKCD's current projects, is receiving new visitor turnout. Nicholas also spoke about the Bete Grise Beach Cleanup last September and the Bete Grise picnic and celebration of Deer Lake (in Keweenaw County), the newest addition to the Bete Grise Preserve.

On Aug. 21, 2016, at Point Isabelle Park, HKCD Chair Gina Nicholas speaks to visitors during the Bete Grise Preserve Dedication of Deer Lake, the newest addition to Bete Grise Preserve. The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District and the Stewards of Bete Grise hosted the celebration and picnic.

Nicholas also reminded the meeting audience of the upcoming HKCD Annual Tree Sale, which will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 6, 2017, at 711 W. Lakeshore Dr., Houghton, on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the sale. Click here for more info on the sale.

The mission of the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District is to advise and assist the people of Houghton and Keweenaw Counties to wisely manage and use our natural resources through education, information, technical assistance and land stewardship.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Houghton March for Science to be Apr. 22; Portage Library, Keweenaw Climate Community to host related events

The Portage Lift Bridge will be the scene of the March for Science to be held at noon this Saturday, Apr. 22 (Earth Day). The march will be preceded at 10:30 a.m. by Hands-on Science: Activities and demonstrations, led by students and educators from the area, at the Portage Lake District Library. Following the march, at 1 p.m., all are invited to the Portage Lake District Library for "What do we do next?" -- a community action meeting focusing on impacting policy decisions. (Photo © and courtesy Gowtham. Reprinted with permission.)

HOUGHTON -- Houghton-Hancock area residents who love science invite the community to join them for a March for Science at noon on Saturday, Apr. 22 (Earth Day) in support of using scientific evidence to inform policy at all levels of government. Marchers will gather under the lift bridge, on the Houghton side, and march across the bridge, into Hancock, and back.

The theme of the march is the Great Lakes watershed and how scientific research is used to protect and maintain the important services and connections the Great Lakes provide. Our watershed’s lands, rivers and lakes bring us together for sustenance, recreation, and spirituality. The Great Lakes are our home. Our strong connection unites the protection of the lakes to ensure the health and well-being of both residents and ecosystems. Science is on the federal chopping block. It is essential to understanding and solving many problems, including climate change.

Interested community members are also invited to events preceding and following the march on Saturday. At 10:30 a.m. Hands-on Science: Activities and demonstrations, led by students and educators from the area, will be held at the Portage Lake District Library. After the march, at 1 p.m., the Portage Lake District Library will host "What do we do next?" -- a community action meeting focusing on impacting policy decisions.

This local march is affiliated with the national march in Washington D.C. and all the other marches for science throughout the world.

Organizers of the Houghton March for Science state, "The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good, and for political leaders and policymakers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest."

For more information contact

Keweenaw Climate Community Spring Potluck Apr. 21

The Keweenaw Climate Community (KCC) will hold a Spring Potluck at 6 p.m. Friday, Apr. 21, at Good Shepherd Church, 1100 College Ave., Houghton. Bring a dish to share, make creative signs (poster-making supplies provided) for this Saturday’s March for Science and the Marquette Climate Change March to be held Saturday, Apr. 29, and share ideas and information about KCC activities.

Please bring your own dishes, a cup and flatware (to avoid excess paper/plastic waste).

Everyone is welcome! Bring children, friends, etc. Contact for more information.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District to hold Annual Meeting April 20, Annual Tree Sale May 6, 2017

Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) volunteers, from left, Nicky Outinen, Wayne Kokkonen and Sue Haralson are pictured here during the May 2016 Annual Tree Sale in Houghton. This year's Tree Sale will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 6, 2017, at 711 Lakeshore Drive in Houghton. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) 65th Annual Meeting and election of directors will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock. The HKCD Annual Tree Sale will be held on Saturday, May 6, 2017.

Two director positions with staggered terms are up for the Apr. 20 election: 2-year term candidates: Mark F. Ahlborn of Houghton, Lawrence Butala of Calumet and James F. Tercha of Calumet; 4-year term candidates: Thomas G. Bryant, PE, of Eagle River and Steven C. Siira (Incumbent). Steve Siira, incumbent Board member and Jim Tercha, HKCD's attorney, have participated on HKCD volunteer projects such as the Annual Tree Sale and the Annual Beach clean up at the Bete Grise Preserve.

Registered voters in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties are eligible to vote. To vote via absentee ballot, please call (906) 482-0214 for a voting packet.

Following the election and a brief summary of "HKCD -- Year in Review," will be the SPECIAL GUEST PRESENTATION: "LAMPREYS and Lamprey Control in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties" by Shawn Nowicki, Greg Klingler and Sean Lewadoski of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A light pizza buffet will be provided. For more information, please call (906) 482-0214.

HKCD Annual Tree Sale to be May 6, 2017

Milkweed is among the wildflowers for sale at HKCD's Annual Tree Sale May 6. It attracts Monarch butterflies like the one pictured here. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) Annual Tree Sale will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 6, 2017, on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the sale. Don't miss this chance to purchase mix-and-match fruit trees, wildflowers, berries by the bag, conifers and more!

For details click here for the Tree Sale Flyer. For more info or a printed copy of the flyer call 906-482-0214. See also the HKCD Facebook page.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Tax March/Rally to be held in Marquette Apr. 15 in solidarity with DC Tax March

Poster courtesy Upper Peninsula Tax Day Facebook page.

MARQUETTE -- The 906 Dems, local labor unions, community leaders and elected officials will hold a march/rally for tax equality and justice from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 15, in Marquette. Participants are asked to muster at the Peter White Public Library at 11 a.m. (EDT). The march will proceed to the Commons in downtown Marquette for a rally including many guest speakers.

Guest speakers include the following: State Representatives John Kivela and Scott Dianda; Marquette County Commissioner Joe Derocha; Marquette City Commissioner Sara Cambensy; Dwight Brady, Northern Michigan University (NMU) professor; Connor Raak, president NMU Dems; Jason Chapman, Marquette Dems chair; Lucas Bradshaw, chair of Delta and 906 Dems; Katie Barglind, U.P. Regional Labor Federation regional coordinator; Ellen Lindblom, past vice president of the College Dems of America; Jenn Hill, U.P. Forward Action of Michigan and many more.

The 906 Dems, a group comprised of Democratic County leaders from across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will also host a "Warm Up Social" afterward from 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. inside the Marquette Commons Facility. Further questions should be directed to Jason Chapman at or by calling or texting him at 906-458-1226.

The Tax Day March is being planned for Washington, DC, with many others across the nation. The Marquette march is the only one being held in the U.P.  This event is open to the public and people are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes, dress attire that is appropriate for the weather, and sun screen. Feel free to bring your own clever signs.

This march/rally is being planned in answer to Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.
President Trump is the first president or major-party presidential candidate in four decades to refuse to release his tax returns to the public. Marchers demand that the president release his returns, as he has repeatedly promised, but failed, to do.

According to the Tax March Web site, these are among the principles for the DC Tax March: "We march because it is in the best interest of the American people to know what financial entanglements and conflicts of interest our leaders have. Because we need to know if the president is personally profiting from the policies he is proposing. And because we want know if he has contributed his fair share of taxes. We march because we will not stand by while the rich and the powerful govern this country guided only by their personal best interests, and not the best interests of the American people as a whole."*

* Click here for more info on the national march in Washington, DC, and locations of the sister tax marches across the country.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

DEQ to hold public hearing Apr. 13 on Renewable Operating Permit for White Pine Copper Refinery

This photo shows the location of infrastructure and buildings that were used in the old White Pine mining operation. The smelter and process plant (mill) no longer exist. The refinery, at left, is presently owned by Traxys. A new water treatment plant would need to be constructed for potential new mining operations planned by Highland Copper Co. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

MARQUETTE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Division (AQD) will hold a Public Hearing Regarding White Pine Copper Refinery, Inc., in White Pine, Ontonagon County, (SRN:  N7396) for the draft renewal of a Renewable Operating Permit (ROP) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Apr. 13, in the Ontonagon Area School Cafeteria, 701 Parker Ave., Ontonagon. The ROP is for the operation of a copper refining process.
[CORRECTION: The address was previously listed incorrectly by the DEQ and our announcement as 701 Park Ave. We have corrected it to 701 Parker Ave. above.]

The White Pine Copper Refinery (WCPR) is located at 29784 Willow Road, White Pine, in Ontonagon, Mich., six miles south of Lake Superior. According to a staff report dated Jan. 23, 2017, "The AQD (DEQ Air Quality Division) proposes to approve this ROP. A final decision on the ROP will not be made until the public and affected states have had an opportunity to comment on the AQD’s proposed action and draft permit. In addition, the USEPA is allowed up to 45 days to review the draft ROP and related material. The AQD is not required to accept recommendations that are not based on applicable requirements. The delegated decision maker for the AQD is Janis Ransom, Acting Upper Peninsula District Supervisor. The final determination for ROP approval/disapproval will be based on the contents of the ROP Application, a judgment that the stationary source will be able to comply with applicable emission limits and other terms and conditions, and resolution of any objections by the USEPA."*

The staff report also summarizes the history of the facility thus: "The Copper Range Company began operating an underground copper mine in the 1950's in White Pine, Michigan. The WPCR was constructed in 1982. The refinery process used electrochemical dissolution of impure copper anodes in an acid electrolyte bath and electroplating of pure copper ions onto stainless steel cathodes. Auxiliary processes were operated to control the amount of copper ions in the refining electrolyte and to remove by-product impurities in the copper anodes. The mine was shut down by the Copper Range Company in 1996. In January of 1998, BHP Copper White Pine Refinery Inc. purchased all of the equipment associated with the mine's copper refining processes including the boilerhouse and electrical generators. In 2004, the White Pine Copper Refinery, Inc. transferred ownership/control of the Power Complex to White Pine Electric Power, LLC. In 2011, the Traxys Power Group purchased the White Pine Copper Refinery."*

In the past the White Pine Copper Refinery was used to remove impurities from copper that had been smelted. The White Pine smelter no longer exists. (See photo above.) However the refinery has been called "state of the art" by Highland Copper. According to Steve Casey, DEQ Water Resources Division district coordinator for the Upper Peninsula, the copper produced from the refinery was 99.999 percent copper.

Horst Schmidt, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) president, encourages the public to attend this hearing.

"With the possibility of a new mine on the west side of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (Highland Copper's Copperwood Mine), it is important that citizens make their voices heard," Schmidt said. "The only reason the company is keeping the building and renewing its permit is the hope that Highland Copper Co. will buy it for their proposed mining activities on the west side of the state park, adding to possible mining activities in the vicinity of the old White Pine mine and around Gratiot Lake in the Keweenaw. The environmental degradation from mining in the last two centuries still is not cleaned up. We are threatened with the loss of cleanup funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by the current regime in Washington."**

Concerned citizens who wish to participate in carpooling to the hearing on Thursday (either needing a ride or offering to drive) are asked to email Horst Schmidt at 


Click here for the Jan. 23, 2017, staff report for more details.  Click here for the Jan. 23, 2017, Draft ROP.

** See our (updated) April 7, 2017, article on Highland Copper 's recent exploratory drilling in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, "State, county officials address citizens' concerns about erosion from Highland Copper mining exploration along CR 519 in Porkies." For background on Highland Copper's potential mining projects in the U.P., see our July 1, 2014, article, "Highland Copper finalizes purchase of Copperwood mining project, hopes to process ore at White Pine."

Tech Theatre and Keweenaw Symphony bring "West Side Story" to Rozsa April 13, 14, 15

With music by the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra, West Side Story will be performed at the Rozsa Center Apr. 13, 14 and 15. (Program cover photo courtesy Rozsa Center)

HOUGHTON -- The Rozsa Center, Michigan Tech Department of Visual and Performing Arts (Tech Theatre), and the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra present West Side Story at 7:30 p.m. for three nights, Thursday, Friday and Saturday -- April 13, 14 and 15 -- in the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts.

West Side Story changed the very nature of American Musical Theatre. With music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, the play was grounded in a distinctively modern sound with a passionately poetic statement: A place where everyone can grow beyond the confines of hate and poverty, a safe and beautiful place. A modern adaptation of a quintessential tale of star-crossed lovers, West Side Story isn't performed often for a very good reason.

According to Director Patricia Helsel, "It's simply a very difficult play to perform. The show requires many different dance styles ranging from jazz, to 50s 'hipster beat,' to Latino and ballet. The music is also challenging with complex rhythms and styles for the ensemble, matched with a call for operatic technique for the young lovers. Overall, this is not your typical, run-of-the-mill golden era musical comedy."

The subject matter is highly charged with racial tension, fear, hate, and LOVE -- some pretty intense emotion that is intricately woven in textures throughout the play, taking the audience on a meaningful journey. Comedy plays a matching role in the show, with memorable numbers like "Officer Krupke" and "America."

Tickets are on sale now: $19 for adults, $6 for youth, and no charge for Michigan Tech students with the Experience Tech fee. Tickets are available by phone at (906) 487-2073, online at, in person at the Central Ticketing Office in the Student Development Complex, or the night of the event, one hour before show time, at the McArdle Theatre Box Office.

Friday, April 07, 2017

State, county officials address citizens' concerns about erosion from Highland Copper mining exploration along CR 519 in Porkies

By Michele Bourdieu

Hay bales are shown in place as a short-term erosion control measure in a ditch along Gogebic County Road 519. (Photo courtesy Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality)

[Editor's Note: See below map for April 8 UPDATE on Presque Isle River Scenic Site.]

MARQUETTE -- Recent photos of muddy roads and erosion near exploratory drilling sites by Orvana Resources, a subsidiary of Highland Copper Co., in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (the Porkies) have led to investigation by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Gogebic County officials as well as the attention of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which manages the park.

According to an Apr. 6, 2017, joint-agency press release from the DEQ, DNR and Gogebic County Road Commission, the erosion is not impacting the DNR-managed state park land, since drilling ceased there in February.*

However, drilling in the Right of Way (ROW) of County Road 519, which bisects the park, began on March 17 and, with recent warming weather, has resulted in erosion concerns for the ROW area, owned by the Gogebic County Road Commission.

The work is being done to see if a mineral deposit first explored here in the 1950s might feasibly be mined, which would enlarge the company’s Copperwood Project beyond its currently permitted boundaries.

Drilling halted on Apr. 4

Work was halted Tuesday evening, Apr. 4, after Highland Copper officials were informed of several potential erosion issues on the county property. Workers were part way into drilling their last test core sample.

"All drilling has been suspended indefinitely and the site is under remedial action; measures are being installed as we speak," Dave Anderson -- director of Environment, Stakeholder Relations and Michigan Corporate Affairs for Highland Copper -- said Wednesday. "That site will be off limits to any equipment for an indefinite period."

Highland Copper is engaged in efforts and discussions with county and state regulators to address the situation.

The Michigan DEQ is leading efforts to remedy the erosion -- which was called to their attention by photos taken by Steve Garske, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) board member.

This photo, taken last Sunday, Apr. 2, shows how exploratory drilling in the CR 519 Right of Way (on the east side of the road), combined with recent warmer weather, has resulted in erosion adjacent to land within the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. (Photo © and courtesy Steve Garske)

Steve Casey, DEQ Water Resources Division district coordinator for the Upper Peninsula, told Keweenaw Now today, Friday, that the photos were emailed to him on Tuesday, Apr. 4. Within a few hours, DEQ staff went out to investigate the site. A press release from UPEC's Mining Action Group was posted shortly afterwards on Apr. 4 with some of the photos.

"Orvana’s exploratory drilling work has turned the site into an ugly, mile-long mudhole," UPEC's press release reported, with the photos as evidence.**

Damage borders (impacts?) Porkies' Presque Isle River Scenic Site

According to Doug Welker, former UPEC board member, the DNR has neglected to enforce stipulations in the state’s Wilderness and Natural Areas law (Part 351) which prohibit mineral exploration in designated State Natural Areas. The land east of the road where the most severe damage has been done is part of the Porcupine Mountains’ Presque Isle River Scenic Site, Welker noted.

"The legal boundary of the Scenic Site is the road itself, not the east boundary of the right-of-way, according to a rule within the Michigan Administrative Code," Welker said. "The Presque Isle River Scenic Site is a legally dedicated State Natural Area, and exploration for or extraction of minerals is prohibited in State Natural Areas according to Michigan law (NREPA)."***

This map shows the location of the exploration drilling sites along the CR 519 Right of Way and in Section 5 at the west end of the Porcupine Mountains State Park. An area of the park to the east of 519 is the Presque Isle River Scenic Site. Click on map to see Legend on the right. (Map courtesy Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources)

If the road is actually the border of the Presque Isle River Scenic Site, then the state claims of no impact to the park are problematic.

UPDATE:  On April 8, after the first posting of this article, John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer, offered this update the Presque Isle River Scenic Site: "The Gogebic County Road Commission owns County Road 519 and the right-of-way (233 feet on each side of the county road)," Pepin writes. "The Presque Isle River Scenic Site, and other scenic site designations, do not convey ownership. Therefore, the boundary for the scenic site/natural area begins at the edge of the right-of-way. In some instances, the DNR has put some limitations on private land uses, but this is only done in agreement with the property owner. The DNR has no such agreement with the Gogebic County Road Commission."

DEQ staff visit, evaluate site damage

UPEC President Horst Schmidt sent UPEC's press release to Gov. Rick Snyder requesting that the DNR stop the drilling by Highland's contractor in the Porkies. 

"We'd already been at the site when the [UPEC] press release came out," Casey said.

Highland Copper had been working on nine bore holes, with a tenth under consideration, along the 519 ROW. With rising temperatures in recent days, the frozen ground where the work was ongoing had begun to thaw quickly, producing mud and water.

Another photo of damage in the 519 Right of Way, described in UPEC's press release as "a big muddy mess." (Photo © and courtesy Steve Garske)

The company was accessing the drill sites by driving up and down the snowmobile trail and other access roads near CR 519, Casey added. That is what caused the erosion.

"We observed erosion into a wetland and ditch leading to a tributary to Gipsy Creek," Casey said. "Highland Copper will take immediate steps to stem erosion and they are developing a plan for stabilization of the site."

Water is shown in a ditch between a snowmobile trail and the east edge of Gogebic County Road 519. Erosion control measures are in place. (Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Quality)

Casey said that plan will be used to apply for a Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control Act Permit (Part 91) from Gogebic County. This permit is needed if  you disturb the earth within 500 feet of a lake or stream, he explained. The plan must be completed before Highland can apply for this permit.

Highland Copper has employed Coleman Engineering Co., an Upper Peninsula firm, to produce the application and work on getting short- and long-term erosion control measures in place.

Meanwhile, DEQ staff are still evaluating the site for possible wetland violations and assessing the progress on erosion control, Casey noted, though not all wetlands can be delineated this time of year.

"We saw violations of the wetlands statute (Part 303), and we'll be following up on that," he said. "The DEQ and the County enforcing agent will be evaluating the site."

Melanie Humphrey, geological technician for the DEQ Oil, Gas and Mineral Division in Marquette -- who visited the site this week along with Lindsey Ringuette, environmental quality analyst for DEQ Water Resources Division -- said on Apr. 6 that all equipment has been removed from the sites and the holes that were completed have been plugged (cemented).

"We expect records will be submitted once surveys are complete," Humphrey said.

Erosion control is first priority

Anderson inspected the site Wednesday, as drilling rigs were taken down and removed. Personnel were being sent off-site. Highland Copper has also ceased drilling on property it owns west of the state park.

This photo was taken on Apr. 4 at Drill Site 5-15 in the ROW. (Photo © and courtesy Steve Garske)

This photo shows Drill Site 5-15 in mid-March, just before drilling in the ROW began. The Gogebic County Road Commission permit for the drilling requires that disturbed areas be returned to their natural state. (Photo © and courtesy Steve Garske)

Anderson said at some of the drill sites -- about 100 feet off the blacktop -- the soil is highly disturbed, but there is no off-site migration of sediment or water. At other locations, off the drill pad, or off the immediate drill road, there was liquefied sediment leaving the actual footprint area into either upland forested area or, in some cases, wetland forested area.

However, there was no uncontrolled sediment leaving any of those sites into a stream that goes into the park, Anderson said.

Gogebic County Road Commission Engineer-Manager Darren Pionk said erosion control is the main priority for the short-term.

"Right now, they need to provide some temporary measures to contain erosion on their sites," Pionk said.

Water from a snowmobile trail has flowed into a ditch along the east side of Gogebic County Road 519. Erosion control measures are in place. (Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Quality)

Long-term, Highland Copper will take measures, including grading and re-seeding, to permanently restore the area to natural conditions -- a condition of the company’s permit the Gogebic County Road Commission issued Feb. 10, allowing the exploration work.

In answer to some questions on ownership of surface and mineral rights, John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer, told Keweenaw Now, "Keweenaw Land Association does own the mineral rights under the state land in the park and the ROW and has leased them to Copperwood Resources (formerly Orvana Resources U.S. Corp), which is a subsidiary of Highland Copper -- and the road commission owns the surface property rights."

Under state law, the owner of the minerals has a right to "reasonable" use of the surface to access their minerals.

Work began on state-managed park land Feb. 3. However, exploration there was suspended on Feb. 19, due to unseasonably warm late winter temperatures, after a fourth bore hole was completed.****

"None of Highland Copper’s exploratory work has since been conducted on state park land," said John Pepin. "We visited the work area this week and, along with Highland Copper, confirmed no impacts to park land had occurred."

Casey also confirmed that DEQ staff had seen no impacts to the park land from this erosion.

"Based on what we've seen today, there's no damage to the state park land. It's all in the Right of Way," Casey told Keweenaw Now.

If the exploration results indicate the potential for copper in suitable quality and mineable quantities, Highland Copper would conduct a feasibility study, designed to mine the deposit entirely by underground methods, allowing the company to gain access to the copper ore body from land it owns outside the park.

Any potential mining of the minerals would require a separate regulatory process through the DEQ. Highland Copper would have to amend its existing permit.

"The DNR will ensure there would be opportunity for public review and comment before any mining would occur on minerals beneath Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park," Pepin said.


* Click here for the April 6, 2017, joint press release.

** See the UPEC/Mining Action Group press release here, with links to more photos and documents.

*** Click here for the Part 351 Wilderness and Natural Areas law. Click here and see R  322.27.1   Presque Isle river scenic site on p. 2 of the document.

**** See our Feb. 13, 2017, article, "Environmental coalition objects to DNR permit for exploratory copper drilling in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park."