Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Will Kennecott mine the Yellow Dog Plains?

"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 one of the few surviving populations of Coaster Brook Trout in the U.S. (Photo © 2007 Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and courtesy www.savethewildup.org. Reprinted with permission.)

By Emily Svenson

CALUMET -- Kennecott Minerals does not yet have the go-ahead to begin its Eagle Project sulfide mining operation at the headwaters of the Salmon-Trout River in Marquette County. Although the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) gave Kennecott a permit last December, the company must first receive a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and await the resolution of four lawsuits filed against the State of Michigan.

In addition, a petition to list the Coaster Brook Trout as an endangered species could have repercussions on the Eagle Project, since the Salmon-Trout River hosts one of the few surviving populations of Coaster Brook Trout in the U.S. The deadline for public comment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concerning this petition is May 19, 2008, and the deadline for requesting public hearings is May 5, 2008.

Four lawsuits were filed against the State of Michigan by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, the National Wildlife Federation, the Huron Mountain Club and the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve. Kennecott has intervened on behalf of the State.

Two of the lawsuits are contested cases that have been consolidated into one; they challenge the DEQ’s approval of the Part 632 Mining Permit and the Groundwater Discharge Permit. They will be heard on Apr. 28, 2008, before Administrative Law Judge Richard Patterson.

According to Cynthia Pryor, executive director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, the other lawsuits were filed by the same groups against the DEQ for its approval of the Air Quality Permit and against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for its land surface use lease to Kennecott until the year 2042. The two cases will be heard by Judge Manderfield in the Ingham County Circuit Court; no date has currently been set.

National Wildlife Federation attorney Michelle Halley says all four lawsuits must be resolved in order for Kennecott to mine because they must have obtained all of the necessary permits, including the Underground Injection Control Permit from the EPA.

"The EPA seems to be taking a close look at the environmental impacts of the mine and the cultural significance of Eagle Rock to KBIC and other tribes," Halley said recently.

A pilgrim to Eagle Rock left a staff with two carved fish dangling from its point. Carved on the staff is the message SACRED WATERS SACRED LAND. (Keweenaw Now file photo © 2007 Sue Ellen Kingsley. Reprinted with permission.)

Halley added she had no prediction whether the EPA would issue Kennecott the permit or not and she was not aware of a timeline the EPA has set for the permit.

When asked why the National Wildlife Federation was suing, Halley said, "The DEQ has issued permits and the DNR has issued a lease for the use of state owned land for mining that do not meet the requirements of Michigan's laws. Since this is the first case testing the new law and rules, proper implementation is critical. So far, both agencies are failing."

According to the DEQ, Kennecott could begin surface construction on the company's privately owned land, but must wait to build on state land until it has obtained the required permits.

Eagle Project Manager Jon Cherry says, however, that Kennecott has not yet begun construction.

Salmon-Trout River hosts rare surviving population of Coaster Brook Trout

The Coaster Brook Trout got its name because, unlike brook trout, they leave streams to live along the coast and then return to the streams to spawn. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is currently considering Coasters for listing as endangered.

According to the USFWS Web site, Coasters were once plentiful in the U.S., having lived in Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior, and in more than fifty streams on the Lake Superior shore.*

USFWS reports that while self-sustaining subpopulations or spawning runs remain in four streams in the U.S. portion of Lake Superior, the population levels in these streams are considered low.

The USFWS is presently considering a petition with the Secretary of the Interior to list as endangered, under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, the naturally spawning lake-dwelling coaster brook trout throughout its known historic range in the conterminous United States.*

The petition was filed on Feb. 22, 2006, by the Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter, Huron Mountain Club and Marvin J. Roberson.*

If Kennecott mines at the headquarters of the Salmon-Trout River, environmentalists are concerned that the Coaster Brook Trout population may be devastated.

According to Hugh McDiarmid of the Detroit Free Press, logging and road building -- both of which can increase river sediment and alter stream temperature -- are major threats to the fish. He notes also environmentalists' concerns about toxic acids and heavy metals that would seep from the operation’s waste rock and pollute the river.

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), or sulfuric acid leaking from the mine, is the main environmental concern for many citizens. Once this toxic substance is in the environment, it may be impossible to remove. Water-rich areas are especially susceptible to damage from AMD.**

The DEQ and Kennecott officials insist that mining regulations are so tough that the environment and the fish will not be harmed.

When asked if Kennecott can mine on the Salmon-Trout without causing AMD, Project Manager Jon Cherry said, "Most definitely. The design is meant to be safe and protective of the environment and the DEQ agrees with that."***

If Coasters are listed as endangered, the USFWS may greatly restrict land use in their last remaining habitats in the U.S.; this could affect Kennecott’s ability to mine. The USFWS is currently accepting public comments on this issue until May 19, 2008. They must receive requests for public hearings by May 5, 2008. The USFWS hopes to have made their preliminary decision by December of 2008.

To submit a comment or information on the Coaster Brook Trout go to:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.

Or, send a comment by mail to:

Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R3-ES-2008-0030, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203.

The USFWS will not accept anonymous comments; they must be accompanied by a name and address. Comments may be posted online. For more information on this, visit their Web site or contact Ms. Jessica Hogrefe, East Lansing Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2651 Coolidge Road, Suite 101, East Lansing, MI 48823–6316; telephone 517-351-8470.

* See "Species of Concern - Coaster Brook Trout," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public notice on the petition for listing the Coaster Brook Trout as an endangered species. On this site the USFWS gives detailed information on the Coasters and their population in the Salmon Trout River as well as information for public comments.

** Visit Save the Wild UP for details on Acid Mine Drainage.

*** The Kennecott Minerals Eagle Project for nickel and copper mining is described on their Web site.

Editor's Notes:
Emily Svenson, the author of this article, is a free lance writer and Keweenaw Now visiting reporter.

Watch for Ms. Svenson's next article in this series, concerning Kennecott's parent company, Rio Tinto, additional mining exploration in the Upper Peninsula, the China connection and responses by Governor Jennifer Granholm at a recent Town Hall meeting.

1 comment:

kta said...

Thanks for this excellent and informative article by Emy Svenson, and thanks especially for pointing out that the Kennecott mining proposal is not yet a done deal. I hope other readers will comment to the Fish & Wildlife Service about listing the Coaster Brook Trout.
Keweenaw Now deserves appreciation for its continuing coverage of Kennecott's proposal.

-Kate Alvord