Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Concerned citizens file contested case: Kennecott Eagle Mine

BIG BAY -- A citizen group located in northern Marquette County of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan announces the filing of a Petition for Contested Case Hearing with the State Office of Administrative Hearings in Lansing, Michigan. The Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, made up of citizens residing in and around the tiny community of Big Bay on the south shore of Lake Superior, contend regulatory failure of due process and enforcement by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE/DEQ) in their oversight and enforcement of Part 632 Non-Ferrous Metallic Mining Statute, which regulates the first metallic sulfide mine in the state of Michigan.

The group contends that the DNRE/DEQ failed to require a Part 632 Amendment in the construction and extension of electric service from Marquette, Mich., to the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine site, located eight miles from Big Bay, as required by the Part 632 statute.

This October 2010 photo shows power lines being run along the AAA Road leading to the Eagle Mine without a request from Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. (KEMC) for an amendment to their mining permit for this infrastructure. (File photo by Keweenaw Now)

"No one is above the law," Gene Champagne, leader of the group, stated. "The people of Big Bay, whose community will be the community most severely impacted by Rio Tinto’s proposed mine and any other projects that follow it, demand that Rio Tinto follow the laws that they helped craft in Part 632. We are tired of Rio Tinto’s 'blame the victim' strategy when decrying the delay of their project."

Champagne noted Rio Tinto further delays their own project every time they ignore the law or use lawyers to figure out a way around it.

"The law was written to protect Michigan citizens and their environment, not to cater to some self-imposed company deadline," he added.

The group's petition asserts the following: "The DNRE/DEQ repeatedly, in correspondence, assured citizens and groups that if the electric line was going to be extended from the main transmission line at CR 550 to the Eagle Mine site on the Yellow Dog Plains, Rio Tinto would be required to file an amendment. This did not happen."

The Concerned Citizens of Big Bay also petition that any court action be conducted in Marquette County.

"We are representing ourselves in this petition and have not the resource to hire a lawyer that may travel at our will. We would be further injured by this action if all of the citizens of this action and their witnesses were required to come to Lansing to bring this grievance forward," the group states.

The petition asks that the DNRE/DEQ demand the mining company file a Part 632 Amendment for the construction of electric service from the city of Marquette to the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine site on the Yellow Dog Plains -- fulfilling all parts of Part 632 including a two-year Environmental Impact Assessment as required by the statute. Levying of violations and fines; stoppage of all electric power grid work, and the demand for public hearing in Big Bay are all part of the petitioner’s request.

Rio Tinto, the third largest mining company in the world, began construction of the Eagle Mine in the summer of 2010. The mining company’s current mining permit calls for the use of a diesel generating plant at the mine site, as this remote region of the Yellow Dog Plains has never had any kind of utility infrastructure.

The State of Michigan instituted a process within the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), under Governor Jennifer Granholm, allowing "aggrieved" persons to file a petition for an Administrative hearing for action or non-actions of the DNRE/DEQ in their regulatory processes. Contested cases are presided over by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) from the State Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules.

"We were not represented by due process in the full replacement of new transmission lines from Marquette to Big Bay, nor in the process of buried industrial service to the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine site. There were no environmental assessments, no reclamation plans, no contingency plans, no review of financial assurances and absolutely no provision or opportunity for public comment by the DNRE/DEQ. We are aggrieved," the group states in their recent press release.

The Concerned Citizens of Big Bay seek to highlight that the lack of regulatory oversight of Part 632, in this metallic sulfide mine or any other like mine, is unacceptable.

"The Part 632 regulatory process is intended to protect not only the environment, but to ensure there is no harm to the safety of citizens or harm to the community and its ability to plan adequately around this new permitted activity," the petition states.

Editor's Note: See mining expert Jack Parker's Jan. 7, 2011, "Letter: Correction for the KEMC power line extension permit," commenting on the Dec. 7, 2010, DNRE public hearing on the power line extended from Marquette County Road 550 to the vicinity of the Eagle Mine site.

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