A fence, a berm, construction and no trespassing signs surround Eagle Rock, the site of Rio Tinto /Kennecott's proposed Eagle Mine. Participants in the U.P. Grassroots Campaign to Defend our Water and Stop the Eagle Mine visited the site on July 9, 2011, after holding a Rally in Marquette earlier in the day. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
MARQUETTE -- The U.P. Grassroots Campaign to Defend Our Water and Stop the Eagle Mine kicked off on July 9, 2011, with a Rally of speakers, songs, chants, drumming and -- for some -- a trip to the Rio Tinto / Kennecott Eagle Mine site at Eagle Rock, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) sacred site.
The event was organized by two local groups working together on this campaign: Save the Wild UP (SWUP) and WAVE (Water Action Vital Earth).
Since the July 9 Rally, the campaign has included a fast by WAVE member Scott Rutherford of Hancock, a walk with drums around the Eagle Mine site on July 17 and various letters to the editor and to state officials written by SWUP / WAVE members and supporters.
SWUP / WAVE members are also organizing the Fourth Annual Protect the Earth Great Lakes Community Gathering -- to be held Saturday, Aug. 6, at Van Riper State Park in Champion, Michigan.*
Following Protect the Earth, from Sunday, Aug. 7, to Sunday, Aug.21, SWUP / WAVE will hold a "Write-In, Call-In Campaign" to flood Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's office with letters, emails, phone calls and FAX messages asking for a halt to the mine activity and an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) for the entire Eagle Project, including the mine site, the haul road and the processing facility in Humboldt, as requested by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Participants at the July 9 Rally received information about this campaign. Write-in dates are Aug. 7-21; call-in dates are Aug. 11 and 12. Details are posted on the SWUP Web site.**
Rally in Marquette kicks off U.P. Grassroots Campaign
Opponents of Kennecott Eagle Minerals' plans to blast through Eagle Rock (possibly this September) to access an ore body of copper and nickel reportedly worth $4 billion spoke from the steps of the Marquette County Courthouse on Saturday, July 9. After each speaker, singer Cora Thiele led the audience in songs with titles like "The Wheel of the Water," "Little Blue Ball,", "This Pretty Planet," and "Great Lakes Song."
Cora Thiele leads rally participants in singing "Little Blue Ball." (Video clip by Keweenaw Now)
Rev. Jon Magnuson of the Cedar Tree Institute offered some opening comments of welcome and inspiration.
"For the last seven years here in Marquette County we've been part of a divine drama -- an ongoing heated dispute about a decision whether or not to allow an international mining company -- one with the worst record of environmental pollution and violation of human rights in the world -- to build a sulfide mine on the Yellow Dog Plains," Magnuson said. "I'm here today to remind us that we can choose to be victims or engage and speak out for what we believe."
Rev. Jon Magnuson addresses participants in the July 9, 2011, Rally in front of the Marquette County Courthouse. At left, Ruth Almen holds a sign with a declaration by 100 Faith Community Leaders who oppose the Kennecott sulfide mine.
Magnuson reminded the audience that many leaders in the faith community are committed to work with the Marquette Chamber of Commerce toward a green economy with new opportunities for employment that protect our waters and our children's future.
"We can do that by saying no to Rio Tinto and its subsidiary company Kennecott (applause). This is a good fight! This is a good fight!" Magnuson said.
Martha Bush of SWUP and WAVE led the group in a chant, "Our Water, Our Lives, Our Water, Our Lives. Protect our water, our lives!" as practice for consensus building.
Bush said the purpose of the campaign, inspired by Love Canal activist Lois Gibbs, who visited Marquette last October, is to organize and put pressure on Gov. Snyder to issue an executive order requiring an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) for the entire Eagle Project, including the mine site, the haul road and the processing facility in Humboldt, as requested by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Kennecott's own study, she said, considers only the impacts within the mine site boundaries and excludes its actual "affected area."
Participants at the rally were given information for the Aug. 7-21 "Write-In, Call-In Campaign" to flood the governor's office with letters, emails, phone calls and FAX messages asking for the EIS.**
Next, Dr. Allan Olson shared some talking points on the issue of water. Olson, a retired osteopath, was the author of a statement objecting to sulfide mining in the U.P. It was signed by 200 medical professionals and published in the Marquette Mining Journal in 2010.
"It's easy to take water for granted," Olson said. "You get it out of the spigot. It's like so many things that we consume in this society ... we are never forced to ask where it comes from."
A swimmer enjoys a dip in Lake Superior at sunset near Big Bay, Michigan, which is only a few miles from the Eagle Mine site. Opponents of the mine fear that potential pollution by Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) could affect pristine trout streams that flow into Lake Superior.
Olson spoke about Kennecott's Greens Creek Mine in Alaska where, over a 10-year period, there were more than 250 violations -- mostly spillage -- from chromium and lead to diesel fuel and hydraulic oil.
"At the very least that wilderness area (affected by the Eagle Project) is going to be turned into an industrial site -- with all of the attendant mishaps that go on," Olson noted.
He said in reading the briefs for the recent appeal of the contested case against Kennecott and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), he was appalled to see that Kennecott has no contingency plans (for potential spillage).
"It's certain to me that there's going to be contamination. It's just a matter of how much," Olson said.
He noted Kennecott, like other mining companies, has gone to third world countries, where environmental laws aren't as stringent or where there is government corruption.
"I think of us as a third world country. We are being taken advantage of, exploited for our resources by this international mining company," Olson added. "This isn't any different than Papua New Guinea or El Salvador or Ecuador -- or any other place where mining companies have taken advantage of the populace and spoiled their environment."
Laura (Furtman) Gauger, now of Duluth, Minn., co-author with the late Roscoe Churchill of The Buzzards Have Landed -- an account of the struggle against Kennecott's Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, Wis. -- spoke passionately of her recent efforts to communicate with Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette on the illegality of Kennecott's mining permit.
"Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette has created a Public Integrity Unit for the State of Michigan. The pledge of that unit is to uncover and prosecute crimes at all levels of state and local government," Gauger noted. "We need to ask him to investigate the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) -- their mishandling of Kennecott's mine permit application -- and to do it right now."***
Laura (Furtman) Gauger invites the Rally audience to write to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on the illegality of Kennecott's permit for the Eagle Mine. At left, Dr. Alan Olson holds a poster concerning Schuette's Public Integrity Unit.
According to Gauger, the MDEQ failed to process the Kennecott application for permits as required by law -- five years ago, when Dr. David Sainsbury, the Michigan DEQ's own expert in mine design and mining practices, pointed out flaws in the application.
"(We should) push for a single objective -- to revoke all permits and agreements, to halt all mining-related activities and to prosecute the wrongdoing as prescribed by law," Gauger said.
During the July 9 rally, Laura (Furtman) Gauger displays a poster with statements from Dr. David Sainsbury, MDEQ's hired expert, who reported flaws in the design of the Eagle Mine.
As for the construction activities, including the Humboldt Mill, Gauger said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said no efforts or money expended before valid permits are granted shall influence the permitting process.
Gauger then distributed a copy of the Executive Summary from a report (dated May 2006) written by Sainsbury, and asked participants in the rally to read it and to give a grade to the application based on Sainsbury's Summary, which lists several concerns about the crown pillar subsidence and hydrological stability. Here is just one example from Sainsbury's Summary: "The analysis techniques used to assess the Eagle crown pillar stability do not reflect industry best-practice. In addition, the hydrologic stability of the crown pillar has not been considered. Therefore, the conclusions made within the Eagle Project Mining Permit Application regarding crown pillar subsidence are not considered to be defensible."****
Participants at the July 9 Rally read Dr. David Sainsbury's Executive Summary of his report to MDEQ on Kennecott's design for the Eagle Mine. Laura Gauger asked them to grade Kennecott's application based on the Summary. Margaret Comfort of WAVE later reported a majority of failing grades were handed in.
Also available at the rally was a March 2007 notarized affidavit from Dr. Jack Wittman, president of Wittman Hydro Planning Associates, Inc., in Bloomington, Ind., who reports on a 2006 telephone conference call with Sainsbury, in which he and an associate participated.
Wittman states, "Mr. Sainsbury said that the information provided in Kennecott's application was insufficient to show that the mine could be developed safely and appropriately. He said that the most important technical problem is that the application does not address the correlation between fractures in the rock mass under the river and the stability and permeability of the crown pillar. He said that he repeatedly brought this issue to the attention of MDEQ."
Wittman also reports that the MDEQ asked Sainsbury to remove all reference to "case histories" (about other mines in the area); and, after Sainsbury's firm, Itasca, submitted its review of the application, MDEQ asked Itasca to retract it. Wittman also noted Sainsbury had expressed surprise that the Itasca review document was never made public. Wittman adds he verified by searching the MDEQ Web site that these documents were not included in the public record.
WAVE member Scott Rutherford fasts for more than two weeks
WAVE member Scott Rutherford of Hancock announced his fast at the Rally.
"Something about fasting," he said, "is you're really not doing it exactly to come to some kind of conclusion. You just do it because it's the right thing to do."
WAVE member Scott Rutherford, 77, of Hancock, announces his fast at the July 9 Rally in Marquette.
Rutherford said he had joined WAVE recently and had learned about Acid Mine Drainage, the instability of the crown pillar (mentioned above), Rio Tinto's record of environmental degradation, and the actions of the MDEQ. Rutherford said his participation in this grassroots campaign was not as an environmentalist but as a citizen concerned about authority, power and how power is being used and abused. He said he was shocked at how the MDEQ was acting.
"If we can't trust our own government to protect us from the Rio Tintos of this world, then who can we trust?" Rutherford added.
Rutherford, 77, continued his fast until July 26, when his doctor ordered him to stop for health reasons.
"I feel it made a small dent in some folks' consciousness about the dangerous and immoral nature of sulfide mining," Rutherford told Keweenaw Now in an email that day. "And maybe it will serve as a longer term catalyst, in addressing the threat of new mines over here."
River Walker: "There is no mine"
The rally concluded with an open mic session during which people were invited to speak.
"There is no mine," said Chauncey Moran, the Yellow Dog Riverkeeper (also known as River Walker), a founding member of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve. "There are buildings ... clearcuts. There is no mine."
River Walker (Chauncey Moran) of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve speaks about water quality on the Yellow Dog Plains. Moran has been collecting baseline water quality data in the area for the past six years.
Moran, who started a Volunteer Monitoring Program that has supplied the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve with baseline water quality data for the past six years, called for perseverance and persistence. He spoke of the water that comes from springs on the Yellow Dog Plains as being "cleaner than any bottled water that you can get on earth."
Moran asked those in the audience to spread the message about protecting the water to others in the community.
"We have a mandate in the beginning of Genesis to be stewards of the earth -- do not impair, pollute or destroy. God bless you. Thank you for coming," he said.
WAVE member Rich Sloat spoke about a dream that inspired the walk with drummers around the mine site that would take place on July 17 and invited those at the rally to join in this walk.*****
Visit to mine site
After the Rally, a group of participants went to the Kennecott mine site for a silent protest and contemplation.
A mine opponent displays a protest sign during a visit to the Eagle Mine site on July 9, 2011.
Joining SWUP and WAVE members for this visit was Zak Nicholls, a Canadian visitor from Sarnia, Ontario. Nicholls told Keweenaw Now he had been to the site before and has been following the issue of Eagle Rock.
"I've been involved for about four years, maybe five, in a number of different things related to delaying and stopping this project," Nicholls said, "and I've been able to see how it has developed -- how it (Eagle Rock) went from its natural state to where it is today. And it's sad to see, but after today I'm really happy that there are some people here that are putting up a fight."
Nicholls described his own situation in Sarnia, which is on Lake Huron and the St. Clair River -- an area of high pollution.
"We have all the chemical plants, and it's a disaster," he said. "We're doing a lot of work, and we're networking with other groups around the area to try to take action."
Nicholls noted illnesses related to endocrine disruption and cancer are some of the effects of the chemicals on the human population. In addition, he said, the beaches there are often closed because of pollution.
"It's a dirty place," Nicholls said. "It's jobs, for sure, lots of jobs -- but the health risk and the environmental risk, it just doesn't seem worth it."
Nicholls said the companies don't release information about chemical releases so groups like his have to do the work of investigating and reporting health risks to the media and the Ministry of Environment. He was positive about the local newspaper in Sarnia being supportive of their work.
Nicholls' group is called Sarnia SHAME -- Sarnia's Hometown Activist Movement Emerging -- which has been working for four or five years on fighting this pollution.
Click here for an article quoting Nicholls on SHAME's concerns about "fracking" in the area and SHAME's protest at a Shale Gas Conference.
"It's all the Great Lakes," Nicholls said. "What happens here is going to affect us down there."
* Click here for information on the Aug. 6 Protect the Earth event.
** See Save the Wild UP for details on how to contact the governor during the "Write-In, Call-In Campaign."
*** To contact Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, write to him at this address: Attorney General Bill Schuette, G. Mennen Williams Building, 7th Floor, 525 W. Ottawa St., P.O. Box 30212, Lansing, MI 48909, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (517) 373-1110 or Fax (517)373-3042.
**** Mining expert Jack Parker has written two reports about the instability of the crown pillar. See our Dec. 6, 2010, article, "Mining expert Jack Parker says Eagle Mine likely to collapse."
***** Click here to see the WLUC - TV6 report on the July 17 walk (on a very hot day).