Monday, August 29, 2011

Updated: Protect the Earth 2011, Part 1: Walk to Humboldt mill, Rio Tinto-Kennecott projected ore processing site

By Michele Bourdieu

Members of WAVE (Water Action Vital Earth) and SWUP (Save the Wild UP) and other concerned participants in the 2011 Protect the Earth Great Lakes Community Gathering held on Aug. 6, 2011, begin the day with a visit to the proposed site of a processing facility for Rio Tinto / Kennecott's Eagle Mine at the Humboldt mill brownfield location. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HUMBOLDT, Mich. -- The 2011 Protect the Earth Great Lakes Community Gathering on Aug. 6 began with a walk from Van Riper State Park near Champion, Mich., to the nearby site for a proposed Humboldt processing facility intended for Rio Tinto /Kennecott's projected Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains near Big Bay.

Margaret Comfort, WAVE (Water Action Vital Earth) Steering Committee member and Save the Wild UP Board member, led the walk and introduced speakers Gail Griffith of Save the Wild UP, retired chemistry professor from Northern Michigan University, and Richard Sloat of Iron River, Mich., WAVE Steering Committee member.

As the walk participants gathered near a fence with a large "No Trespassing" sign barring entrance to the Humboldt area (site of a former mill -- a brownfield site still contaminated by iron mine tailings), a small airplane circled above, flew off and returned. A motorcycle also passed by twice. The walkers did not know whether these noise interruptions were intentional or not, but they were disturbing.

Rio Tinto / Kennecott's "No Trespassing" warning sign at the gate of the Humboldt brownfield site, where the company intends to build a processing plant for the nickel and copper ore to be transported from the projected Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains near Big Bay.

Gail Griffith spoke about Rio Tinto / Kennecott's plan to move the ore from the Eagle Mine south to the Humboldt mill for processing.

"The rock here is just going to be down to the size of talcum powder, when they get done with it," Griffith said. "And they do a flotation which floats the metal-rich material to the top."

This nickel and copper material is then floated off in a very concentrated state, she explained. The separate nickel and copper concentrates will be shipped off-site to be smelted. The remainder, a slurry of waste products (tailings), which total more than 95 percent of the rock, will be disposed of in the old Humboldt mine pit, which is presently full of water. When they put the finely ground waste rock into the pit, the water that is displaced has to go somewhere, Griffith explained.

"The water that's coming out of that area is not going to be clean so they're building a wastewater treatment plant to clean the water up before it goes into the middle branch of the Escanaba River (which goes down to Lake Michigan)."*

Since this is now a brownfield site, it has to be cleaned up before being used again. Griffith noted the company is already taking loads of material from the site to the Marquette County Landfill. She speaks about this and the proposed wastewater treatment in the video clip below.



At the Humboldt brownfield site, Gail Griffith of Save the Wild UP, who serves on the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority, speaks about loads of waste material Rio Tinto / Kennecott has been dumping in the landfill and answers questions from some of the Humboldt walk participants. A plane can be heard circling overhead. (Video by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Kristi Mills of Save the Wild UP noted a Kennecott report indicates 26 known contaminants that are now migrating away from this Humboldt site.

"It's a report that Kennecott did on the site because when they took it over they wanted to know exactly what was here so they wouldn't be liable for it," Mills said.

Kennecott said they are doing their best to remove "the worst of it" -- the contamination from the tailings left by the old Humboldt iron mine -- spending $1.5 million to "remediate" it before they begin their own work here, Mills added.

Richard Sloat spoke about treatment of water coming from the Buck Mine -- one of more than 70 abandoned iron mines in Iron County. Sloat's concerns stem from the fact that the Buck Mine, even though it was an iron mine, was located in an ore body with high sulfide concentration and the fact that the Buck Mine is the farthest downstream along the Iron River.



Richard Sloat of Iron River, Mich., WAVE Steering Committee member, speaks about wastewater treatment at the Buck Mine in Iron County. (Video by Allan Baker for
Keweenaw Now)

Sloat said he would like to see better, more frequent monitoring of the water coming from sites like the Buck Mine, the proposed Eagle Mine (if it goes through) and this Humboldt site.

"Concentrations of contaminants can rise and fall during certain times of the day -- sometimes as much as 500 percent difference from testing at one part of the day," Sloat said.

He said he has hired an environmental consulting firm to do some water testing twice a day and to give the results to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Sloat also spoke about the dredging of sediment that is part of the cleanup. In 2008, dredging of over 17,000 tons of sediment from the Buck Mine cost Michigan taxpayers over $1 million, he noted. As for the projected Eagle Mine, if it goes through, Kennecott has admitted a large amount of contaminated sediment will have to be hauled to landfills.

"I think we just have to start changing our lifestyles," Sloat said. "Every one of us contributes to why there's mining. We just have to change that."



To conclude the meeting at the Humboldt site, Pamela St. Germaine offers a musical blessing to the site. (Video by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

The route Kennecott will use to truck chunks of ore to the Humboldt site has been a subject of discussion at Marquette County Road Commission meetings and hearings during the past year. At present they plan to use County Road 550 unless they can receive permits for the potential County Road 595, a north/south road for which the Road Commission will be holding information meetings from noon to 3 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Lakeview Arena in Marquette and Wednesday, Aug. 31, at the Ishpeming Township Hall.**

This route is a variation on the proposed "Woodland Road," which failed to receive federal permits because of potential impacts on wetlands, streams and wildlife in the area.***

Update: The Humboldt Mill was originally a mill for iron ore from the Humboldt mine; later it was used to process gold ore from the Ropes gold mine.

Editor's Notes: This article is the first in a series on the 2011 Protect the Earth Great Lakes Community Gathering. Watch for more articles, coming soon.

Update: The Humboldt Mill was originally a mill for iron ore from the Humboldt mine; later it was used to process gold ore from the Ropes gold mine.

* This wastewater treatment plant would be built in addition to the one that is being built at Rio Tinto / Kennecott's projected Eagle Mine site. See our May 3, 2011, article, "Residents concerned about water quality question Rio Tinto-Kennecott at community forum."

** Click here for details on these meetings and dates for consideration of public comments.

*** Click here to read a Letter to the Editor, "Road to Somewhere," by Catherine Parker, with links to other articles concerning this proposed road.

2 comments:

cousin jack said...

BASIC QUESTIONS BEFORE WE GET INTO DETAILS.

1. WHY MILL THE ORE AT HUMBOLDT? Kennecott says that they will be mining only massive and semi-massive sulfides. THEY AVERAGE AROUND 60% SULFIDES. That would be "direct-shipping ore" rich enough to go direct to a refinery. Sulfur and iron could be recovered and sold, NOT DUMPED. Tailings and processing water would be off-site.

2. THE HAUL ROAD WOULD THEN GO FROM MINE TO RAILHEAD. 595 LOOKS LIKE ANOTHER HOAX.

3. HOW MANY YEARS OF ACTIVITY ARE PLANNED? Six to eight years is what they tell us - but please tell us in all honesty and transparency how much ore and how many years of activity are really anticipated.

4. HOW MANY YEARS COULD THE MILL BE OPERATED AS PLANNED BEFORE "DEEP WATER SUBMERSION" OF TAILINGS IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE?

THEN WHERE WILL THE TAILINGS GO?

5. WAS THE REQUIRED ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STUDY COMPLETED BEFORE THE APPLICATION FOR PERMITS WAS SUBMITTED? IS IT COMPLETE TODAY?

6. OH! WELL,DOES THE PIT LEAK THROUGH NATURAL AND BLASTING FRACTURES? HOW DO YOU KNOW OR DEMONSTRATE THAT? If the pit always drained to the north then there should be no Callahan pollution to the south and east, right?

7. IS THE COUNTY DUMP APPROVED TO ACCEPT THE HUMBOLDT CLEAN-UP?

If those basic questions are not answered satisfactorily there is no point in arguing about details.

Cousin Jack

Keweenaw Now said...

Thanks for your perceptive comments, Jack.