Friday, September 02, 2011

Groups ask Judge to halt mine blasting at Eagle Rock

By Michele Bourdieu with information from Stand for the Land:

MARQUETTE -- This week a coalition of groups asked a judge to halt imminent mining activity that would desecrate a sacred Native American site and jeopardize water quality for the Great Lakes and one of the region’s last spawning grounds for the coaster brook trout.

The Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, National Wildlife Federation and Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve filed the motion on Aug. 31, 2011, with the Ingham County Circuit Court to stay Rio Tinto’s permits for the projected Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains. If granted, the stay would prohibit Rio Tinto from blasting Eagle Rock -- a sacred site that sits over this proposed nickel mine.

"My people have prayed and held ceremonies at Eagle Rock since time immemorial," said Susan LaFerniere, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council secretary. "No one should be allowed to blast it apart. I hope the judge grants this request."

LaFerniere told Keweenaw Now recently that the tribe is waiting for the judge's decision on the appeal, since that will determine their next step.

"We've always said that we're not opposed to the mine if it doesn't harm the environment -- and we're still not convinced that it will not harm the environment," she added.

Community and conservation partners have challenged the mine in court, arguing that it presents unacceptable risks to water and air quality -- and that it could collapse, endangering workers and the river it is underneath. The court challenge is currently under appeal. The motion for a stay is necessary because the mining company intends to blast into Eagle Rock on or near September 14, 2011, even though the judge, Paula Manderfield, has not issued a final ruling on the appeal.

"Without this emergency stay, Rio Tinto could begin blasting Eagle Rock before the judge has had a chance to determine whether the mine is safe," said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. "The serious questions we have about this mine need to be addressed -- and allowing the company to blast away in one of Michigan’s most pristine and important areas will only further jeopardize the region’s water quality, tourism industry, wildlife and quality of life."

Extracting nickel from the site poses extreme risks to water quality, wildlife and recreation. The metals are embedded in sulfide ores, which produce sulfuric acid when exposed to moisture and air. The resulting acid mine drainage (AMD) has devastated natural resources in other parts of the country. And the company overseeing the project -- Rio Tinto -- has broken Clean Water Act laws dozens of times in mines they have controlled in other states.

MLive.com published on Sept. 1, 2011, an Associated Press article titled "Foes make final try to stop UP nickel, copper mine," reporting the fact of the requested stay but not giving evidence to justify the word "final" in the headline.

According to Michelle Halley, National Wildlife Federation attorney and Lake Superior Project manager, the groups involved in the contested case appeal could take their case to a higher court.

"If the judge (Manderfield) rules against us we would most likely appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals and ultimately to the Michigan Supreme Court," she said.

Halley noted the hope is that Judge Manderfield will rule in favor of this stay, or injunction, before she makes the overall decision on the appeal.

Other groups and individual concerned citizens have written letters to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on the illegality of the mining permit granted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.*

*Editor's Note: Click here for the Aug. 1, 2011, article and links on Stand for the Land: "Environmental group asks Michigan A.G. to investigate allegations of fraud at DEQ."

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