Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Petitioners appeal court decision allowing Eagle Mine to move forward

Information from Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, posted Dec. 12, 2011 on Yellowdogwatershed.org

MARQUETTE -- A coalition of groups is seeking to appeal a court decision that has allowed Rio Tinto - Kennecott's Eagle Mine to proceed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula -- despite the threat the mine poses to water quality, the Great Lakes and one of the region’s last spawning grounds for the coaster brook trout.

This aerial photo shows the Yellow Dog River, which flows just two miles from the Eagle Mine site. The ore body for copper and nickel sought by Rio Tinto - Kennecott lies under another trout stream, the Salmon Trout River, nearby. "The mine site, in a sense, straddles the watershed divide between the Salmon Trout River and Yellow Dog River (two of the finest trout streams in Michigan) about 5 miles from Lake Superior as the crow flies," writes Jeff Knoop of Negaunee, who took this aerial photo. (Photo © and courtesy Jeff Knoop)

The Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, National Wildlife Federation and Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve filed the motion with the Michigan Court of Appeals on Dec. 12, 2011. The groups are opposing the mine on the grounds that it poses unacceptable risks to water and air quality -- and that it could collapse, endangering workers and the river it is underneath.*

"This mine is the first to be permitted under Michigan’s new mining law, and we must ensure that the law’s protections of human health and the environment are honored and applied," said Michelle Halley, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. "So far, they have not been and that is why we are seeking leave to appeal. Many more mines are in the queue and this is a precedent-setting case."

The groups are appealing a decision by the Ingham County Circuit Court that allowed international mining company Rio Tinto to start mining activities on Eagle Rock -- a site considered sacred to Native Americans.

"It is very important to the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community to protect Eagle Rock as a sacred place," said Chris Swartz, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community president, "and we are hopeful that this appeal will result in the Court of Appeals reversing the decisions of the circuit court."

The Eagle Mine site covers about 120 acres of public land leased from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The wooded outcrop in the foreground is Eagle Rock, considered to be a Native American sacred site. Kennecott Eagle Minerals fenced off the site in the summer of 2010 after Native and non-Native opponents of the mine had camped peacefully at the Rock for a month until being driven off by the company and police. In September, 2011, the company began drilling the portal to the mine under Eagle Rock. This aerial photo was taken just prior to the start of that drilling. (Photo © and courtesy Jeff Knoop)

The type of mine being proposed -- in which nickel and copper deposits are extracted from sulfide ores -- poses severe risks to the environment. One byproduct of so-called "hard rock" or "sulfide ore" mining is sulfuric acid, which has proven deadly to rivers, streams and wildlife in other parts of the country. Rio Tinto, the company overseeing the project, has broken Clean Water Act laws dozens of times in mines they have controlled in other states.**

Now, the Michigan Court of Appeals will decide whether to take the case. There is no date by which the court must make its decision.

"We will continue to put forth our concentrated efforts to ensure that this area remains unharmed and protected for everyone’s enjoyment, not just for special interests," said Emily Whittaker, executive director of Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.

Editor's Notes:
* See our Dec. 6, 2010, article "Mining expert Jack Parker says Eagle Mine likely to collapse." Parker, a semi-retired mining engineer / geologist and specialist in rock mechanics, participated as a witness during the 2008 contested case on the Eagle Mine. Parker recently commented on the news of this motion to appeal, still insisting, more than three years later, on the danger that the Eagle Mine could collapse and on the illegality of the DEQ permits: "In June of 2011 two private citizens, one of them JP (Jack Parker), the writer, appealed to the Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette, to honor his pledge 'To uncover and prosecute crime at all levels of state and local government' by investigating our claim that in 2006 the MDEQ did accept the Kennecott application for permits despite their hired mining expert’s report that the conclusions in the application, in particular relating to the stability of the crown pillar, (the roof of the mine) were not considered to be defensible. In plain English that means 'were not supported by fact.' Invalid," Parker said. "But MDEQ ignored all expert opinions, accepted the document, and issued permits on demand."

** Read about water pollution from Rio Tinto - Kennecott's Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, Wis., in the July 29, 2011, article by Laura Gauger, "Flambeau Mine Update: A new proposal from Kennecott, but still 'Just Grass Over a Grave.'" See also the Nov. 1, 2011, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online article "Tests find toxins at Flambeau mine."

Also, click here to read about air pollution in Utah from Rio Tinto - Kennecott's Bingham Canyon open-pit copper mine.

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