Saturday, January 07, 2012

Letter: Urgent appeal concerning Flambeau Mine water pollution

The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC) is asking you to voice your support for a proposal by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to list an unnamed stream at the Flambeau Mine site (known as "Stream C") as "impaired" due to copper and zinc toxicity. The Flambeau Mine, owned by London-based Rio Tinto, operated near Ladysmith, Wis., from 1993 to 1997. According to company reports, the mine produced 181,000 tons of copper, 3.3 million ounces of silver and 334,000 ounces of gold.

The DNR recently released its proposed 2012 list of "impaired waters" -- a list of lakes, rivers, and streams that are too polluted to meet state water quality standards intended to protect public health and aquatic life. On the list is Stream C, which flows over the southeast corner of the Flambeau Mine site, close to where the ore crusher was located and other mining-related activities took place in the mid-1990s. Toxic levels of copper were discovered in the stream shortly after the mine’s closure, and the pollution continues to this day. The part of the Flambeau Mine site where Stream C is located has not been released from state reclamation requirements.

Water quality data collected by both Flambeau Mining Company (FMC -- the Rio Tinto subsidiary that operated the Flambeau Mine) and the DNR since the early 2000s show that Stream C consistently has had levels of copper (and sometimes zinc) over the concentrations established by the DNR to protect surface waters from "acute toxicity."

Stream C flows in the vicinity of the mine’s former rail spur and across a portion of the mine site that, to date, has failed to be certified by the DNR as being successfully reclaimed by FMC. From there the stream meanders through a wooded area and eventually discharges into the nearby Flambeau River. Stream C is known to receive runoff from areas where mining wastes were stored in the past and where toxic discharges continue to this day. A DNR-designated "reference stream" does not show toxic levels of copper or zinc. Nor do two additional small streams being monitored in the area.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council and Center for Biological Diversity filed a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against Flambeau Mining Company for its toxic discharges of metals, including copper, iron, and zinc, into Stream C and the Flambeau River; the litigation is ongoing.

In addition, because of the consistently toxic levels of copper (and sometimes zinc) that have been documented in Stream C over the past decade, WRPC petitioned the DNR in late 2010 to consider classifying Stream C as "impaired." The inclusion of Stream C on the Department’s proposed 2012 list of "impaired waters" shows that the DNR listened to us. But it is not a done deal.

We expect Flambeau Mining Company to actively lobby the DNR to take this stream off the impaired waters list proposed by the Department (see press release from FMC -- link can be found below) -- there is a public comment period now underway.

WRPC is appealing to Wisconsin mining activists to submit written comments to the DNR in support of the Department’s proposal to list Stream C as impaired for copper and zinc and to ask that the DNR require Flambeau Mining Company to clean up its mess.

Public comments are due by February 20, 2012, and can be sent via email or regular mail to:

Email: dnrimpairedwaters@wisconsin.gov or AaronM.Larson@wisconsin.gov

Mail: Aaron Larson
Wisconsin DNR
Water Evaluation Section – WT/3
101 S. Webster St.
PO Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707-7921

For more information, please go to:

1. DNR’s impaired waters webpage: http://dnr.wi.gov/org/water/wm/wqs/303d/
When the page pops up, do the following:
-Click on Search 2012 Current, Proposed, and Restored Impaired Waters
-Next you will be asked to "Enter Water Name or WBIC." Enter the following: "Stream C, trib to Flambeau River" and click "Search"

2. Another listing on DNR’s impaired waters webpage:
http://dnr.wi.gov/org/water/condition/impaired/comment.htm
When the page pops up, do either or both of the following:
-Click on 2012 Impaired Waters List (Stream C is listed as "Unnamed" on the Excel spreadsheet)
-Or click on View a summary of the data submitted to see detailed information on Stream C

3. Flambeau Mining Company’s press release from 12/11/2011:
http://www.thewheelerreport.com/releases/December11/1220/1220flambeau.pdf

4. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article about the proposed impaired waters list, including a paragraph about Flambeau and Stream C: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/135968848.html

5. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel front-page article from November 2011 about Flambeau Mine pollution:
http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/tests-find-toxins-at-flambeau-mine-133051073.html

6. WRPC website: www.wrpc.net
-For information on our lawsuit, click on the "Flambeau Mine Lawsuit" tab at the top of the home page. To specifically access the "Notice Letter" filed by WRPC in federal court (which includes data for the polluted discharge to Stream C), click on the third document listed under "Official Correspondence."

Thank You!
Al Gedicks and Laura Gauger

Editor's Note: Keweenaw Now first learned about the Kennecott / Flambeau Mining Company's pollution of Stream C from Laura (Furtman) Gauger's presentation at Protect the Earth 2009. See our Aug. 5, 2009, article, "Protect the Earth 2009: Part 1."

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