By Jessica Koski*
Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula is experiencing a modern-day mineral rush.
Current and projected mining projects in the Upper Peninsula include, labeled at top, from left, Orvana Copperwood Project, White Pine Mine, Kennecott Eagle Mine, Humboldt Mill (for Eagle Mine processing), Empire and Tilden Mines; and, south of these, the Back Forty Project. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission)
Kennecott Haul Road
A mining haul road, under the guise of "County Road 595" (CR595), is currently proposed by the Marquette County Road Commission and under review by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). This route, intended primarily to haul sulfide-bearing nickel/copper ore directly from the Eagle Mine to Humboldt Mill, was formerly proposed by Kennecott (a subsidiary of Rio Tinto) as "Woodland Road." However, it received strong criticism from federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due to its significant environmental impacts and purpose as a private mining related haul road.
The newly stated purpose of CR595 is "to connect and improve emergency, commercial, industrial, and recreational access to a somewhat isolated, but key industrial, commercial and recreation area and to reduce truck travel from this area through Marquette County population centers."** Kennecott stated that it partnered with the road commission to prepare the CR595 application and that it has committed funds for CR595 if construction begins according to their scheduled mine production at Eagle in 2013.***
What would be the impacts of this road? Mining haul roads are commonly found to be sources of contamination. Located on lands in which the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) has reserved Treaty Rights, the road would directly impact about 25 acres of wetlands; disrupt wildlife, aquatic life and habitat; introduce pollutants (including chemical contamination, metal loading, diesel truck exhaust and fugitive dust,) and invasive species; affect historic properties that may still remain in the Silver Lake basin area; and facilitate industry expansion of additional mining and land-use alteration.
Want to get involved? The complete CR595 application is available online at the DEQ website. A public hearing on this proposed road will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Country Village Banquet and Conference Center, 1011 North Road, in Ishpeming. Written public comments will be accepted until Friday, March 2, 2012, and can be mailed to: DEQ, 420 5th Street, Gwinn, MI 49841. ****
Orvana Copperwood Project
The mine permit review process for the proposed Copperwood Mine by Orvana Resources US Corp. (a subsidiary of Toronto-based Orvana Resources), is moving very quickly. On Feb. 17, 2012, the DEQ issued a proposed decision to permit this project, with conditions. A public hearing is stated to occur on March 6, 2012. After the public comment period, the DEQ will then make a final determination on whether or not to permit the project. For current updates and documents related to this project, click here.
The January 2012 issue of Wiikwedong Dazhi-Ojibwe detailed some of KBIC’s key concerns with this mine proposal. These concerns include impacts to water resources and Lake Superior, and a large permanent surface disposal facility for tailings which would fill in a significant amount of streams and wetlands. The KBIC and other Tribes have reserved Treaty Rights in this area and nearby harbors of Lake Superior. Future generations of tribal members will unlikely find this proposed mine site area, among others throughout the ceded territory, safe to visit and fulfill traditional cultural practices retained in the Treaty of 1842.
Back Forty Project
The next expected mine permit application to the State of Michigan is expected soon from Aquila/HudBay for the Back Forty project, located along the Menominee River near Stephensen.
This site consists of a massive sulfide zinc-gold-copper-silver deposit. The companies propose a very large open-pit mine and the use of cyanide in order to extract the gold from the other materials. This project poses concerns related to metallic sulfide mining (Acid Mine Drainage) and impacts on the Shakey Lakes Savanna and historic Native American burial mounds and gardens.
Keweenaw Peninsula Exploration
A more recent exploration project is located within the Keweenaw Peninsula. Highland Resources, Inc., is actively pursuing an $11 million dollar exploration campaign in the Keweenaw Peninsula in the next three years. Former mines, including Kingston and Centennial, are targeted for their potential to be "re-mined"; and new sites are being explored for valuable copper-sulfide deposits (different from previous Native copper deposits previously mined). Highland Resources’ September 2011 report states that "the current political administration is mining friendly and is promoting mining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan."
Meeting with EPA
On January 26, 2012, the KBIC and Lac Vieux Desert Ojibwa Tribes, environmental groups and citizens met with U.S. EPA Region 5 Administrator, Susan Hedman, in Marquette. In a roundtable discussion format, tribal leaders and community members expressed frustrations and concerns related to mining and environmental review in Michigan. Michigan is only one of two states with delegated authority to oversee several of EPA’s programs, including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. This is especially problematic for tribal consultation requirements and protection of Treaty Rights that are a federal trust responsibility.*****
Tribes and environmental groups meet with EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman on January 26, 2012. (Photo © and courtesy Teresa Bertossi of Headwaters News. Reprinted with permission.)
* Guest writer Jessica Koski, KBIC member, will speak in an interview to be broadcast from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. TONIGHT, Sunday, Feb. 19, on Eagle Radio 105.7 FM, "Indigenous Insights." The prerecorded interview will also be streamed at http://keepitintheup.com/ Read about Jessica Koski's presentation at the 2011 Protect the Earth Gathering in our Sept. 12, 2011, article, "Updated: Protect the Earth 2011, Part 2: Jessica Koski speaks on mining exploration on KBIC reservation."
** State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Public Notice for County Road 595. January, 23, 2012.
*** Kennecott Transportation Plan.
**** Click here to read the announcement for the Feb. 21 Public Hearing on CR595. The application is available on the DEQ Web site here.
***** See Teresa Bertossi's Feb. 12 article from Headwaters News.
Upcoming Events this March:
Wednesday, March 14: Mining Impacts on Native Lands Film Series Screening of "Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area?" will take place at 12:30 p.m. at the Ojibwa Seniors Center and 6 p.m. at the Ojibwa Casino Chippewa Room. The evening showing will begin with a community potluck at 5 p.m. in the Chippewa Room in collaboration with the Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) who will introduce the launch of a Mining Education and Empowerment Project.
Friday, March 23: The Lake Superior Binational Forum is hosting a public meeting on "Mining Impacts and Lake Superior: A Basinwide Approach." It will take place from 12:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. at the AmericInn Conference Center in Ashland, WI. This event is open to the public.
The Lake Superior Binational Forum recently launched a new comprehensive web portal for mining throughout the basin, check it out at: http://www.superiorforum.org/mining
The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) has created a number of maps related to mining and exploration activities in the ceded territories, available at http://www.lic.wisc.edu/glifwc/maps/mining.html
A version of this article is expected to appear in the March 2012 KBIC Newsletter (Wiikwedong Dazhi-Ojibwe), available at http://www.kbic-nsn.gov/webpages/newsletter.html.