By Michele Bourdieu with press release from Save the Wild U.P.
The decline tunnel for the portal to Rio Tinto's Eagle Mine descends under Eagle Rock, at left, a sacred Ojibwa site. Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal members are allowed to visit Eagle Rock, but still object to the placement of the mine portal. (Keweenaw Now file photo, August 2012)
MARQUETTE -- As Rio Tinto continues another round of community forums, local citizens voiced their skepticism at Marquette’s Rio Tinto Eagle Mine Community Forum Tuesday, May 14.
"Rio Tinto portrays this data as scientific -- but that could not be farther from the truth," said Kathleen Heideman, vice president of Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP). "Their 'data' from the last round polled less than 300 people -- hardly representative of the 76,502 residents of Marquette and Baraga counties. It's a global mining corporation's idea of democracy: first they show slides about how great they are -- then we should click to indicate our agreement. That's meaningless. It's not voting."
One category of the voting, "Leaving more wood on the woodpile," is intended to show Rio Tinto's contributions to benefit the community after they leave. SWUP President Margaret Comfort commented on one of the these.
"I am surprised to see the addition of 30 miles of power lines referred to as 'more wood on the woodpile,'" said Comfort. "Rio Tinto manipulated the public process by saying they needed 30 miles of power lines for mining exploration and then sought a small modification to their Eagle permit to bring the lines to the mine site. It might be illegal, and it’s definitely unethical. They should have had their Eagle Mine permit modified, which would have included public scrutiny to discover if the public approved of this action."*
This October 2010 photo shows power lines being run along the AAA Road leading to the Eagle Mine without a request from (Rio Tinto's) Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. (KEMC) for an amendment to their mining permit for this infrastructure. (File photo by Keweenaw Now)*
Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member and former federal oil regulator, spoke about Eagle Rock, the Ojibwa sacred site used as a portal for the mine.
"Rio Tinto touted 75 visitors to Eagle Rock as demonstration of their willingness to work with Native Nations. But we know full well that Rio Tinto placed the mine portal into Eagle Rock for one reason and one reason only: They knew that this would draw the attention away from what all Upper Peninsula residents value -- water," Loman noted. "That worked yesterday but from this day forward we will, as guided by our Great Spirits, bring the attention squarely back to the protection of our waters and everything that depends on water."
SWUP Executive Director Alexandra Thebert commented on the fact that, in early April, citing "economic headwinds," Eagle Mine announced the layoffs of 11 employees and downsized contractors by 20 per cent.
"Rio Tinto representatives announced the life of the mine has been extended to 8 years by discovering a 20 per cent increase in ore, but that’s no career for the people working in the area. The U.P. needs and deserves stable jobs to support families and send kids to college, not layoffs and short-term work," said Thebert, who recently attended Rio Tinto's Annual General Meeting (AGM) for stockholders in London, England.**
Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula’s unique cultural and natural resources.
Rio Tinto will hold their next community forum on the Eagle Mine from from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., with additional time afterwards for discussion, TONIGHT, May 15, at the L’Anse American Legion Building, 115 N. Front St., L'Anse, MI 49946.***
* Concerned Citizens of Big Bay filed a contested case petition on this electric power issue in 2011. See our Feb. 22, 2011, article, "Concerned citizens file contested case: Kennecott Eagle Mine."
** See our Apr. 20, 2013, article, "Save the Wild U.P. Director Alexandra Thebert speaks about Rio Tinto's Eagle Mine at events in London."
*** See "Rio Tinto Community Forum to be held in L'Anse May 15; videos: Sept. 2012 forum held in L'Anse."