Friday, June 28, 2013

60-Day Notice to Sue EPA for regulatory failure at Eagle Mine

By Michele Bourdieu, with information from Save the Wild U.P. 

MARQUETTE -- On Monday, June 24, 2013, Jeffery Loman, a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member, and Save the Wild U.P., a grassroots environmental group based in Marquette, filed a 60-day Notice to Sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violations of the Clean Water Act at the Eagle Mine near Big Bay, Michigan.

View of the Salmon Trout River. Rio Tinto is drilling toward an ore body of copper and nickel located under this trout stream. Citizens concerned about potential groundwater and surface water contamination question the permits given to Rio Tinto for the Eagle Mine near Big Bay. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

According to Loman, a former federal regulator with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in Alaska, the EPA failed to require a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for treated mine water discharges at Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine. In 2010 Rio Tinto told the EPA that the discharges from the revised treated water filtration system were not below the surface of the ground. The State of Michigan issued a groundwater permit while acknowledging that these discharges would actually flow into the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River.

Both Loman and Alexandra Thebert, executive director of Save the Wild U.P. agreed that "the decision to file the notice to sue was done after great circumspection and careful review of what is occurring at the Eagle Mine."

"We seek to correct what is nothing short of a regulatory fiasco at the Eagle Mine," said Thebert. "This is just the first step in a multifaceted plan to do that in full measure -- we are also calling for a federal investigation of the relationship between State of Michigan regulators and the mining industry."

Jeffery Loman also asked questions about Rio Tinto's treated mine water discharges during Rio Tinto's May 15, 2013, Community Forum in L'Anse. At that time, Kristen Mariuzza, Rio Tinto Eagle Project environmental and permitting manager, explained the company's position on their groundwater discharge permit.*

On June 8, 2013, members of Save the Wild U.P., KBIC, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay and other local residents rallied outside a "state" warehouse near the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Upper Peninsula office parking lot in Gwinn, calling for a corruption investigation related to activities of an unusual "non-profit" corporation, the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association (NMGRA), based in Marquette County. When NMGRA was established in 2008, its Board of Directors featured Rio Tinto and Bitterroot Resources mining executives alongside DEQ and DNR officials. State officials say they have since withdrawn from NMGRA.**

Loman and Save the Wild U.P., however, continue to question the legality of some parts of the permitting process for the Eagle Mine.

"In order to protect our communities and environment, we must ensure that regulations are followed," said Margaret Comfort, Save the Wild U.P. president. "Rio Tinto -- and other mining companies -- cannot operate outside the law."

The 60-Day Notice to Sue was sent by certified mail Monday, June 24 at 2 p.m. EST. The notice went to the Acting Administrator of the EPA in Washington D.C., the EPA Region 5 Administrator in Chicago, the U.S. Attorney General, the Governor of Michigan, and Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine President Adam Burley.***

Editor's Notes:

* Click here to see our video clip with Loman's questions on NMGRA and on groundwater discharge at Eagle Mine.

See also questions about Rio Tinto's discharges to groundwater which some observers still believe to be unanswered in our Aug. 4, 2012, article about the water treatment plant at Eagle Mine: "Updated: Keweenaw Now tours Rio Tinto Eagle Mine water treatment plant."

** See our June 18, article, "Citizens demand federal investigation of collusion between state regulators and mining industry."

*** In an article posted yesterday, June 27, 2013, in the Marquette Mining Journal, "City wants changes in Eagle Mine permit," concerning the City of Marquette's concerns about Rio Tinto's haul route through city streets, Rio Tinto spokesman Dan Blondeau was quoted as saying any permits the company has received will remain with the Eagle Mine when the pending sale of the mine to the Toronto-based Lundin Mining Corporation is complete.

The article states, "The Eagle Mine is a stand-alone legal entity and the mining operations are permitted to Eagle, which Rio Tinto currently owns. When the pending deal is completed, full ownership of the mine will shift to Lundin, but the permits will remain with Eagle. No transfer will be necessary, according to Blondeau."

Click here to read the Mining Journal article.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Opinion: Nearly half of wolf depredations attributed to one farm with poor animal husbandry practices

By Nancy Warren, Great Lakes Regional Director
National Wolfwatcher Coalition 


Photo of wolf courtesy WolfWatcher.org. Reprinted with permission.

EWEN, Mich. -- According to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) records, for the period 2010-2012, 48 percent of wolf depredations occurred on one farm. This farm, the
Koski farm, is located in Wolf Management Unit B where DNR has proposed 19 wolves be taken through a hunting season. The primary objective given by DNR for this unit is to reduce the number of chronic livestock depredations.

The justification states, "Despite the extensive management responses in this area, livestock depredations have continued."

Over time, we have argued that many of the problems at the Koski farm were due to poor animal husbandry practices.

Most recently, in our comments to the NRC (Natural Resources Commission) dated June 13, 2013, we stated, "Wolf Management Units -- We have repeatedly asked for the data to support the need for a wolf hunting season. Specifically, how many verified wolf complaints have been received since lethal measures were taken to  remove  problem wolves?  One producer, with a history of poor animal husbandry practices and nearly 50 percent of all depredations should not be used as justification for a hunting season."

According to a Feb. 4, 2013, DNR report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, in an attempt to reduce depredations through non-lethal means, DNR provided Mr. Koski with three donkeys at a cost of $1650. Two of those donkeys died while in Mr. Koski’s care. The third donkey, removed Feb. 1, 2013, was in very poor body condition.

The report states, "This animal was very weak and likely dehydrated since there is no water provided to the livestock."

In addition, the report notes there is a $882 vet bill for the trimming of hooves. Mr. Koski was also provided $1315.73 of fencing material, which is now gone.

The Detroit Free Press in its May 19, 2013, edition published an article with the headline, "MI UP: War over wolves: U.P. residents say hunt will control a killer."  (The article has since been taken off the Free Press website along with a photo showing a pile of carcasses under a blanket which Mr. Koski claimed were the latest casualties in his ongoing war with wolves. However, this was an unsubstantiated claim, since DNR stated it was never verified that the animals were killed by wolves.)

The Free Press article mentions Koski's wolf depredation problem but does not describe his neglect of his own animals, as reported by the DNR.

The article does say, "Government-paid sharpshooters and trappers for years have killed dozens of the wolves who’ve taken a liking to Koski’s cattle."

The article also quotes John Vucetich, Michigan Tech associate professor of wildlife ecology and co-director of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study, as follows: "'It’s dubious to say we’re going to take a county or a portion of a county and we’re going to remove 10, 20, 30 wolves and resolve a livestock depredation issue,' [Vucetich] said. 'These wolves are territorial, and they are going to keep other wolves away. They are like the landlords. The thing you can hope for is to train the wolves not to harm livestock in the area. But if you are shooting these wolves, the pack gets disrupted, the wolves get dispersed, and other wolves come in. There’s a good chance you can make things worse.'"

The Bodies of Dead Animals Act, Public Act 239 of 1982, as amended, establishes guidelines for the proper disposal of dead animals, to protect human, animal and environmental health.

It states, "In general, all dead animals must be disposed of within 24 hours after death."

Although the DNR report is dated Feb. 4, 2013, it is apparent the problem with dead animals was continuing when the reporter visited the Koski farm in mid-May.

Editor's Notes:

 Click here to read the minutes of the May 9, 2013, meeting of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC). The meeting includes extensive comments from the public (many opposed to the wolf hunt) and the NRC discussion and approval of the proposed wolf hunting season. The public comments include the testimony from Roger LaBine, chairman of the conservation committee of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, who, according to the Free Press article, "traveled nearly seven hours to the Natural Resources Commission’s May 9 meeting in Roscommon, urging the commission not to approve a wolf hunt just before they did."

Nancy Warren, author of this article, also reports that the Natural Resources Commission (NRC), at their June meeting, reviewed Wildlife Conservation Order 13, which designates the wolf a game animal, and Wildlife Order 14, which outlines the rules and regulations for a wolf hunt. The NRC will vote on these two Orders at their July 11, 2013, meeting. To implement the law (in this case, PA 21), DNR needs to create a Wildlife Order giving their recommendations. Click here for Wildlife Order 14.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Levin, Kirk introduce bipartisan legislation to protect the Great Lakes; Levin comments on June 26 Supreme Court rulings

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sen. Carl Levin was one of a group of Great Lakes senators who today introduced bipartisan legislation to authorize a comprehensive array of programs to protect the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act (GLEEPA) would address invasive species, speed cleanup of contaminated sediments, protect fragile Great Lakes habitat and improve water quality for the more than 40 million people who get their drinking water from the Great Lakes.

The lead sponsors of the bill are Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force. Additional sponsors are Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.; Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

"The Great Lakes are essential to the health, safety and economic prospects of millions of people in Michigan and the entire region," Sen. Levin said. "But toxic contamination, invasive species such as Asian carp, fouled coastlines and compromised habitats present an enormous challenge that requires sustained, coordinated effective action -- action our legislation is designed to spur."

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill, joined Democratic senators sponsoring the bill.

"Protecting the Great Lakes means preventing the spread of invasive species, the dumping of harmful pollutants, and ensuring they remain a clean source of drinking water for 30 million Americans," said Sen. Kirk. "The Great Lakes economy supports over 1.5 million jobs, and I am proud to join Senator Levin in introducing this bill to improve the quality of the Great Lakes for future generations." *

Levin and Kirk introduced similar legislation in 2012.

GLEEPA would do the following:
  • Formally authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a multi-agency effort President Obama initiated in 2009 to focus on the most pressing challenges to the lakes, including invasive species, toxic contamination and run-off pollution;
  • Reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy Act program, which supports removal of contaminated sediments at more than 30 sites; and the Great Lakes Program Office of the Environmental Protection Agency; and
  • Establish an interagency task force, supported by an advisory board, to ensure efficient coordination of federal programs, efficient use of taxpayer dollars and close coordination among local, state and federal governments in the United States and Canada.
* Editor's Note: Recently Sen. Kirk joined Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in the Senate and Illinois U.S. Congressmen Daniel Lipinski, D-Western Springs, and Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, to introduce the Great Lakes Water Protection Act, which would end sewage dumping, a primary contributing factor to beach closures, in the Great Lakes by 2033. The Great Lakes Water Protection Act increases fines to up to $100,000 a day per violation and provides communities 20 years to upgrade their sewage treatment facilities. Currently, fines are capped at $37,500 per day.

Levin statement on today’s Supreme Court Rulings

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., made the following statement today, June 26:

"Today’s Supreme Court rulings are victories for equality and for simple human dignity. I favored repeal of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) because it falls short of its ideal of equality under the law. The Supreme Court’s recognition of that truth is in keeping with our best traditions and will give millions of Americans the legal protections to which they are fully entitled under our Constitution. I’m hopeful that our nation’s centuries-long march toward equality will continue to move forward."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Conservation District purchase adds Point Isabelle, Bete Grise wetlands, Lac La Belle shoreline to Bete Grise Preserve

Point Isabelle on the Keweenaw Peninsula, seen here from Mount Houghton, is now part of the Bete Grise Preserve and will be permanently protected in its natural state and open to the public for non-invasive recreation, research and education. On June 21, 2013, Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) closed on the purchase of 181.5 acres and 9100 Lake Superior shore feet (1.7 miles) at Point Isabelle. (Photos © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

HOUGHTON -- The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) has announced the final closing, on June 21, 2013, in a group of Keweenaw Peninsula land acquisitions that will double the size of their Bete Grise Preserve.

The combined land acquisitions include the following:
  • Protection for approximately 1800 acres of dune-swale and other primarily wetland habitat types
  • 9100 feet (1.7 miles) of Lake Superior shoreline
  • 3500 + feet of shoreline on Lac La Belle effectively protecting all of the slough frontage and providing a new kayak/canoe access site on the south side of Lac La Belle
  • A Roadside Park that was previously on private land and approximately 2.5 miles of natural beauty along the Gay-Lac La Belle Road
"This project protects a rich mosaic of coastal wetland habitats, Lake Superior shoreline and 3500 feet of formerly private Lac La Belle sloughs for thousands of native and migratory, aquatic and terrestrial species," said Gina Nicholas, HKCD Board of Directors chairperson. "It also provides current and future generations with permanent access to beaches, fishing, kayaking and canoe waters, roadside parks, berry picking spots, picnic
areas and one of the most beautiful scenic drives anywhere."

This photo of the shoreline on Lac La Belle -- part of Bete Grise Wetlands -- was taken from a kayak.

As part of the Bete Grise Preserve, this land is permanently protected in its natural state and open to the public for non-invasive recreation, research and education, Nicholas explained. HKCD will be working with partners to update the management plan for the expanded Bete Grise Preserve in the coming months, and a formal dedication will be held in 2014.

HKCD closed on Pt. Isabelle (181.5 acres and 9100 Lake Superior shore feet) on Friday, June 21, 2013, and on Bete Grise Wetlands (1493 acres and 3,500+ shore feet on Lac La Belle) on December 19, 2012. They also bought 120 acres from Michigan Technological University on May 17, 2013.

Present at Copper Range Abstract and Title Agency for the June 21, 2013, closing on Point Isabelle are, from left, Amanda Messner, Copper Range Abstract and Title Agency; Jim Tercha, attorney for HKCD; Trina Anderson, AFC (American Forestry Consultants) and representative for the seller, GMO; Sue Haralson, HKCD Administrator; Gina Nicholas, HKCD chairperson; and Kyle Messner of Copper Range Abstract and Title Agency.

This project was supported by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Coastal Zone Management Program, through Michigan's Office of the Great Lakes.

Funding for the project came from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (NOAA/CELCP) -- a grant awarded in 2010. This project would not have been possible without the generous support provided by the J.A. Woollam Foundation and The Nature Conservancy.

"Significant in-kind service was provided by HKCD and Jim Tercha as well as  great guidance from Matt Warner, DEQ Coastal Zone Grant Administrator, and Liz Mountz, NOAA/CELCP Grant Administrator," Nicholas noted. "Many, many other  individuals and organizations contributed to the success of this project and HKCD sends our gratitude out to each of you."

At the closing for Bete Grise Wetlands Dec.19, 2012, are, from left, Gene Arntsen, the seller; Amanda Messner, Copper Range Abstract and Title Agency; and Jim Tercha, attorney for HKCD.

Together, these acquisitions provide significant advances toward the locally-driven initiative to protect the larger coastal wetland complex (more than 8000 acres) known as the Bete Grise Wetlands.*

This 2010 map shows the Bete Grise Coastal Wetlands Complex near Lac La Belle. Point Isabelle is in the center of the map, with Bete Grise Bay just above it. Click on map for larger version. (Keweenaw Now file map courtesy Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District.)

These wetlands contain a broad variety of habitats, hosting remarkable numbers and diversity of plant and animal species. The area is known to contain a rare type of wetland called a patterned fen. Wildlife species calling this area home include bald and golden eagles, sandhill cranes, moose, wolves and black bears.

This photo shows the interior of Bete Grise Wetlands looking toward Lac La Belle with Mt. Houghton in the background.

The Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program provides grant funds to assist in the development of vibrant and resilient coastal communities through the protection and restoration of Michigan's sensitive coastal resources and biologically diverse ecosystems. The goal of the program is to promote wise management of the cultural and natural resources within Michigan's coastal boundary by fostering environmental stewardship, furthering research to support science-based policies and regulations, and providing excellent customer service.

Funding for the program is provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through a state and federal partnership established under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972.

This photo shows a view from the south end of the new property, looking back toward Pt. Isabelle.

The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD), organized over 61 years ago, is a local unit of state government and part of the Michigan Department of Agriculture. In 1994, the Conservation District Law was made part of The Compiled Environmental Code. It is now Part 93 of Act 451 of 1994, as amended. HKCD's mission is to advise and assist the people of Houghton and Keweenaw counties to wisely manage and use our natural resources through education, information, technical assistance and land stewardship.

* Editor's Note: For background on these acquisitions see our Feb. 25, 2010, article, "Sen. Levin announces conservation funding for new Bete Grise Wetland area."