Monday, March 17, 2014

Citizens encouraged to attend March 18 Permit Workshop, March 25 MDEQ Hearing on Eagle Mine Groundwater Discharge Permit

By Michele Bourdieu, with information from Save the Wild U.P. and Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality

MARQUETTE -- Local grassroots organization Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) will hold a Permit Workshop with a panel including former federal oil regulator Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Geologist Chuck Brumleve, and attorney Michelle Halley to educate concerned citizens about the problems with the proposed Groundwater Discharge Permit for the Eagle Mine project. The panel presentation will begin at 6 p.m. TOMORROW, Tuesday, March 18, in the lower level, classroom 3, of the Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

Poster announcing March 18 Permit Workshop in the proposed Groundwater Discharge Permit for the Eagle Mine. The workshop is intended to help concerned citizens prepare for the March 25 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality hearing on the permit. (Poster courtesy Save the Wild U.P.)

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) will hold a Public Hearing regarding a proposed Groundwater Discharge Permit for the Lundin Eagle Mine at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25, at the Westwood High School, 300 South Westwood Drive, Ishpeming. The MDEQ will begin by answering questions regarding the draft permit. During the public hearing, which will follow the question period, MDEQ officials will take comments from the public but will not respond during the hearing. In order to accommodate as many speakers as possible, oral presentations / comments are limited to five minutes.*

Citizens are urged to attend the March 25 MDEQ Public Hearing to raise questions and provide comments to the MDEQ on the proposed permit. The March 18 panel, sponsored by Save the Wild U.P., is intended to provide information to prepare citizens for the hearing.

Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president, said, "It’s a matter of public record that this proposed permit would exponentially increase the pollutants, compared with Rio Tinto’s own 2004 reported baseline data. In some cases, it would allow groundwater contamination to exceed the EPA’s legal limits for drinking water. Clearly, groundwater quality will be undermined by this permit."

According to data from the Community Environmental Monitoring Program, a joint venture of the Superior Watershed Partnership and Lundin Mining (previously Rio Tinto), the Eagle Mine has exceeded its permits over 40 times since the previous 2007 groundwater discharge permit was issued.

Attorney Michelle Halley, who has worked extensively on Eagle Mine issues, said, "This permit allows water that people drink to be polluted. MDEQ is making the same mistakes over and over. If you're relying on MDEQ or Lundin Mining to keep our drinking water as clean as it has always been, don't."

During a presentation on the National Wildlife Federation report, "Sulfide Mining Regulation in the Great Lakes Region: A Comparative Analysis of Regulation in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario," in Ashland, Wis., in March 2012, Michelle Halley points out the first loophole in the Clean Water Act, which allows mines to dump untreated waste into waters of the U.S. by impounding rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands. (File photo by Keweenaw Now)

According to Halley's analysis of the permit for Freshwater Future, this permit's exceedances include pH, arsenic, copper, lead, molybdenum, silver, and vanadium.

"MDEQ has taken no enforcement action," Halley writes in her analysis. "In fact, the mine has exceeded its vanadium limit more than 20 times. Instead of enforcing the limit, in this renewal permit, MDEQ is easing the limit. This is completely backwards. The MDEQ’s role is regulator, not conciliator. The limits were set, supposedly based upon sound science, as MDEQ strenuously argued during the months-long contested case that encompassed the current groundwater discharge permit. Now, rather than protecting water quality, the draft simply increases the limits to industry’s preferred levels."

Steve Casey, MDEQ Upper Peninsula District Supervisor, Water Resources Division, told Keweenaw Now in February that he believes Halley's concerns can be appropriately addressed.

"These exceedences are not attributable to the Eagle Mine groundwater discharge," Casey said. "67 percent were before Eagle started discharging; 26 percent occurred after they started but were in the historical ranges for those wells; and the other 7 percent were copper and lead from a well that was disturbed during construction but is now compliant."

In her analysis, Halley also notes that "the scope of monitoring and compliance is far too small to assess impacts to the aquifer that inevitably extend beyond the postage stamp this permit purports to regulate."

Casey's replied to that comment, saying, "The right place to monitor the groundwater is close to the discharge so that if there is a problem we can find out quickly and take corrective action."

Casey admitted Halley's comment on the outdated contour map in the permit was justified.

"We mistakenly attached the old contour map to the new draft permit," Casey said. "Eagle submitted an updated contour map with their application for this permit re-issuance.  Some have said the new contour map is hard to read. We will get a clearer version of the updated contour map and put it on our website and attach it to the permit when it is finalized."

Both the old and the new map show that the water flows to the northeast, towards the Salmon Trout River, he added.

In her analysis of the permit, Halley also points out the following:

"MDEQ continues to refuse to regulate, as required by the Clean Water Act, the surface water discharge at the seeps (aka springs), where the water regulated by this permit indisputably expresses to surface water. The draft permit, in Part III, No. 1 on p. 22 states:

'Discharge to the Surface Waters

'This permit does not authorize any discharge to the surface waters. The permittee is responsible for obtaining any permits required by federal or state laws or local ordinances.'"

This photo shows how groundwater flows into springs, or "seeps" (considered surface water) that eventually flow into the Salmon Trout River. Some volunteers from the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community have been sampling these springs for several years. They note that the springs have a measurable physical flow in gpm (gallons per minute) that can be seen as running water, carrying audible sounds. Click on photo for larger version. (Photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye. Reprinted with permission.)

In her analysis of the permit, Halley expresses her concern that state regulators have not required the Eagle project to apply for a federal permit for discharge to surface waters.

"Michigan has been delegated by the United States the authority to regulate surface water discharges via the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)," Halley writes. "Its failure to do so is egregious."**

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community members have also commented on this draft Groundwater Discharge Permit.

"The MDEQ's proposed revised Groundwater Discharge Permit is inconsistent with federal law, fails to protect the Yellow Dog Watershed -- and the process for issuing this revised permit violates both state and federal administrative procedures act requirements," said former federal offshore oil regulator and KBIC tribal member Jeffery Loman. "I intend to hold the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accountable for these failures as they are the trustee for treaty-protected tribal resources threatened by this reckless regulatory fiasco."***

Jessica Koski, KBIC mining technical assistant, told Keweenaw Now she believes the present draft Groundwater Discharge Permit is actually less protective in many ways than the original permit that KBIC and coalition partners challenged in 2007.

"Reporting requirements largely 'report' only on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis with no maximum daily limits specified," Koski said. "Such lax reporting requirements are unacceptable when discharges will enter the aquifer at a rate of 504,000 gallons per day. How may the company ever be found in violation of discharge limits if there are no numeric permit limits for many constituents? Sounds pretty convenient for the permit holder, in this case a Canadian mining company with no previous mining experience in the United States."

Koski also questioned the wastewater treatment technologies being used at Eagle Mine.

"Michigan's first permitted sulfide mine in the Lake Superior watershed is an experiment in that the company is using an untested combination of wastewater treatment technologies, which, while reasonably successful at treating water individually, may prove difficult and unreliable given its complexity -- especially if the company underestimates the maximum amount of inflow into the treatment system and/or if the influent water is more contaminated than predicted once mining begins," Koski notes. "Uncertainty and risk are further heightened in the current era of climate change, in which our region is expected to experience more frequent and intense rain events that will challenge existing mine infrastructure."

This Reverse Osmosis system in the Eagle Mine Water Treatment Plant removes ions from water that has already gone through previous purification steps. (Keweenaw Now file photo © and courtesy Rio Tinto)

Casey said KBIC has submitted good comments on how MDEQ can do a better job on the allowable operating range for the (reverse osmosis) wastewater treatment plant.

"The allowable operating range should be set in a way that we're more sure that copper and other contaminants won't be above the limits in the permit," Casey explained.

The permit already has a requirement that Eagle stop discharging immediately if the water quality falls outside the allowable operating range.

"They'd have to stop the groundwater discharge right away, even if it meant that they'd have to stop the mining," Casey added.

Dan Blondeau, Eagle Mine advisor in communications and media relations, said in February, "Since issuance of Eagle’s original GWDP (Groundwater Discharge Permit) we’ve collected additional groundwater data. Thus, the permit parameters were adjusted to align with the natural conditions of the water reflected in the data. This does not change the quality of Eagle’s treated water. Our water treatment plant has performed exceptionally and continues to treat water to better than drinking water quality standards."****

The comment period for the draft Groundwater Discharge Permit now extends to April 1, 2014. Written comments can be sent to the following address: Department of Environmental Quality, Water Resources Division, Permits Section, P.O. Box 30458, Lansing, Michigan 48909.

MDEQ officials have been reviewing comments. After the comment period ends they will summarize their responses to comments in writing, Casey said.

*Click here to access the proposed permit, public notice, and application. These documents are also available at the Water Resources Division's Upper Peninsula District Office located at 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, Michigan 49855. Telephone: 906-228-4853.

**Click here for Michelle Halley's analysis of the permit as posted on Save the Wild U.P.'s Web site.

*** Click here for our May 2013 video clip with Jeffery Loman's questions on groundwater and surface water during a Rio Tinto Community Forum in L'Anse. See especially the second part of the video.

**** UPDATE:  Lundin Mining Company has posted "Water Questions" explaining the Eagle Mine Groundwater Discharge Permit from their point of view.

1 comment:

dan blondeau said...

Mrs. Halley's comments are erroneous and misleading. Eagle continues to protect the groundwater and environment. Eagle's groundwater discharge parameters meet surface water quality and drinking water quality standards. Thank you, Dan Blondeau