By Gene Champagne*
[Editor's Note: This letter was sent to the Dept. of Natural Resources as a comment on Eagle Mine's request for a metallic mineral lease from the State of Michigan for 40 acres of public land (NE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of Section 8, T50N, R29W, Michigamme Township, Marquette County) in the Escanaba River State Forest. The deadline for public comments is Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.** The letter is reprinted here with the author's permission.]
Property Analyst, Minerals Management
Department of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 30452
Lansing, MI 48909
September 23, 2015
Dear Ms. Maidlow:
I strongly urge you to deny the proposed mineral lease sought by Eagle Mine LLC for 40 acres of State-owned land (NE 1/4 of the NE1/4 of Section 8, T50N, R29W, Michigamme Township, Marquette County). Short of outright rejection of this mineral lease, I request a Public Hearing in this matter. I understand from the form letters you send out in such matters that Public Hearings are not routinely called for or done.
The DNR, as well as the DEQ, need to realize that these issues surrounding mineral leases and mining permits, in this part of the UP with this type of mineral exploration, cannot be conducted as business as usual. The issues at hand will impact an area that has historically, socially, and culturally been one of sustainability containing a wide range of public uses that will be negatively impacted far into the future just by the mere presence of exploration and mining. I understand that mineral leases in themselves do not guarantee that a mining operation will follow. I also understand that a mining permit application may not, in theory, automatically be granted. The reality however is that if minerals are economically feasible for extraction, a mining permit no matter how flawed and risky will be granted. Over-weighted and unduly influential political and financial interests will join until extraction becomes a done deal.
The parcel in question is located in an intact watershed and contains an undisturbed headwater wetland ecosystem of over 1,000 acres. Wetlands have been greatly depleted in our state due to fragmentation of land areas with negative consequences for long-term sustainability. Andersen Creek, identified as headwaters of the Yellow Dog River, flows through this land. The Yellow Dog River has been designated as a Scenic and Wild River.
This 40 acre parcel may be the only piece of land that the DNR is required to look at, but the negative impacts of a mineral lease permit to surrounding parcels is so overly intrusive as to negate the enjoyment and usefulness of the multi-faceted activities enjoyed by a broader range of the general public.
These lands are used for gathering blueberries (of which there are an abundance on this 40 acres being scrutinized), hiking, biking, camping, mental recreation that comes from solitude, and many other uses that benefit a far larger public. This 40 acre parcel lies west of the current Eagle Mine operation and thus is given relief from the noise, truck traffic, light pollution, and other incursions that have interrupted and interfered with the quality of life enjoyed by area residents, camp owners, and tourists alike. The public should not suffer further erosion of enjoyable activities on state (public) owned land for the benefit of such a few.
I have personally set foot on this 40 acre parcel. It is a place of immense beauty and solitude. I have found moss there so thick that sitting on the ground rivals the comfort experienced from sitting on the deepest most comfortable couch available. As mentioned, blueberries are in abundance. Walking along one feels as if walking on a sponge, as the area is that wet; this despite the area being 4.5 inches below average for precipitation so far this year. The southern half of the 40 acres is wet/swamp land. No drilling can be performed on these 40 acres without negatively impacting and degrading the watershed to some degree. I have witnessed the impact of exploratory drilling in the area and the weak to nonexistent oversights that accompany it.
Holding a Public Hearing on this permit request will allow the DNR to witness firsthand the passion that people of this state, and particularly the people who live closest to the affected land, have for the quality of life activities afforded by our land. Fragmentation of land and land use is what has led to the scourge of urban sprawl and diminishing of wetlands that accompanied it. This situation of allowing such an overbearing effect of other area land and activity use through fragmentation will amount to the same negative future for our children and grandchildren.
Big Bay, Michigan
* Guest author Gene Champagne is a spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Big Bay.
** See our Sept. 21, 2015, article, "Environmental, conservation groups question Eagle Mine's request to lease 40 acres of state land near Yellow Dog River headwaters."