This photo shows the location of infrastructure and buildings that were used in the old White Pine mining operation. The smelter and process plant (mill) no longer exist. The refinery, at left, is presently owned by Traxys. A new water treatment plant would need to be constructed for potential new mining operations planned by Highland Copper Co. (Keweenaw Now file photo)
MARQUETTE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Division (AQD) will hold a Public Hearing Regarding White Pine Copper Refinery, Inc., in White Pine, Ontonagon County, (SRN: N7396) for the draft renewal of a Renewable Operating Permit (ROP) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Apr. 13, in the Ontonagon Area School Cafeteria, 701 Parker Ave., Ontonagon. The ROP is for the operation of a copper refining process.
[CORRECTION: The address was previously listed incorrectly by the DEQ and our announcement as 701 Park Ave. We have corrected it to 701 Parker Ave. above.]
The White Pine Copper Refinery (WCPR) is located at 29784 Willow Road, White Pine, in Ontonagon, Mich., six miles south of Lake Superior. According to a staff report dated Jan. 23, 2017, "The AQD (DEQ Air Quality Division) proposes to approve this ROP. A final decision on the ROP will not be made until the public and affected states have had an opportunity to comment on the AQD’s proposed action and draft permit. In addition, the USEPA is allowed up to 45 days to review the draft ROP and related material. The AQD is not required to accept recommendations that are not based on applicable requirements. The delegated decision maker for the AQD is Janis Ransom, Acting Upper Peninsula District Supervisor. The final determination for ROP approval/disapproval will be based on the contents of the ROP Application, a judgment that the stationary source will be able to comply with applicable emission limits and other terms and conditions, and resolution of any objections by the USEPA."*
The staff report also summarizes the history of the facility thus: "The Copper Range Company began operating an underground copper mine in the 1950's in White Pine, Michigan. The WPCR was constructed in 1982. The refinery process used electrochemical dissolution of impure copper anodes in an acid electrolyte bath and electroplating of pure copper ions onto stainless steel cathodes. Auxiliary processes were operated to control the amount of copper ions in the refining electrolyte and to remove by-product impurities in the copper anodes. The mine was shut down by the Copper Range Company in 1996. In January of 1998, BHP Copper White Pine Refinery Inc. purchased all of the equipment associated with the mine's copper refining processes including the boilerhouse and electrical generators. In 2004, the White Pine Copper Refinery, Inc. transferred ownership/control of the Power Complex to White Pine Electric Power, LLC. In 2011, the Traxys Power Group purchased the White Pine Copper Refinery."*
In the past the White Pine Copper Refinery was used to remove impurities from copper that had been smelted. The White Pine smelter no longer exists. (See photo above.) However the refinery has been called "state of the art" by Highland Copper. According to Steve Casey, DEQ Water Resources Division district coordinator for the Upper Peninsula, the copper produced from the refinery was 99.999 percent copper.
Horst Schmidt, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) president, encourages the public to attend this hearing.
"With the possibility of a new mine on the west side of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (Highland Copper's Copperwood Mine), it is important that citizens make their voices heard," Schmidt said. "The only reason the company is keeping the building and renewing its permit is the hope that Highland Copper Co. will buy it for their proposed mining activities on the west side of the state park, adding to possible mining activities in the vicinity of the old White Pine mine and around Gratiot Lake in the Keweenaw. The environmental degradation from mining in the last two centuries still is not cleaned up. We are threatened with the loss of cleanup funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by the current regime in Washington."**
Concerned citizens who wish to participate in carpooling to the hearing on Thursday (either needing a ride or offering to drive) are asked to email Horst Schmidt at email@example.com.
* Click here for the Jan. 23, 2017, staff report for more details. Click here for the Jan. 23, 2017, Draft ROP.
** See our (updated) April 7, 2017, article on Highland Copper 's recent exploratory drilling in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, "State, county officials address citizens' concerns about erosion from Highland Copper mining exploration along CR 519 in Porkies." For background on Highland Copper's potential mining projects in the U.P., see our July 1, 2014, article, "Highland Copper finalizes purchase of Copperwood mining project, hopes to process ore at White Pine."