Monday, August 28, 2017

DEQ issues proposed decision to grant Eagle East amendment to Eagle Mine Part 632 permit despite public opposition

By Michele Bourdieu

Kathleen Heideman of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's Mining Action Group asks questions about the proposed permit amendment for mining Eagle East during the June 8, 2017, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) public meeting at the Westwood High School auditorium in Ishpeming. Since that meeting, after receiving public comments up to July 20, 2017, the DEQ has announced a proposed decision to grant Lundin Mining Co. the amendment to Eagle Mine's Part 632 mining permit. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

MARQUETTE, LANSING -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced on Aug. 17, 2017, that it is issuing a proposed decision to grant a request submitted by Eagle Mine LLC (Eagle) to amend their mining permit for Eagle Mine (MP 01 2007) in order to complete the decline needed to access and to mine the Eagle East mineral resource located about a mile from the Eagle Mine (an underground copper and nickel mine) in Michigamme Township, Marquette County, Michigan.*

This announcement follows a public meeting held on June 8, 2017, during which the public was invited to ask questions and make comments on the Eagle East Amendment application. Following that meeting, the public comment period was extended to July 20, 2017. Since then the DEQ still has not posted responses to public comments.

Kathleen Heideman of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's (UPEC's) Mining Action Group, who asked many questions during the June 8 hearing, reacted strongly to the proposed decision announcement.

"Outrageous! The DEQ's proposed decision to approve the Eagle East permit amendment defies common sense, and is an insult to 'public participation,'" Heideman said when she learned of the proposed decision this past week. "The DEQ's 'preliminary decision' document is dated 8-17-17 yet there has been no stakeholder notification -- no notice provided to the Upper Peninsula Environmental Stakeholders Group which regularly meets with the DEQ to discuss mining concerns, and no announcement sent to those of us who submitted written comments on the Eagle East proposal."

This aerial photo shows the Eagle Mine in the background and an area in the foreground without trees but "planted" with drill rigs and a new sand pit in preparation for mining the Eagle East mineral resource, which is about 3,000 feet below the surface. According to the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's Mining Action Group, Commercial Forest (CFR) lands in the Eagle East area are posted with signs warning "NO HUNTING" (men at work). This appears to be a violation of the CFR program, in which taxes are drastically reduced on CFR-enrolled lands in return for environmental stewardship of a renewable timber resource and public access is allowed for hunting and fishing. (May 2017 photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

The announcement of the proposed decision states as follows:

"The DEQ has conducted a detailed and comprehensive review of the Eagle East Amendment Request and supplemental information submitted by Eagle, reviewed the current mining permit conditions and Environmental Impact Assessment as they relate to the request, and reviewed and considered public comments that DEQ has received thus far. Based on the information available, the DEQ has determined that the application meets the requirements for approval under Part 632, and that the terms and conditions set forth in mining permit MP 01 2007 are valid and applicable to the development of Eagle East, with the following provisions:

1.    Cost estimates for reclamation activities associated with mining Eagle East shall be included in the updated financial assurance calculation scheduled for 2018.
2.    Upon final approval of the amendment request, the reference to 'ore body' in mining permit MP 01 2007 shall include both Eagle and the Eagle East mineral resource."*

The Mining Action Group (MAG) met the July 20 deadline for comments, sending the DEQ a 28-page document with extensive comments on the Eagle East application. In their introduction, MAG states that, since June 2016, Lundin Mining Co. "has been fast-tracking the development of an underground ramp and tunnel system intended to connect their (permitted) Eagle Mine orebody and surface facility with the as yet unpermitted 'Eagle East orebody.'"**

MAG points out that the company began construction in July 2016 without designating Eagle East as an ore body, thus acting as if it didn't need a permit or permit modifications.

In his presentation on Eagle East at the June 8 DEQ public meeting, Joe Maki, DEQ geologist and mining specialist in the Upper Peninsula Division of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, who is in charge of the Part 632 mining permit, stated the DEQ was reviewing the amendment application, which DEQ received in March 2017, just as if it were a new permit application:

Joe Maki, Michigan DEQ geologist, presents an introduction to Eagle Mine's application for an amendment to their Part 632 mining permit for Eagle East, a new mining project near the Eagle Mine, during the June 8, 2017, public meeting on Eagle East. Upper Peninsula DEQ officials Steve Casey and Melanie Humphrey are also present at the hearing to answer questions and take comments from the audience. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Maki told Keweenaw Now on Aug. 24, 2017, that he believes the public has not understood the process of reviewing this amendment application and he hopes to clear up their "confusion" in his responses to the public comments.

"We're still working on those (responses). We are going to respond to the comments we've received so far," Maki said. "It seems like people didn't understand the process."

The DEQ will soon post an announcement for a public hearing on the proposed decision and a 28-day public comment period to follow the hearing. Part 632 requires the DEQ to issue a final decision on the request within 28 days following the close of the written public comment period. However, the final decision date may be extended if the DEQ requires additional information from Eagle based on questions raised by public comment. 

Maki said he plans to complete the responses to the previous public comments received by July 20 and post those responses on the DEQ Web site before the coming hearing.

In their detailed comments, MAG points out past failures of the DEQ to protect the environment (e.g., in the Flint water crisis) and the public's concerns about Eagle East's potential environmental impacts not covered in the proposed amendment.

"How many additional ore bodies could be connected to the existing Eagle Mine facility?" MAG asks. "How many times can the Part 632 mining permit be revised? Why does Part 632 fail to clearly define a 'mine' as the facility created to 'define' and extract a single ore deposit? Part 632 says nothing about connecting multiple ore deposits, or using one portal indefinitely, via amendment."**

During the June 8 DEQ public meeting, Jeffery Loman, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) and a former federal regulator in Alaska, asked a similar question on multiple projects and questioned Lundin's financial responsibility assurances.

During the June 8, 2017, public meeting on the Eagle East mining amendment, Jeffery Loman, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) asks DEQ officials about Eagle's financial assurances, further ore deposits and the tentative 2023 mine closure date.

In the introduction to their comments, MAG states the reasons for their objections to the amendment:

"Beyond the issues of the company fast-tracking an unpermitted Eagle East, and state and federal regulators' apparent lack of concern with this cart-before-the-horse problem, our comments address the assertion that Eagle East is merely an expansion of Eagle Mine, which will not affect 'cumulative environmental impacts' and as such its operation can be handled by the existing infrastructure of Eagle Mine. So goes the argument that the built-in capacity of Eagle Mine, whether it be electrical, waste rock storage, underground ventilation, dewatering, and related issues, has already anticipated the demands of a new mine such as Eagle East, and that the proposed Eagle East amendment represents a collection of minor changes. We disagree.

"In our comments we question whether the differences between the two mine sites have been adequately considered, whether the environment is adequately protected, whether the law governing sulfide mining (Part 632) is being properly interpreted and enforced by state regulators, and whether some of the original, persistent concerns about the Eagle Mine continue to go unaddressed, despite their direct implications for this amendment request."**

Air Quality concerns

During the June 8 meeting, MAG's Kathleen Heideman asked several questions about air quality:

During the DEQ's June 8 public meeting on the Eagle East mining permit amendment application, Kathleen Heideman of the Mining Action Group asks questions about air quality -- why Eagle is not applying for an air quality permit. Joe Maki, DEQ geologist, replies, noting he will communicate with the DEQ's Air Quality Division (AQD).

In MAG's comments on air emission controls, they challenge the company's claim that they do not need to apply for a modified Clean Air Act permit for Eagle East, noting that particulate matter (pm) emissions from blasting for the Eagle East tunnel will create a greater amount of waste rock than that created by the Eagle Mine. MAG states further that Eagle East has higher grades of nickel and copper than Eagle -- and other metals of concern.

"It is not clear that air emissions will be 'unchanged' as Eagle Mine staff told the AQD (Air Quality Division) -- and there is no monitoring regime in place to verify Lundin’s claim," MAG states.**

Backfill and water issues

Representing the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) at the June 8 meeting on Eagle East, geologist Chuck Brumleve cited the tribe's concerns about "tight backfill," migration of groundwater to the surface, and the need for more monitoring wells:

During the June 8 DEQ meeting, geologist Chuck Brumleve brings up several concerns of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

Brumleve noted concerns about reactive waste rock that can pose a danger if mine water migrates to the surface after closure of the mine. He also pointed out that the amendment indicates Eagle and Eagle East are all one mine under one permit, which indicates that concerns about the Eagle Mine, including the Crown Pillar (rock stability issues) and financial assurances, are relevant to Eagle East.

Brumleve also reminded the DEQ of the Native Americans' philosophy of taking care of resources for future generations. He said he finds that many people judge these mining projects on financial profits or how nice they look -- not on how they will affect the next generation.

"We seem to be determined to leave no resources for the next generations," he said.

Rock Stability

While references to Eagle Mine's Crown Pillar, or rock ceiling, (which, according to experts, could collapse if, as Eagle Mine has requested, more ore is removed from the very highest levels of the Eagle Mine) and a recent "Fall of Ground" (or underground collapse) incident were included in Joe Maki's presentation, he and Steve Casey, DEQ Upper Peninsula district coordinator and meeting moderator, postponed questions on them until the end of the meeting, discouraging speakers from relating them to Eagle East.

One of those who was silenced when he attempted to comment on the Crown Pillar was Horst Schmidt, president of UPEC.

"It appears Mr. Casey is now dictating what speakers can and cannot say during hearings, such as this one," Schmidt commented after the meeting. "They are now more and more pro forma events to meet the requirements of the regulations. Form over substance. Unfortunately an archaic legal doctrine still remains in force that says the area below the surface belongs to the state and can be mined against the owner's wishes. The governor's policy explicitly states the DEQ and mining companies are partners.  Hardly what one expects from an agency allegedly looking after the public's interest. What was OK when Michigan became a state with 60,000 residents doesn't work when almost 10 million people are dependent on clean air, water and land."

In their comments to DEQ, MAG calls the DEQ staff's avoidance of questions on rock stability during the June 8 meeting a First Amendment issue: "Maki quickly announced that this significant Eagle Mine issue -- rock stability -- was not pertinent to the Eagle Mine permit amendment under consideration. During the public participation portion of the Public Meeting, individuals who tried asking questions about geological stability were told to stop talking (DEQ: "let me stop you right there, we’re not here to discuss that issue"). In doing so, the DEQ failed to respect the First Amendment rights of all who wished to speak during the Public Meeting. At the same time, the DEQ patiently entertained numerous nontechnical statements made about jobs, although 'Social Benefit' is not analyzed in the permit review process. It does a disservice to concerned citizens if the public is not educated by DEQ concerning the technical details and potential environmental impacts of a proposed permit amendment."***

MAG also notes in their comments a joint letter sent with Freshwater Future and signed by several environmental stakeholders to the DEQ and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette concerning the need for transparency in the case of the August 2016 "Fall of Ground" incident, which the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), called "substantial," designating it a "large block failure."

During the June 8 meeting, Nathan Frischkorn, a student at Northern Michigan University, read a letter from Jack Parker -- retired mining engineer, geologist and specialist in rock mechanics -- who predicted in 2010 that Eagle Mine would collapse:

Nathan Frischkorn, a student at Northern Michigan University, reads a letter from rock mechanics specialist Jack Parker, who expresses strong opposition to the Eagle Mine and Eagle East.****

Jobs vs. Environmental Impacts

Among the defenders of Eagle Mine and Eagle East at the June 8 meeting was Alex Kofsky of Accelerate U.P., who praised Eagle Mine for creating jobs. Sara Culver, an opponent of the mine, brings up the subject of cleanup and Superfund sites:

During the June 8, 2017, public meeting on a DEQ permit amendment for Eagle East, Alex Kofsky of Accelerate U.P. says he is supportive of the permit because of job creation by Eagle Mine in the Marquette, MI, area. Sara Culver expresses her concern about pollution and cleanup.

Joe Derocha, Marquette County Commissioner and former Humboldt Township supervisor, spoke about his positive experiences with Eagle Mine and their cleanup of the Humboldt Mill site. He added his concern about the Great Lakes and the importance of holding the company and the DEQ to environmental standards.

Marquette County Commissioner Joe Derocha speaks in favor of Eagle Mine's record during the June 8 DEQ meeting. He mentions jobs and tax revenue benefiting the county in addition to Eagle's support of local schools, including improvements to the Westwood High School auditorium.

David Allen, UPEC vice president -- silenced when he attempted to state concerns about Eagle Mine's Crown Pillar (which, he noted, is under the Salmon Trout River) -- spoke at the meeting about several environmental issues. John Koski of the Champion Planning Commission stated his approval of the Humboldt Mill and asked for more information on the future of these mining projects.

David Allen, UPEC vice president, comments on water issues during the June 8 DEQ meeting. John Koski of the Champion Planning Commission states support for the Eagle Mine's Humboldt Mill, located near Champion, and asks for geological information.

Carla Champagne of Big Bay stated why she believes the application should be for a new mining permit, not an amendment to Eagle Mine's Part 632 permit. Tony Retaskie, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council, stated his support for the Eagle East amendment application because of job opportunities for construction workers:

Carla Champagne of Big Bay cites several environmental concerns about Eagle East, concluding that it is a new mine needing a new permit, not an amendment. Tony Retaskie, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council, commends Eagle Mine for their responsible practices and expresses support for the Eagle East amendment application.

Chauncey Moran, riverkeeper for the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, gave several reasons why Eagle Mine and Eagle East are two different ore bodies and two different ecological sites that should not be covered by only one permit and an amendment. He challenged the DEQ to adhere to the meaning of the Part 632 mining permit given to Eagle Mine -- one mine for one ore body with particular characteristics. Moran also reminded the DEQ that the Eagle Mine permit allowed the mine portal to be drilled under Eagle Rock, a sacred site for the Anishinaabe people.

During the June 8 public meeting, Chauncey Moran, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve riverkeeper, questions adding the proposed amendment for Eagle East to the Eagle Mine's Part 632 permit. 

MAG's 28-page comment document also cites technical information to substantiate their concerns about rock stability and subsidence monitoring, remediation (including flooding of the Eagle Mine) and limestone amendment of waste rock, the need for uranium monitoring, acid rock drainage, air emission controls, light and noise pollution, and power requirements.

MAG concludes the amendment application for Eagle East lacks a complete analysis of the project's cumulative environmental impacts and does not meet the requirements of Part 632.

Notes:

* Click here to access a link to the DEQ announcement of the proposed decision. Click here to access the amendment application.

** Click here for the comments on the Eagle East permit amendment that UPEC's Mining Action Group submitted to DEQ on July 20, 2017.

*** See the Mining Action Group's May 25, 2017 article, "Eagle Mine Buries Underground Collapse."

**** See our Dec. 6, 2010, article, "Mining expert Jack Parker says Eagle Mine likely to collapse."

1 comment:

cousin jack said...

Thankyou Michele:

You are the bravest of the bunch of protestors - regardless ! Please publish at least that comment because it is unquestionably valid. I accept the responsibility for what follows here, alone if need be.

The remaining protesters fail because they have fallen into the slimey trap set ten years ago by the criminal activities of Kennecott, fronted by conmen Cherry and Donohue, ably assisted by collaborators Fitch and Casey at MDEQ and by the present Governor and the present state Attorney General - who, incidentally, created a new Public Integrity Unit, pledging:

"TO UNCOVER AND PROSECUTE CRIMES AT ALL LEVELS OF STATE AND GOVERNMENT."

HA! He overlooked this one. The Application for permits to mine was and still is clearly not acceptable. It is clearly dishonest and felonious - as defined by Part 632. What say you Mr.Schuette?

Anybody doubting my words can try to obtain an original copy of the Application and start at the beginning and see how far he/she can read before finding errors/mistakes which were accepted by Kennecott, Rio Tinto, MDNR, MDEQ, MSHA - and all of their experts and helpers, even proof-readers. Then, if not sickened, go on to check into the technical content and highlight the mistakes - some of them life-threatening,

I note with dismay that some of the mistakes show up again in the plans for future mining layouts. Please pay attention to the one-liner comment by an experienced mining engineer at the site of the unreported fall of 400-500 tons of roofrock in August of 2016. That comment stands out above the rest. Note too that the required stability report to MDEQ did not mention the fall. That should tell you something special about administration.

I conclude at this point that MDEQ must retire from public service and retract all mining permits, past and pending, pleading incompetence on their part.

Example: A mine is ventilated by forcing fresh air into one or more openings - the decline at Eagle. Normally motor traffic would be minimized, so as to keep the air clean, but the plan was for haul trucks, diesels, to roar up and down the 12% grade habitually. Then the air is split to deliver "fresh air" to the many working places. It is then redirected thru dedicated "return" airways to an exhaust shaft, in this case 600ft and vertical.

Not too bad so far - but the plan goes on to use that shaft as the escape way in case of fire. OK BOYS - CLIMB THE LADDERS UP THE INSIDE OF THAT CHIMNEY!

That, dear readers, illustrates the degree of expertise which went into the application, and was accepted by all who passed judgement on its quality.

Our three mining experts recommended that it be returned to sender as unacceptable, immediately.

The fact that it was accepted and promoted illustrates the quality of the administration, and later by all of the mining authorities in the last ten years.

Lord help us!

Jack Parker. Mining Engineer/Geologist
Baltic MI

Resume is on line. Compare that with the mine promoters'.