Thursday, October 19, 2017

UPDATED: Deadline for comments on Eagle East amendment to Eagle Mine permit is Oct. 23; citizens voice concerns at MDEQ public hearing

By Michele Bourdieu
Editor's UPDATE:  On Oct. 23, 2017, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's (UPEC's) Mining Action Group (MAG) sent new comments to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) requesting a 90-day extension to the comment period on Lundin Mining Company's Eagle East Part 632 amendment application for the Eagle Mine Part 632 mining permit. Basing their request on a recent announcement by the company, MAG states, "During a recent presentation in Marquette, addressing the Eagle East project and Eagle Mine, Lundin Mining's President Paul Conibear stated that the company's 'key objective here is to lengthen the life of mines (...) right now the overall life of mine for Eagle Mine is eight years, and our objective is to extend that as long as we can and be here for two decades if we can.'"

MAG notes this extension of the life of the mine is significant and requires a new comment period for several reasons. In their introduction, MAG states, "In light of the new information from Lundin, Eagle East's direct impacts, indirect effects and cumulative effects must be reconsidered. Additional extraction from the Eagle orebody could cause significant degradations of natural resources, including but not limited to: depositional (air pollution) impacts, groundwater impacts from wastewater discharges, additional loss of wetland functions due to extended years of groundwater drawdown, expanding industrialization of public lands, greater impacts to known endangered species habitat (including Kirtland's Warbler breeding sites), delayed remediation, and would necessitate significant changes to the location and/or method of mine tailings disposal, since the Humboldt Mill's Humboldt Pit Tailings Disposal Facility will already be filled by the waste stream created by the current permit amendment."

MAG's new comments reply in detail to the MDEQ's Comment and Response document mentioned in our article below.** At the time of posting our article, Keweenaw Now was not aware of MAG's most recent comments. Click here for MAG's Oct. 23, 2017, comment document.


During his presentation preceding the Sept. 25, 2017, public hearing on Lundin Mining Company's application for an amendment to the Eagle Mine Part 632 permit in order to mine Eagle East, Joe Maki, geology specialist for the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Oil, Gas and Minerals Division (Upper Peninsula office) addresses some public comments on Eagle East received before the hearing. Moderating the hearing, at left, is Steve Casey, Upper Peninsula district coordinator for MDEQ's Water Resources Division. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated.)

ISHPEMING, MARQUETTE --  The deadline for public comments on Lundin Mining Company's March 21, 2017, application for an amendment to the Eagle Mine's Part 632 mining permit -- in order to mine an extension called Eagle East -- is 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. Several concerned citizens have spoken out against the proposed amendment -- in both written comments to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and spoken comments at the June 8, 2017, informational meeting and the more recent public hearing held on Sept. 25, 2017, at Westwood High School in Ishpeming.*

At the Sept. 25 public hearing, most of those opposed to the project said they believe Lundin should apply for a new Part 632 Mining Permit for Eagle East instead of just an amendment to Eagle Mine's permit. DEQ officials claimed they have been reviewing the amendment application (which they determined "significant" on Apr. 19, 2017) following the same process they would follow for a new permit application. A mining expert representing the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) expressed several concerns about safety and offered reasons why both projects should be under one permit because potential problems at Eagle Mine could affect Eagle East.

Joe Maki, geology specialist in MDEQ Oil Gas and Minerals Division (Upper Peninsula office), began the hearing with a brief presentation on the Eagle East amendment application, the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), and DEQ responses to frequent public comments so far.

In his summary of the application, Maki noted the following:

  • Eagle East access ramp is approximately 1.2 miles from Eagle Mine
  • Eagle East ore body is approximately 3000 feet below the surface
  • Underground mining method
  • No additional surface facilities
  • Cemented backfill will be employed.
This diagram from the application for Eagle East illustrates the connection between the Eagle Mine (upper left) and Eagle East (lower right) ore bodies. Both projects will share the surface facilities already in place for Eagle Mine. (Image courtesy Lundin Mining Co. and Michigan DEQ)

In his summary of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) for Eagle East, Maki noted these points:
  • Ongoing studies are presented in Eagle Mine annual report.
  • Since no new surface features will be built for Eagle East, the flora and fauna baseline and the surface hydrology baseline are still valid.
  • Updated studies in the EIA include new information on geology, hydrogeology, geochemistry, rock mechanics and cumulative impacts.
Maki noted the importance of the "tight backfill" for the stability of the crown pillar of the mine (the crown pillar is the rock in the roof over the mined out areas). He spoke about the crown pillar for both the Eagle Mine and Eagle East in addressing several concerns about subsidence stated in public comments:

Joe Maki replies to a comment on the 2016 Permit Condition E8, which includes a plan to collect additional data to confirm crown pillar stability. Click on YouTube icon for larger screen. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Maki also addressed concerns about a 2016 accident at the Eagle Mine, termed a "fall of ground":

Joe Maki addresses public concerns about the "fall of ground" with a summary of DEQ inquiries that finally determined proper mining procedures were followed and the accident was a minor safety issue.

A 12-page summary of public comments received before Sept. 25, 2017, and MDEQ's responses to them was provided to persons attending the hearing. It is also available on the MDEQ's Web site.**

Despite Maki's assurances, other public comments call for independent investigation into the stability of the Eagle Mine before the amendment for Eagle East is granted.***

On July 6, 2017, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's (UPEC's) Mining Action Group (MAG), along with Freshwater Future, expressed their concerns about mine stability in a letter to Hal Fitch, director of the MDEQ Oil, Gas and Minerals Division, and Michigan Attorney General Schuette following an investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which called the "fall of ground" event "substantial," designating it a "large block failure."

In the letter the two groups state the following: "Our greatest concern is that Eagle Mine, as designed, is at substantial risk of hydraulic or structural failure. As MSHA’s investigation concludes, 'it must be assumed that similar discontinuities could be encountered, any time.' Furthermore, extracting ore from the highest levels of the mine, as authorized by the MDEQ under permit condition E8, will diminish the strength of the crown pillar -- the undisturbed rock mass that is left between the active mine workings and the surface. If Eagle Mine experiences a catastrophic underground collapse due to unmapped faults -- or failure of the crown pillar -- water from the overhead Salmon Trout River or wetlands could flood the mine and cause acid rock drainage on a large scale. This water flows directly to Lake Superior."

One of MDEQ's written responses to a comment on the need for subsidence monitors states, "While subsidence is not predicted to be measurable at the surface as a result of utilizing the approved mining method for mining Eagle and Eagle East, the MDEQ will require that Lundin Mining continue subsidence monitoring at Eagle and expand the surface monitoring to Eagle East."****

During an informal question-answer period preceding the official part of the hearing, Maki replied to some specific questions from the audience.

Botanist Steve Garske asked about a rare plant he had observed in the area of the mine site:

Botanist Steve Garske questions the validity of the flora baseline mentioned in the EIA because of a rare plant he believes has not been included.

Charlotte Loonsfoot of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) asked about the timing of the baseline data and the use of waste rock:

In response to Charlotte Loonsfoot's question on baseline data, Joe Maki notes the types of new data included in the amendment application that were not included in the original Eagle Mine Part 632 permit. (See third item under EIA summary above.) However, he does not give any examples of the data.

Loonsfoot spoke again later, during the official hearing, asking MDEQ officials to respect treaty rights and her tribe's concerns about the water.

Following the question-answer period, Hal Fitch, right, director of the MDEQ Oil, Gas and Minerals Division in Lansing, joins Steve Casey at the table for the formal hearing. The hearing rules require that persons wishing to make comments state their concerns. Questions are not answered during the hearing.

During the hearing, another member of KBIC, Jeffery Loman, who has experience as a federal regulator, commented on his and his tribe's concerns:

Jeffery Loman of KBIC reminds MDEQ officials that rock from Eagle East will be added to the Humboldt Pit -- an increase in sulfides, which can affect water quality. He notes that both the Department of the Interior and the State of Michigan have a trust responsibility to protect natural resources within tribal ceded territory.

Speaking on behalf of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's (UPEC's) Mining Action Group (MAG), UPEC president Horst Schmidt notes a series of public comments on the Eagle East mining project proposed amendment and challenges MDEQ's responses.

In this excerpt, UPEC president Horst Schmidt cites several public comments reported in MDEQ's comment / response document and asks further questions from the Mining Action Group to clarify the responses on such issues as financial responsibility, the access tunnel begun without a permit, potential impacts on infrastructure from the extended life of the mine, hauling times and noise pollution, highest-grade ores, and backfilling with sand and gravel.*****

UPEC's Mining Action Group submitted extensive comments on Eagle East on July 20, 2017. Keweenaw Now referred to several of these comments in our Aug. 28, 2017, article.*

During the hearing Chuck Brumleve, mining specialist for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, noted the tribe's concerns about safety assurances, measures to protect water quality in the future, financial assurances, and reasons why Eagle East should be part of the same, but improved, mining permit for Eagle Mine since problems with Eagle Mine could affect Eagle East:

Chuck Brumleve, mining specialist for KBIC, summarizes some of the main points in the tribe's official comments to MDEQ on the Eagle East amendment application. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

In KBIC's official comments sent to MDEQ on July 20, 2017, they remind state officials that, as Brumleve explained, it is logical to include Eagle East in the Part 632 mining permit for the Eagle Mine rather than seek a separate permit since Eagle East will share most of the infrastructure of the Eagle Mine; therefore, issues with the Eagle Mine should be included in the permitting process for Eagle East -- not off the table.

This map from the Eagle East application shows the location of the yellow Eagle Mine ore body (Eagle Main) on the left, the Eagle Mine infrastructure in the gray area in the center (to be shared with Eagle East) and the Eagle East project on the right. Click on image for larger version. (Image courtesy Lundin Mining Co. and Michigan DEQ)

Kristen Mariuzza, Lundin's new general manager of Eagle Mine, also attended the hearing. She told Keweenaw Now that the reason for including Eagle East in the Part 632 permit for Eagle Mine is based on the fact that the surface facilities are the same -- with no new construction on the surface.

"If we apply for a new permit it's the same process," Mariuzza said.******

KBIC's written comments emphasize that the need for safety considerations affects both Eagle Mine (Eagle Main) and Eagle East: "Examples of one mine -- if problems arise in the Eagle Main decline, like an LHD (Load Haul Dump vehicle) hydraulic line splits, sprays and the LHD catches fire, this would affect all of Eagle East since all access for Eagle East relies on the Eagle Main decline. If collapse of ground in the Eagle Main open stopes causes an air blast, this destructive air wave would affect Eagle East workers since the two mining areas are connected by two large open declines. If the Eagle Main crown pillar rock mass under the Salmon Trout River dilates and starts to transmit a significant amount of water flow through the crown pillar, the increased inflow would affect Eagle East workings or operations. Another example is that mine egress in an underground emergency can only proceed through Eagle Main since Eagle East is a total dead-end."

Concerning the emergency egress for miners, KBIC notes, "Without any shafts or raises from surface to the Eagle East production area, the only way out in the case of fire, collapse or other disruptions are the declines. A burning haul truck or LHD loader could quickly render the declines inaccessible or impassable."

KBIC also states, "Because the depth of the Eagle East ore body is much deeper than Eagle, there is an increased amount of overburden rock pressure acting down on the mined-out void created by the Eagle East operations."

They also question the "tight backfill" methods mentioned above by Joe Maki, not only because the cemented backfill is low-strength and may consolidate but also because of the lack of safe access if miners were expected to work in the last open spaces at the top of the stopes in either Eagle Main or Eagle East.

While expressing admiration for Brumleve's presentation at the hearing, Chauncey Moran of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve disagreed on KBIC's preference for one permit to include Eagle East. Moran stated his belief that, for several reasons, a separate permit is needed for Eagle East. Moran also addressed Hal Fitch directly by reading a letter to him, reminding Fitch that he, Moran, had participated in the 2004 and 2005 committee meetings with stakeholders -- meetings that led to the legislation that became the Part 632 Nonferrous Metallic mining law.

Chauncey Moran reads a letter to Hal Fitch during the hearing. He speaks of his participation in the committee of selected stakeholders who offered input at meetings that led to the Part 632 mining law and explains why he thinks Eagle East should have a separate permit, not just an amendment.

Following the hearing, Keweenaw Now asked Hal Fitch for his reactions to the comments presented.

"I think we heard a lot of sincere concern about the protection of the environment and our natural resources, and I think that people know that's what we're about," Fitch said. "We can only enforce the laws that are on the books though."

Fitch noted also that comments that provide concrete information -- such as science-based facts rather than opinions -- are more helpful to MDEQ in the permitting process. He said the permit application team also includes staff from the Department of Natural Resources (e.g. Fisheries and Wildlife sections) and the State Archaeologist.

"We can't operate in a vacuum," Fitch added. "We have to recognize that our society needs resources such as metals. So our job is to make sure that if those resources are to be developed it needs to be done in a protective manner."

To comment on the Eagle East amendment application, send or deliver written comments to DEQ Eagle East Permit Amendment, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, MI 49855, or email comments to DEQ-Mining-Comments@michigan.gov, including "Eagle East Proposed Decision" as the subject. Comments must be received by 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, 2017.

Notes:

* For background, see our Aug. 28, 2017, article, "DEQ issues proposed decision to grant Eagle East amendment to Eagle Mine Part 632 permit despite public opposition."

** To access this 12-page document with MDEQ's responses to comments from the June 8, 2017, public meeting, click here and find the link under Eagle East Permit Amendment. This page also has links to other documents, including Lundin's Response to DEQ's July 31 questions.

*** See especially Comment and Response No. 8, pp. 2-3 in above-mentioned document.

**** See Comment and Response No. 2, p. 1 in above-mentioned document.

***** See Comments and Responses 1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11 in above-mentioned document.

****** According to an article in Upper Michigan Source, Kristen Mariuzza previously worked as health, safety, environment and permitting manager at Eagle Mine.

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