Thursday, March 15, 2018

Three women to announce run for Houghton County Commissioner March 17

From Houghton County Democratic Party:

HOUGHTON -- Melissa Davis, Gretchen Janssen, and Dr. Sharon Stoll will announce their candidacies for Houghton County Commissioner, District 2, District 4, and District 5, respectively, at 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 17, 2018, at the Super 8 Conference Room in Houghton, Michigan. All three candidates will run as Democrats in the November 2018 election. The three candidates will be endorsed on March 17 by Scott Dianda, current Michigan State Representative for the 110th district and himself a candidate for the Michigan State Senate, and by other local office holders. This is the first time that three women have run for Houghton County Commissioner seats in the same election year.

Melissa Davis is known in the Houghton County community for her work as the Energy Manager of the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET). HEET helps residents of Houghton County address the energy issues in the Upper Peninsula and our high electric rates. Davis is also the President of New Power Tour, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to increase the use of renewable, water and energy-efficient technologies in the Copper Country. With the work done by HEET and New Power Tour, which included home winterization and connecting residents to rebates, local residential and business electricity and natural gas usages were decreased by nearly 13 percent each during a two-year period running from 2015 to 2016. For additional information, contact Melissa Davis at

Melissa will use her expertise and her commitment to the community to serve the residents of District 2, which includes Torch Lake, Schoolcraft, Osceola, Franklin, and Quincy Townships. Melissa and her husband are the parents of one son.

Gretchen Janssen has had roots in the City of Houghton since 1968. After graduating from Houghton High School, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising from Michigan State University and a Master’s in Education from Boston University. She has over 17 years of experience as a real estate professional with RE/MAX Real Estate in Houghton County and the surrounding areas.

Gretchen will apply her experience and knowledge on issues such as zoning, property taxes, and property ownership rights to the Board of Commissioners. Transparency of government is a priority for Gretchen and she welcomes the input of the constituents of District 4 in the City of Houghton on the county-wide issues that affect them.

Dr. Sharon Stoll was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula. After graduating from Northern Michigan University with a Bachelor’s in Human Physiology and Political Science, she went on to medical school at Michigan State and completed her training at the LaCrosse Mayo residency program in 2010. She has been serving the Keweenaw as a physician ever since the day she completed residency. She brings her energy and problem solving abilities, as well as an understanding of the healthcare needs of the community, to find solutions to issues confronting the residents of Houghton County, from the Houghton County Medical Care Facility to the County Jail.

Sharon is passionate about people and looks forward to serving the folks of the rugged and beautiful District 5: Chassell, Duncan, Elm River, Laird, Portage and Stanton Townships. Sharon, a mother of three, is a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and the Red Jacket Cycling Club. She has volunteered in the medical tent at many area sporting events, founded a school garden, and served as a coach with the Copper Country Soccer Association.

(Inset photos of Melissa, Gretchen and Sharon courtesy Houghton County Democratic Party.)

Houghton County Master Plan Favors TEA Party: What you can do about it

Recently, there have been changes that favor TEA party positions in the county Master Plan.

Citizens are encouraged to read the proposed plan and make verbal comments along with submitting written comments at a Planning Commission Meeting at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20, on the 5th Floor of the Houghton County Courthouse.

The plan is available to read online or download by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Letter: Will mining in the Porkies ever be "safe"?

[Editor's Note: Keweenaw Now received the following letter in February in response to our Feb. 12, 2018, article on Highland Copper's mining exploration in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, aka, the Porkies. See this featured article by clicking on the link in our right-hand column or click here. We regret the delay in posting this letter and other articles. Keweenaw Now's editor is experiencing temporary vision issues, making it difficult to post in a timely manner.]

Dear Editor,

The fact that the Mining Action Group of UPEC (Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition) was consulted before the Feb. 6 press release by the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) is good news for the public and our environment. They and Highland Copper Co. representatives went to great lengths to assure us they would be on their best behavior this year. The company will have its engineer with the drilling subcontractor; the former, we were told, has the authority to stop drilling should weather conditions lead to thawing of the ground. The DNR said it would have its personnel regularly checking that no new harm comes to the Porkies.

However, I'm left wondering whether the recent press releases from the DNR have been carefully designed to prevent future blow back against the DNR, the state agency that manages the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. When these damages were first investigated and reported, the public responded with outrage -- drilling in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness!? Everyone assumed that the Porkies were safe from mining activities -- unfortunately, that isn't true. Folks are shocked.

The Porcupine Mountains are iconic in the minds of Michigan citizens, but the DNR suggests that copper mines and wilderness areas are compatible. The message from DNR seems to be "Don't worry, the Porkies will retain a pristine surface even if Highland Copper Co. is blasting copper underneath the Park."

Is the DNR trying to convince the public that they want this mine? Mining impacts will include light pollution, mine waste, water quality concerns, vibrations, noise, dust, ore trucks, mine waste permanently stored along the shoreline of Lake Superior, and more. The Copperwood Mine would be across the road from the Porkies -- maybe literally underneath our hiking boots. Who wants that?

Horst Schmidt, President, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rozsa Gallery exhibit "Always Room for Rain" continues through March 31; reception with artists March 2

Art by Raquel Alvizures of Guatemala. (Photo courtesy Rozsa Center) 

HOUGHTON -- "Always Room for Rain," the spring exhibit at  the Rozsa Center Gallery, featuring work by artists Ross Chaney (Santa Fe, NM) and Raquel Alvizures (Guatemala), continues through March 31. A reception with both artists will be held at 5 p.m. Friday, March 2, with an artist talk at 5:30 p.m. that evening. Gallery hours are M-F 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. and Saturdays 1 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Ross Chaney (b. 1972, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA) lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Raquel Alvizures (b. 1973, Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, Guatemala) lives and works in Guatemala City, Guatemala. The exhibition of their work is curated by Lisa Gordillo, Assistant Professor, Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Michigan Tech. Gordillo was attracted to the way each artist uses color, texture, and line to express ties to their cultures and to the stories that shaped them. Gordillo also felt that the stories each artist draws from for inspiration are particularly important to share with our region.

"Their work makes a very strong pairing," she says. "It’s my hope that this exhibit will result in many good conversations."

Mr. Chaney is an accomplished visual artist, with works of art in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe, NM. His works are influenced by time in Asia and by his Asian and Native American (Osage) ancestry.

Art by Ross Chaney of Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo courtesy Rozsa Center)

The exhibit showcases his recent works on paper and canvas with Sumi ink and acrylics. The works are mostly non-objective; their free and fluid use of color and texture recall geographical maps and the policies of westward expansion through manifest destiny which influenced his circumstances growing up.

Chaney’s free and liberal use of color is reminiscent of the beadwork Ross grew up seeing on the Osage reservation in Oklahoma. The colors, often polar opposites, compete with each other creating clashes of conflict on the canvas. The heart of the artwork deals with issues and ideas about the human capacity for empathy and Ross’s belief that empathy and healthy boundaries are key to humans’ connection with society, and the world at large.

Ms. Alvizures lives and works in Guatemala City, Guatemala. She grew up in rural Mataquescuintla, in the outskirts of an agricultural town. Her geometrically abstract and patterned paintings aim to express the vibrancy and mystery of the stories of her culture.

Ms. Alvizures will use part of her time on campus to create a mural for the Rozsa Center. The public is welcome to visit with the artist between March 5 and March 9 in the North Mezzanine of the Rozsa Lobby, as she paints the mural. 

The artists’ visit is supported in part by the Michigan Tech Visiting Women and Minority Lecture Series, which is funded by a grant to the Office of Institutional Equity and Inclusion from the State of Michigan's King-Chavez-Parks Initiative. Both artists will spend time with the community during their visit.

The reception and exhibit are free and open to the public, and the show will remain open through March 31.

For more information please contact A-Space gallery director Lisa Gordillo, Assistant Professor, Visual and Performing Arts, 906-487-3096,

Friday, February 23, 2018

Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra to present "Carnival of the Animals" Feb. 24 in Rozsa Center

The Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra will present "Carnival of the Animals" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, in the Rozsa Center. (Poster courtesy Rozsa Center)

HOUGHTON -- The Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra will present "Carnival of the Animals" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, in the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts.

One of the great zoological works in the orchestral canon, "Carnival of the Animals," by Camille Saint-Saëns, includes humorous depictions of elephants, donkeys, lions, hens, roosters, tortoises, kangaroos and the famous "swan" for solo cello.

This concert also features two Russian masterworks: Dimitri Shostakovich’s "Festive Overture" and Modest Mussorgsky’s "Pictures at an Exhibition."

Tickets are $19 for adults, $6 for youth and no charge for Michigan Tech students with the Experience Tech Fee. Tickets are available online, by phone at 487-2073, in person at the Central Ticketing Office in the Student Development Complex or at the Rozsa Center Box Office the evening of the performance. The Rozsa Box Office opens two hours prior to performances.

This concert is sponsored by a gift from John and Biruta Lowther.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Peace activist Rev. Sharon Washington Risher to speak at Rozsa Feb. 21

HOUGHTON -- With the latest horrific mass shooting in Florida just last week, and the national outrage ongoing over more senseless gun violence in yet another of our schools, nothing is more relevant than a discussion with peace activist Reverend Sharon Washington Risher. Risher was catapulted into the limelight after the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015. Her beloved mother -- the church’s sexton -- Ethel Lee Lance, was killed along with eight others, including two cousins and a childhood friend. Since that horrific tragedy, Sharon has been very outspoken about the nation’s gun laws and is one of the national spokespersons for the grassroots advocacy groups Everytown and Moms Demand Gun Sense. The Rozsa Center and Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion, as a part of the Van Evera Distinguished Lecture Series and the Visiting Women and Minority Lecture/Scholar Series, have partnered to present a lecture by peace activist Sharon Washington Risher at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Rozsa Center. This lecture is free and open to all; however, tickets are required.

Audiences nationwide are saying that Reverend Risher’s talks are incredibly powerful, emotional, riveting, raw and authentic. Each of her talks covers her personal experience losing loved ones to gun violence, race, racism and hate in America, as well as the path to forgiveness and an offering of hope for tomorrow.

Tickets are available by phone at (906) 487-2073, online at, in person at the Central Ticketing Office in the Student Development Complex, or at the Rozsa Box Office the evening of the lecture. Please note the Rozsa Box Office only opens two hours prior to performances.

Inset photo: Rev. Sharon Washington Risher. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Updated: Copperwood Resources to resume winter copper exploration at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park; settlement reached with DEQ on 2017 erosion damage

This photo taken in the winter of 2017 shows Gypsy Creek downstream, east of one of Copperwood Resources' 2017 drill sites inside Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. When snow melted last spring, erosion into a wetland and ditch leading to a tributary to Gypsy Creek led to the work being halted in April. Copperwood is now resuming exploratory drilling in the park. (File photo © and courtesy Steve Garske) 

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported on Feb. 6, 2018, that it has issued a use permit to Copperwood Resources Inc. -- a subsidiary of Highland Copper -- to resume its winter exploration of a 1-mile section of the westernmost portion of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Work is being done in this part of Gogebic County to see if the eastern extension of a mineral deposit first explored in the 1950s might feasibly be mined, which would enlarge the mining company’s Copperwood Project beyond its currently permitted boundaries.

This map shows the location of test holes planned for exploration this winter. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

Drilling and testing will determine hydrologic and geologic composition of the bedrock beneath the surface. Work on these sites is scheduled to be completed over the next month and a half.

"This use permit will allow Copperwood Resources to resume work begun last winter at the park," said Doug Rich, western U.P. district supervisor for the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division. "However, this winter’s exploration will be scaled back from the mining company’s original plans."

Copperwood, Michigan DEQ reach settlement on April 2017 erosion damage

In January 2018 the DNR, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Gogebic County Road Commission reported that the DEQ and Copperwood Resources had reached a settlement addressing work-related erosion which occurred during spring break-up in April 2017, along Gogebic County Road 519 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Carlos Bertoni and Tom Repaal of Highland Copper discuss remediation efforts in August 2017. (Photo courtesy Michigan DNR)

Representatives from the DEQ and Copperwood Resources recently signed an administrative consent order, a legal settlement addressing damages without conveying admissions of violations of law, which included a $25,000 fine.

Since March 17, 2017, work had been ongoing within a 466-foot road right-of-way (233 feet on each side of the road) owned by the Gogebic County Road Commission. Work was halted April 4 after Highland Copper officials were informed of several potential erosion issues on the county property. A contract drilling company was part way into drilling their last scheduled test core hole.

Steve Casey, U.P. district coordinator for the DEQ’s Water Resources Division in Marquette, said the mining company continued test drilling operations during spring snowmelt, in and around wetlands, without first obtaining the necessary wetlands or soil erosion and sediment control permits. The resulting work damaged wetlands and resulted in a discharge of muddied water from the site.

Highland Copper maintained they didn’t anticipate the spring warm-up and didn’t know that much of the land was wetland until they received a report from their consultant, King and McGregor. This April 2, 2017, photo shows how their contractor had turned a half mile of snowmobile trail into a muddy mess. (Photo courtesy Mining Action Group)

"They made the unfortunate decision to continue drilling during snowmelt last spring, resulting in rutting in wetlands and soil erosion from their drilling site," Casey said. "Once this mistake became evident, they have been models of cooperation, restoring the relatively minor damage to wetlands and stabilizing the site against further erosion."

Had the ground been frozen and snow covered during these activities, likely there would have been no erosion or wetland disturbance and no need for wetlands and soil erosion permits, Casey explained.

Members of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s (UPEC's) Mining Action Group (MAG) -- a watchdog group monitoring mining activities in the region -- alerted the DEQ and the media to the erosion. MAG’s alarming photographs of the damage (see above) were quickly picked up by the media, and brought to the attention of the Michigan DEQ. The DEQ promptly sent staff from the Marquette office to the site on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. The company was required to suspend work that day, and soon after were issued a Violation Notice by the DEQ.*

UPDATED: The company was cited for allowing muddy runoff to reach Gypsy Creek, on the southern end of drilling site. However, much of the mud flowed north along the ditch and down the wide ravine of the Presque Isle River, where it was deposited on the floodplain of the river, within the Park (north of the drilling site), as pictured here in September 2017. (Note: We have corrected this caption, which previously identified this as a photo of Gypsy Creek. It is the floodplain of the Presque Isle River.) (Photo courtesy Mining Action Group)

Given the incident, members of the coalition said they have deep concerns about the Copperwood Project.

"Their Copperwood mine project sits on the shore of Lake Superior, and now they are taking steps towards mining under the west end of the Porkies as well, so the stakes are extremely high," Steve Garske, a UPEC board member said.

Carlos Bertoni, vice-president of exploration at Highland Copper, said the mining company is moving forward, with an assessment of the feasibility of the Copperwood Project anticipated this summer.

"Our team has learned a great deal from this incident and future work will continue to be done under strict compliance with current environmental legislation and best practices," Bertoni said. "We remain committed to developing the Copperwood Project, thus creating new economic opportunities for the western Upper Peninsula."

In April 2017, the DEQ issued an order requiring the mining company to stabilize the site and restore the wetlands.**

Copperwood Resources employed Coleman Engineering Co., an Upper Peninsula firm, and Michigan wetland specialists King and MacGregor Environmental, to work on getting short- and long-term erosion control measures in place. That work continued throughout the summer.

This Aug. 8, 2017, photo shows a catch basin in between Gogebic County Road 519 and an old snowmobile trail, where springtime erosion had occurred. The basin is intended to block water and silt from entering a nearby tributary to Gypsy Creek. With remediation efforts complete, the biodegradable holding structures were removed. This photo shows the site from the snowmobile trail, looking toward County Road 519. (Photo courtesy Michigan DNR)

"Going into winter, the site was stable. An area of the snowmobile trail near the northern boundary of the drilling area was graded to remove ruts, after it dried out in late summer," Casey said. "Vegetation in that area is not as thick as it is over the rest of the site. It will be monitored by Copperwood Resources, the DEQ and Gogebic County going forward."

Copperwood to resume exploration with three test holes in park

The mining company is expected to drill three test holes (S5-05b, S5-06 and S5-09) on DNR-managed state park land west of Gogebic County Road 519 (Section 5, T49N R45W, Wakefield Township, Gogebic County).

DEQ's Steve Casey said recently that Highland Copper has applied for a wetlands permit for work related to the exploratory drilling in the state park.

"DEQ staff is processing the application and will monitor all aspects of compliance with environmental laws if this project proceeds, including working with Gogebic County to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to control soil erosion," Casey said.

UPDATE: This map accompanies Copperwood Resources' wetland permit application. It shows Section 5 sites for 2018 winter drilling and wetland impacts. The yellow line is the state park boundary, indicating DNR surface rights. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Michigan DEQ)

The three drill sites were among 12 expected to be explored last winter when work was interrupted by warm weather after only four were completed.

DNR permit provisions to protect park surface features dictated work could only be done when the ground was frozen, preferably with at least a foot of snow cover.

"Conditions of the DNR use permit will again require several important provisions be followed to prevent or reduce surface disturbance to park lands," said John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer. "This exploration effort will not be occurring in the wilderness section of the park, but in an area where several historic impacts have occurred, including logging and a narrow-gauge railroad."

Other protective provisions include using existing roads to access sites when possible, using tracked vehicles and removing all drilling mud from work sites. The DNR will receive daily updates on the project.

Once the three sites are completed within the park, Copperwood Resources does not plan to drill the remaining five sites from its initial Section 5 exploration plan.

Additional activity outside park lands

Outside DNR-managed park lands, some additional drilling work is scheduled to be completed this winter.

Two test holes (18_03 and 18_10) will be drilled from Copperwood Resources lands located west of the park, along the border of Section 5.

The Gogebic County Road Commission recently issued a permit to allow Copperwood Resources to finish work at three sites (18_11, 18_12 and S5-13) begun last winter.

A drilling rig arrives and is set up at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in February 2017. (Photo courtesy Copperwood Resources, Inc.)

This exploration is occurring within a strip of road commission property -- a 466-foot right-of-way -- along either side of Gogebic County Road 519, which bisects Section 5.

"This winter, we will be reaching sites directly from County Road 519 to help protect sensitive areas," said Justin van der Toorn, exploration manager of Copperwood Resources Inc. "We are taking other measures, including drilling smaller diameter test holes, that will speed the exploration process."

Boring depths will range from roughly 150 feet to 1,000 feet below the surface. Test holes are immediately filled with cement once drilling cores are removed.

Darren Pionk, Gogebic County Road Commission engineer-manager, said the agency will not allow the drilling of any holes in the right-of-way without frozen ground or near the spring thaw period.

The road commission permit also requires all work, and access to sites, be conducted in upland areas with no impacts to wetlands.

Future Efforts

If Copperwood Resources eventually decides to extend the Copperwood Project, the copper deposit would be accessed from outside the park boundary, without disturbance to park surface features.

Any potential mining of the minerals would require a separate regulatory process through the DEQ. Copperwood Resources would have to amend its existing permit.

"The DNR will ensure there would be opportunity for public review and comment before any mining would occur on minerals beneath the park," Pepin said.

The mining company plans to complete its feasibility study of the project later this year.***

Editor's Notes:

* See the Mining Action Group's Sept. 8, 2017, article, "Setting the Record Straight on Highland’s Drilling in the Porkies." Note: We have corrected the caption
** See our April 7, 2017, article, "State, county officials address citizens' concerns about erosion from Highland Copper mining exploration along CR 519 in Porkies."

*** For more information on the Copperwood Project visit

Friday, February 09, 2018

Winter Carnival statue winners announced: Tau Kappa Epsilon takes overall first place

From Michigan Tech News:

Tau Kappa Epsilon's massive snow statue "Behold a Frozen Thor, Mighty God of Viking Lore" captured the overall first prize in Michigan Tech's Winter Carnival. The statue is located alongside US 41 near the University's Administration building. This was Tau Kappa Epsilon's second win over the last three years. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

By Mark Wilcox, Michigan Tech News Writer

HOUGHTON -- The winners have been announced in the Snow Statue Competition at Michigan Tech’s Winter Carnival. This year’s theme is "Myths and Tales of the Past in Our Frigid Forecast."

Judging took place early Thursday morning following Wednesday's all-nighter.

For the second time in the past three years, Tau Kappa Epsilon took first place in the month-long statue division. The winning entry, located along US-41 in front of the Administration Building, is "Behold a Frozen Thor, Mighty God of Viking Lore."

Once again this year there were three divisions in the month-long competition -- men, women and co-ed. Prizes were awarded to the top three statues in each division. The top three scores among all the statues were placed in the "Overall Month Long" section.

Second place in the overall section went to last year’s winner, Phi Kappa Tau, for "A Sword is Drawn from a Stone and a King Ascends an Icy Throne." Their entry is located in front of their house at 1209 Quincy St. in Hancock.

Phi Kappa Tau in Hancock took second place this year with their creation of Camelot -- with King Arthur and his knights of the round table, Merlin the magician, and a threatening dragon. Phi Kappa Tau has taken first place nine times in 11 years and second place to Tau Kappa Epsilon twice. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Third place overall went to Delta Sigma Phi, "βπ in its Prime Frozen Time." All three groups competed in the men's division of the month-long competition

In the women’s division, Delta Phi Epsilon took the top spot with "A Creature of Purity and Grace Caught in This Frozen Place." Second place was awarded to Delta Zeta for "Tangled in the Wind and Snow, to Houghton Rapunzel Must Go." Alpha Sigma Tau took third with their entry "Beware of the Brrr-muda Triangle."

In the co-ed division, the winner was the team of Sigma Tau Gamma and Theta Chi Epsilon for "Epic Written in Ice and Snow Showing Heroes and Dragons from Long Ago." Four Wheelers of Michigan Tech captured second place in the co-ed division with "The Myths at Tech are Commonplace, You Can Always Find a Parking Place."

In the all-nighter category, St. Albert the Great University Parish repeated as the overall all-nighter winner, followed by the Lutheran Campus Ministry-ELCA and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in third place. All three groups competed in the co-ed division.

Moose Lodge captured the top spot in the men's division followed by Sigma Kappa Upsilon Mu, with the Men's Rugby Club in third.

Phi Delta Chi was the lone entry in the women's division of the all-nighter competition.

Editor's Note: For a short video and photos of all the winners, as well as a link to Saturday's schedule of events click here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Winter Carnival set to begin with Wednesday All-Nighter

From Michigan Tech News:

Members of Phi Kappa Tau in Hancock put the finishing touches on their statue during the 2017 All-Nighter. Last year the fraternity captured the month-long competition for the ninth time in 10 years. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

By Mark Wilcox, Michigan Tech News Writer

More than 16 feet of snow has fallen in Houghton, Michigan, this winter. While that is indeed impressive, what Michigan Technological University students do with it is nothing short of magical.

Building on a tradition that began in 1922 as the "Ice Carnival," the latest rendition of Michigan Tech’s Winter Carnival shifts into high gear Wednesday with the All-Nighter carnival-like activity on the campus and elsewhere. Winter Carnival is sponsored by Blue Key National Honor Society.

This year’s theme is "Myths and Tales of the Past in our Frigid Forecast." Blue Key President Sarah Jo Martens says the theme is meant to open things up and challenge creativity. "With this very broad theme, we’re hoping students get out of the box," she says. "These myths and legends could go back to ancient times or might even include campus legends. I’m excited to see what the groups come up with." ...

Click here to read the rest of this article on the Michigan Tech News.

Friday, February 02, 2018

DEQ hearing on Back 40 wetlands permit attracts nearly 500; Menominee Tribe lawsuit seeks federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction

By Michele Bourdieu

The large gym at Stephenson High School was filled with about 500 people attending the four-hour Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality Hearing Jan. 23, 2018, on Aquila Resources' Back 40 mining project application for wetlands permitting. (Photo © and courtesy Emilio Amador Reyes)

STEPHENSON, Mich. -- Nearly 100 concerned citizens, both Native and non-Native, spoke during the Jan. 23, 2018, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) public hearing on the wetlands permit for the Back 40, Aquila Resources' projected open-pit sulfide mine, for gold and other metals, near the Menominee River, which forms the border between Michigan and Wisconsin, not far from Lake Michigan.

Many speakers were from the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, who have opposed the Back 40 project for years and who filed a lawsuit on Jan. 22, one day before the hearing. The lawsuit is a complaint against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to follow the Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting regulations by delegating wetlands permitting to the State of Michigan.*

While a few speakers defended the mining company's application, the majority spoke -- many with passion -- in opposition to the wetlands permit application and the mining project itself, citing harmful impacts not only to the river and adjacent wetlands but also to historical and cultural resources, including archaeological sites in or near the proposed mine site.

Regina Chaltry and her daughter, Grace, spoke from the heart against the mine and for the water. Regina asked DEQ to deny the permit. She said she opposes the project because Aquila has applied for only an open pit mine while promising investors an underground mine, which underscores all calculations of waste rock, discharge water and tailings.

Regina Chaltry speaks at the hearing against the Back 40 mining project. (Photo © and courtesy Marisa VanZile);

"Our family has had a cabin on the river for more than 70 years in the current location and spend a lot of time of the river," Regina said.

Grace captured the hearts of the audience with her brief statement:

Young Grace Chaltry speaks out for the water. (Video © and courtesy Mark Doremus)

Two members of the Menominee Tribe who spoke at the beginning of the hearing were Ada Deer, former Menominee tribal chair, and Guy Reiter, Menominee tribal organizer. Here are some brief excerpts from their speeches:

Ada Deer, former Menominee tribal chair, speaks in opposition to Aquila's Back 40 project, comparing it to resource extraction from indigenous lands worldwide. (Video © and courtesy Emilio Amador Reyes)

Guy Reiter asked the people wearing blue shirts for solidarity in protecting the water to stand. He expressed the Menominee people's resolve to resist exploitation and asked the DEQ to apply environmental justice to tribal interests. Reiter also said he brought more than 200 letters, many from Menominee youth, to deliver to the DEQ.

"Our will will not be broken," Reiter said. "We'll stand on the shoulders of our ancestors that are in the ground that Aquila wants to dig up out of the ground."

Guy Reiter, after joking about the meaning of his name, states the tribe's determination not to give up. (Video © and courtesy Emilio Amador Reyes)

Crystal Chapman Chevalier, a Menominee tribal legislator, said her comments were as an individual tribal member. She addressed the DEQ's past failures to protect Michigan's environment:

Crystal Chapman Chevalier challenges the DEQ to do their job of protecting "Pure Michigan." (Video © and courtesy Mark Doremus)

Kathleen Heideman of Marquette, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) board member, offered an example of fundamental problems with the Aquila’s feasibility analysis. UPEC, through their Mining Action Group, had hired two independent technical reviewers to study the wetland permit application.

One reviewer, the Center for Science in Public Participation, stated the following in their report: "The mining permit and wetland permit are inextricably linked. The location and size of proposed mine site facilities as presented in the November 2017 Wetland Permit Application are different from those presented in the Mining Permit Application, and pose risks to wetlands that have not been analyzed."**

Kathleen Heideman of UPEC cites an example of technical problems with the wetlands permit found by an independent reviewer. She also asks DEQ to deny the permit and submits reports by two independent technical reviewers.**(Video © and courtesy Mark Doremus)

Al Gedicks, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, spoke about methylmercury, noting its absence in the 2,650-page application. He explained how Aquila's project as proposed would add to bioaccumulation of methylmercury, a neurotoxin, which would impact fish, wildlife and human health.

Al Gedicks, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, points out some of the harmful effects of methylmercury, noting the absence of any mention of the neurotoxin in Aquila's proposal. (Video © and courtesy Mark Doremus)

Raj Shukla, executive director of River Alliance of Wisconsin, a water advocacy group, pointed out the inconsistencies and unknowns in Aquila's proposal

Raj Shukla, executive director of River Alliance of Wisconsin notes inconsistencies in Aquila's wetland permit application. He says the true size and scope of the project is not clear. Shukla says his organization joins with those opposing both the wetlands permit and the project itself. (Video © and courtesy Mark Doremus)

While most of the speakers at the hearing opposed the permit, a few did speak in support of it.

Tony Retaskie of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council asked the DEQ to permit Aquila to go forward with the mine because of the need for "family sustaining jobs."

Lois Ellis, Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance director of economic development, said the Alliance urges approval of Aquila's latest project application and they expect DEQ to do a careful review of the application.

Steve Casey, DEQ Water Resources Division Upper Peninsula District supervisor, who conducted the hearing, asked the crowd to be respectful of all speakers.

"I was very pleased that the crowd was respectful," Casey told Keweenaw Now.

He said 88 people spoke with a three-minute limit, but there was not enough time to hear from 45 others who had filled out cards with their intention to speak. He noted the frequent applause, mostly for those opposing the project, took time from those who didn't have a chance to speak before the hearing ended at 10 p.m.

"It may have intimidated some with different viewpoints," Casey said.

He noted some speakers handed in their comments and there may have been others who handed in written comments even though they did not speak.

Today, Feb. 2, 2018, is the deadline for written comments on the Aquila application for the permit that includes Part 303 Wetlands and Part 301 Inland Lakes and Streams.

Casey was assisted at the front table by Jarrod Nelson, DEQ environmental analyst, and Kristi Wilson, DEQ environmental quality specialist.

Ginny Pennala, DEQ Water Resources Division supervisor of the Resource Unit for the Upper Peninsula, attended the hearing but was not seated at the front table.

Pennala said DEQ encourages people to submit written comments on the MI Waters Web link here. Note that the link probably will not be available after today, Feb. 2.

Kristi Wilson is the main DEQ reviewer of this application since she has been studying it for some time, Pennala explained, noting the review would be a team effort.***

However, this application requires oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

"On a project of this magnitude the EPA has mandatory oversight," Pennala told Keweenaw Now this week.

The EPA also relies on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in this review under the Clean Water Act requirements.
Menominee Tribe files lawsuit against EPA, Army Corps

On Jan. 22, the day before the hearing, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit to address the failure of the EPA and the Army Corps to comply with Clean Water Act requirements concerning jurisdiction and permitting for dredged or fill material in waters of the United States.

Michigan is one of two states (the other is New Jersey) where the EPA delegates regulation of wetlands to the state except in the case of projects that come under certain categories of the Clean Water Act (such as this one) that require mandatory federal oversight.

However, the position of the Menominee Tribe is that the federal agencies should not merely review the project but should take control of the permitting process for the Clean Water Act 404 permit.

During the Jan. 23 hearing, Gary Besaw, chairman of the Menominee Nation, referred to the recent lawsuit against the EPA and the Army Corps.

"The Menominee believe that under the Clean Water Act the State of Michigan cannot assume Clean Water Act permitting authority for the Menominee River or its wetlands. The way  DEQ is proceeding in the permit application is contrary to the public's interest, and in this entire process should be placed on hold pending the outcome of the federal litigation filed by the Menominee yesterday."

Janette Brimmer of Earth Justice, one of the attorneys representing the Menominee Tribe in their lawsuit, told Keweenaw Now that this litigation deals only with the federal Clean Water Act Section 404 permit. Under the Clean Water Act, certain waters cannot be delegated to a state because of interest beyond a certain state.

"If the state has a separate permit," Brimmer said, "it can exercise its state-level jurisdiction on state law matters, but it doesn't invoke the same regulations and legal requirements as if the (Army) Corps and the EPA were in control of the process."

One difference between the state permit and the federal Clean Water Act 404 permit is that the National Historic Preservation Act would be invoked, she explained. It requires a formal consultation process with the tribe.

As the Menominee Tribe states in the lawsuit (paragraph 11), "Since time immemorial the Menominee Tribe has lived, hunted, fished, gathered, farmed and otherwise occupied and used the ceded lands, including the lands around the Menominee River. The Menominee Tribe has also practiced cultural and religious ceremonies in reservation lands, ceded lands, and included lands around the Menominee River. The Menominee Tribe’s connection to the Menominee River is existential as the Menominee Tribe’s origin story takes place at the mouth of the Menominee River."*

Brimmer also noted that the Army Corps of Engineers said in 1979 that the Menominee River was a water used in interstate commerce.

Paragraph 55 of the lawsuit states the following: "While the Clean Water Act allows for EPA to approve the delegation of some Section 404 permitting to a state, 33 U.S.C. § 1344(g), permitting in waters and their adjacent wetlands that are used, or could be used, in their natural condition or with reasonable improvement for transport in interstate commerce is not and cannot be delegated to a state."*

Interstate commerce can include fishing, recreation, industrial uses, etc., for more than one state. The Menominee River forms a boundary between Wisconsin and Michigan.

"The 404 (federal permit) is necessary to finalize the applicant's current proposal," Brimmer added.

According to the lawsuit, based on the Clean Water Act, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are supposed to take control  of the permitting process for wetlands and the river.

Keweenaw Now has contacted the EPA, but so far they have not replied to our questions. Watch for a possible update.

Editor's Notes:

More videos of individual speakers testifying at the Jan. 23 hearing can be found on the Back Forty Film Facebook page, for those who have a Facebook account. Many thanks to our contributors -- Emilio Amador Reyes for his photos and videos, Marisa Van Zile for photos and information, and Mark Doremus for uploading videos we requested to YouTube for our readers' access.

* Click here to access the lawsuit filed on Jan. 22, 2018.

** Click here for the independent report from the Center for Science in Public Participation. A second technical review, by Dr. Tom Myers, independent hydrologist, concerned impacts to the wetlands in Aquila's project area. The report on his review states, "Dr. Myers’ analysis involved an assessment of the predicted drawdown on wetlands and a review of the groundwater modeling of those impacts. One concern includes how the modeling conceptualized the wetlands, meaning the level of connectivity with surface water. Another concern includes the prediction of the extent of the drawdown, as modeled." Click here for Dr. Myers' technical review.

*** On Jan. 19, 2018, DEQ's Kristi Wilson sent a letter to Aquila requesting clarification of certain discrepancies in their groundwater technical information. You can access this letter and other documents related to the application on the DEQ's MIWaters site. Click here and then click on Documents. Select the document (listed by date) to download. Warning: You may need WinZip to open the document. Links to some documents can also be found here.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Nearly 500 Copper Country residents march across Lift Bridge in anniversary Sister March: videos, photos

By Michele Bourdieu

An estimated 400-500 participants in the Jan. 21, 2018, Copper Country Sister March cross the Portage Lift Bridge carrying signs about their concerns, from voting power to women's rights as human rights to DACA and immigration -- and more. The theme of this year's women's marches -- held in many U.S. cities -- was "Power to the Polls." (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated.)

HOUGHTON -- Despite a very icy sidewalk on the Portage Lift Bridge, a large crowd of women, men and children walked from Houghton across the bridge to Hancock and back on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, to demonstrate, for the second year in a row, their solidarity with Sister Marches held across the country -- on the anniversary of the Sister Marches held a year ago in solidarity with the huge 2017 Women's March on Washington, DC. This year the many signs carried in the march reflected continued concerns for women's rights and equality for all, with an added theme of "Power to the Polls," encouraging women to vote.

As she did last year, Susan Burack of Hancock again instigated the Sister March in Houghton by signing up with the national march. This year the Women's March: Power to the Polls, began with a large rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Jan. 21, kicking off a national voter registration tour intended to elect more women and progressive candidates to office.

As participants gather in Houghton to line up for the Jan. 21, 2018, Sister March, Susan Burack of Hancock addresses the marchers about Power to the Polls -- registering to vote, voting, and making a difference locally by getting involved in the local community. Click on photos for larger versions.

Burack said the Houghton County Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters helped her spread the word about the march.

"The variety of the signs was wonderful," Burack said. "We sure have a lot of issues to march about. And the range of ages from babies to seniors and everyone in between. If it was 400-500 people it is a terrific representation of our population!"

Preparing to march to the Portage Lift Bridge, participants line up near the Houghton waterfront.

As she walked gingerly up the icy hill to Shelden Avenue Ellen Seidel, retired Michigan Tech librarian, commented on why the sister marches are important to her.

"The whole future's at stake," Seidel said, "from the planet to the children."

Several women who participated in the 2017 Women's March on Washington, DC, led the Sister March in Houghton this year. One of those was René Johnson, Finlandia University Servant Leadership director and assistant professor of religion.*

"Last year I may have been responding to my distress over the hateful, divisive rhetoric in the air and my angst over possible policy changes that would take America in a terrible direction away from the higher values of compassion, generosity, and kindness," Johnson said. "Going to the march in DC, surrounded by the most vibrant display of positive humanity (in both size and volume) that I'd ever experienced, was both a comfort to my distress and a confirmation that a powerful movement was afoot. I participated in Sunday's local Sister March because I choose to persist in supporting and promoting this movement (which I hope continues to resist bigotry and thin democracy even after this current administration), because I believe in the power of the people, and because I have a voice."
Inset photo: René Johnson of Hancock wears her message on an original sign during last year's Women's March in DC. (File photo © P.J. Besonen of Covington, Mich., and courtesy René Johnson)

Led by several local women who participated in the 2017 Women's March on Washington, DC, participants in the Jan. 21, 2018, Sister March head up the hill to Shelden Avenue on their way to the Portage Lift Bridge in Houghton. Click on YouTube icon for larger video screen. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Commenting on this year's Sister March in Houghton, Valorie Troesch of the Houghton Dems, who has led workshops on running for local office, echoed the theme of power in voting.

"There's a old maxim that the world is run by those who show up," Troesch told Keweenaw Now. "We need to show up -- run for office, vote, work for those who are running for office, speaking up."

Displaying a variety of signs with their concerns, marchers form a long line up Shelden Avenue and across the Portage Lift Bridge. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Lorraine Weirauch of Tamarack City, a retired educator, said she participated in the Sister March because of several issues that are important to her.

Lorraine Weirauch of Tamarack City pauses on the bridge to comment on her participation in the march.

"I wanted to support the women, Planned Parenthood, DACA (so important!), indigenous women, fairness, justice -- a more thoughtful government," Weirauch told Keweenaw Now.

More videos:

After crossing the bridge to Hancock, marchers return to Houghton, most walking slowly and carefully on the ice-covered sidewalk of the bridge.

After walking up the east side of the bridge to Hancock, the large crowd divides in two groups to return on both sides of the bridge. Parents guide their children while some senior citizens hold onto the railings or walk slowly and carefully on the ice.

In the midst of the hundreds of marchers with signs calling for change, a few young men march in the opposite direction calling out the name of the US President. It was not clear what their purpose was, but the march remained peaceful.

Linda and Jim Belote of Hancock comment justifiably on the iciness of the bridge sidewalk. No injuries were reported, as far as we know. Marchers remain cheerful on the last part of the trek.

At the end of the Houghton Sister March, signs along the street remind passers-by of some of the issues of concern to the marchers. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Facebook friends share photos ...

Keweenaw Now appreciates the Facebook friends we contacted for permission to use the following photos they posted of their Sister March participation:

The Vendlinski family of Houghton display their individual signs as they prepare to join the 2018 Sister March to the Portage Lift Bridge. Pictured, from left, are Andi, Jim, Lewis and Catherine. (Photo courtesy Andi Vendlinski)

Andi Vendlinski also participated in the 2017 Women's March on Washington.

"I was very fortunate to be able to march in Washington last year and am glad that one year later we are still fighting, even in smaller cities like Houghton," Andi said. "It’s amazing to see how passionate people can be, and I am so proud of my family for standing up and taking part in this fight with me."

Artists Joyce Koskenmaki, left, and Bonnie Peterson, both grandmothers, display their list of issues of concern to "Grannies." Click on photo for larger version. (Photo courtesy Bonnie Peterson)

Katie Maki and daughter Daphne march in Marquette:

Katie Maki of Houghton still has great memories of her trip to Washington, DC, for the 2017 Women's March on Washington. On that long bus trip she and her daughter Daphne made new friends from Marquette; therefore, this year Katie and Daphne decided to re-unite with them by participating in the Jan. 21 Sister March in Marquette.

Katie Maki, left, her daughter Daphne, center, and Daphne's friend Mya Johnson, right, display their colorful signs during the Sister March in Marquette on Jan.21, 2018. (Photo courtesy Katie Maki)

Katie said it was difficult to compare the Marquette Sister March with last year's huge march in DC, though she found both "amazing."

"Obviously there was massive anticipation for the DC march including a three-hour car ride followed by an 18-hour bus ride!" she said. "Getting off that bus into a sea of women and pink was intense. We have never been a part of something that large and powerful. It was life altering. We met these ladies (and another woman who couldn’t be at the Marquette march) on the bus and decided to stick together at the march. What an amazing experience. Marquette was amazing too -- more people than I imagined. I don’t know numbers but it felt like 1000. The speakers were amazing, including the little girl who spoke at the end."
Inset photo: Katie Maki, right, in green jacket, and Daphne at the 2017 Women's March on Washington. (File photo courtesy Katie Maki)*

On Jan. 21, 2018, Katie and Daphne Maki join Marquette area friends they met in DC last year for the Sister March in Marquette. Pictured here, from left, are Jackie Stark of Marquette, Daphne Maki of Houghton, Judy Krause of Ishpeming, Katie Maki of Houghton and Mary Stone of Negaunee. (Photo courtesy Katie Maki)

Marquette marchers enjoy some sunshine during their Jan. 21, 2018, Sister March. (Photo courtesy Katie Maki)

A large sign at the Marquette Sister March reflects the emphasis on "Power to the Polls" in this year's women's marches. (Photo courtesy Katie Maki)

Community support for the Sister March in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Katie Maki)

More photos in new slide show:

Click here to see more photos in our new slide show: Sister March: Jan. 21, 2018. Click on the first photo. Click the info icon for the caption and follow arrows to the right for the slide show.

* Editor's Note: See our Feb. 3, 2017, article, "Local mothers, daughters, friends inspired by joining Jan. 21 Women's March in D.C."

Friday, January 26, 2018

EPA task force to hold public meeting on saving Buffalo Reef Jan. 30 in Lake Linden

This map shows the area of the potential 2018 stamp sands project for additional stamp sand removal and containment near Gay on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior. The project's main purpose is to save the trout and whitefish spawning areas on Buffalo Reef (center of map). Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Michigan DNR)

[Note: This Department of Natural Resources (DNR) news release is being issued in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.]

A cooperative multi-entity task force created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reminding the public about a public meeting set for Tuesday, Jan. 30, in Lake Linden, on efforts to save the important lake trout and whitefish spawning areas on Buffalo Reef.

The underwater reef is threatened by shifting stamp sands, a by-product of copper milling done in the community of Gay, beginning in the early 1900s and lasting roughly 30 years.

The public meeting will be held from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, at the Lake Linden-Hubbell High School Auditorium, 601 Calumet Street in Lake Linden. A session previously scheduled for Dec. 5 was postponed due to inclement weather.

In addition to the Jan. 30 public meeting, an invitation-only Wednesday, Jan. 31, meeting on Buffalo Reef for EPA task force members and scientists has also been set. That session was previously scheduled for Dec. 6, but was canceled because of blizzard conditions.

The EPA formed the task force to develop a long-term plan over the next couple of years to contain and potentially reuse the stamp sands. The group will gather input from many stakeholders, including the public.

"We will be soliciting public input on what issues the plan needs to address and looking for volunteers to help us understand and resolve those issues," said Steve Casey, a task force member representing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Editor's Note: For background on this issue see our Nov. 21, 2017, article, "DNR stamp sand dredging buys time; EPA provides $3.1 million for Army Corps dredging to protect Buffalo Reef fish spawning habitat."

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Heikinpäivä 2018 is underway!

The bears that "roll over" in mid-winter sometimes lead the Heikinpäivä Parade on Quincy Street in Hancock. At 11 a.m. this Saturday, Jan. 27, the 2018 Heikinpäivä Parade will also feature KARHUN PEIJÄISET (The Bear Spiral) on Quincy Green, led by Ralph and Jaana Tuttila and the Bears. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

HANCOCK -- Heikinpäivä 2018 celebrates Mid-Winter, when, according to Finnish tradition, "the bear rolls over." This year the annual festival, created in 1999 by the City of Hancock's Finnish Theme Committee, again offers a variety of activities for the whole family. Heikinpäivä themes are taken from the Finnish folk saying associated with the name day for Heikki (Henrik’s day, Jan. 19).

Each year the Finnish Theme Committee selects a Hankookin Heikki (The Heikki of Hancock), who then presides over the Heikinpäivä festivities. Chosen because of his/her contributions to the preservation and enhancement of Finnish-American cultural life in Michigan’s Copper Country, Hankookin Heikki’s main event task is to ride what is the arguably the world’s largest kick sled, a crowd favorite at Heikinpäivä, donning the traditional Hankooki Heikki robes and crown, and waving the copper scepter in the festival’s mid-winter parade.

The 2018 Hankookin Heikki is filmmaker Kristin Ojaniemi, a lifelong resident of Bruce Crossing. Ojaniemi recently created the documentary film Co-operatively Yours, telling the story of the Finnish cooperative movement in North America through the lens of the Settlers Co-op in Bruce Crossing, which celebrated its centennial in 2017. Ojaniemi traveled to Finland to conduct research and interviews for the film, and through this project she has gained a stronger appreciation and understanding of her Finnish roots and those of her home community. (Inset photo: Filmmaker Kristin Ojaniemi. (Photo courtesy Finnish Theme Committee)

While enrichment events have been happening since Jan. 10 (see our right-hand column for the the music events this week), Saturday, Jan. 27, offers free activities for all and a Tori (market) with homemade and Finnish-related crafts for sale.

Here is the schedule beginning with Saturday, Jan. 27:

10 a.m. - 3 p.m. -- Tori Market, Finnish American Heritage Center (FAHC)


10 - 11 a.m. -- Finn Aire (Roger Juntunen-Hewlett)
11 -11:30 a.m. -- PARADE and KARHUN PEIJÄISET (The Bear Spiral) on Quincy Green, led by Ralph and Jaana Tuttila and the Bears.
11:30 a.m. - Noon -- Lautala Boys (Pasi Lautala)
Noon -  1 p.m. - Jonathan Rundman
1 - 2 p.m. -- Laulun Aika (Ralph Tuttila)
2 -  2:30 p.m. -- Jouhikko Kombo (Alice, Matt and Clare)
2:30 - 3:00 p.m. -- Tanja Stanaway

Fun outside on Quincy Green:

Kids enjoy a ride on the vipukelkka (whipsled) during Heikinpäivä in Hancock. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

10 a.m. - 2 p.m.  -- Vipukelkka (Whipsled), kicksleds, and plenty of outdoor fun! Quincy Green.

11 a.m. - PARADE, downtown Hancock. Line up at La Cantina restaurant at 10:30 a.m. Prizes.

Following parade -- Wife-carrying contest and kicksled races, Quincy Green. Prizes.

No lingering at the café! Couldn't tell what the "wife" was yelling here, for lack of translation, but she managed to stay on hubby's back through the "Finnish" line. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

More activities Saturday:

11 a.m.  -- Author talk and book signing by Karl Bohnak, author of SunBurns to Snowstorms, North Wind Books, Hancock.

1 p,.m.  -- Author talk and book signing by Kate Remlinger, author of Yooper Talk, Finnish American Historical Archive.

3 p.m. -- Polar Bear Dive, Hancock waterfront. Sponsored by Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.

7 p.m. -- Heikinpäivä iltamat (hors d’oeuvres, dance), Finnish American Heritage Center. $12.00 -- with old-time Finnish dances, such as jenkka, raatikkoon, polkka and waltzes.

Sunday, January 28:

2 p.m. -- Finnish Hymn Sing and Concert, Zion Lutheran Church, Hancock. Open to the public.

Friday, February 2:

6:30-8:30 p.m. -- Family Fun Night, Finnish American Heritage Center. $5 per family. For information, call (906) 523-6271.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Red-Flag Review finds big holes in Back 40 Mine’s Wetland Permit application; DEQ Public Hearing to be Jan. 23, 2018

Information from UPEC's Mining Action Group, Front 40 and Menominee Tribe 

Sixty Islands section of the Menominee River, riparian wetlands located approximately 200 feet from the proposed Project Boundary of the Aquila Back Forty Mine site. (Jan. 9, 2018, photo by Kathleen Heideman, Mining Action Group.)

STEPHENSON, Mich. -- The Front 40 Environmental Group and the Mining Action Group (MAG) of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC), working with regional environmental allies and fishing organizations, have secured an independent red flag review of Aquila Resources’ Back Forty Wetland permit application. The Back 40 is an open-pit sulfide mine for gold, zinc and other metals, proposed for the bank of the Menominee River, 10 miles west of the town of Stephenson, Mich. The review was provided by the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2) which analyzes mining applications and provides objective research and technical advice to communities impacted by mining.

A Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Public Hearing for the Back Forty’s Wetlands, Lakes and Streams permit application will be held at 6 p.m. (Central Time) on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, at Stephenson High School, located at W526 Division Street, Stephenson, MI 49887. Note: due to public interest, the hearing has been moved to the school’s large gym. In addition, the hearing will be live-streamed by the IndianCountryTV Livestream studio, beginning at 6 p.m. (CT) and running until the hearing ends. The deadline for submitting written comment is Feb. 2, 2018.*

A youth-led Water Walk at 3 p.m. (CT) to Stephenson High School and a Press Conference at 4:30 p.m. (CT) will precede the hearing.

Poster announcing Jan. 23, 2018, Public Hearing and related activities in Stephenson, Mich. Click on poster for larger version. (Poster courtesy Paul DeMain)

The Wetland application includes technical information regarding wetland hydrology, direct and indirect impacts to wetlands from the proposed sulfide mine and the on-site milling operation, a compensatory wetland and stream mitigation proposal, and more.  CSP2’s technical review was completed by Dr. Kendra Zamzow (Ph.D., Environmental Geochemistry) and Dr. David Chambers (Ph.D., Geophysics).**

CSP2’s report flags significant omissions in Aquila’s permit application, especially concerns related to the Feasible and Prudent (Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable) Alternatives analysis, the fundamental test of any wetland permit, as follows:
  • "An environmental analysis needs to be conducted comparing the new proposed facility siting impacts on wetlands with the siting approved in the mining permit. The proposed single mine waste storage area is now two areas, and is much larger. The description of what is to be contained in each is inadequate and there is no description of the protections to be put in place."

  • "The former site plan was discarded in part because waste would be 'less dense' than anticipated. There is no explanation for what is behind the anticipated change in waste material density that drove the need for the greater area required for waste disposal...."
  • "Given the terrain, direction of water flow, and proximity of valley wetlands and the River, this poses risks to wetlands -- and aquatic resources in the River -- that have not been analyzed."
  • "Although there is no formal proposal for underground mining, it is reasonable and foreseeable. Therefore the full potential life of the mine should be considered when evaluating feasible and prudent alternatives that are the least damaging to wetlands."

  • "An economic analysis needs to be conducted to determine the feasibility of moving the mill out of wetland areas."
  • "It appears that most of the stream and wetland impacts might be avoided if the mine facilities could be moved further upland to a dryland site, possibly on other state lands."
Under Michigan regulations, Aquila bears the burden of demonstrating that either (a) the proposed activity is primarily dependent upon being located in the wetland, or (b) there are no feasible and prudent alternatives, and they must show they are using all practical means to minimize impacts to wetlands. According to CSP2’s review, "The mining permit and wetland permit are inextricably linked. The location and size of proposed mine site facilities as presented in the November 2017 Wetland Permit Application are different from those presented in the Mining Permit Application, and pose risks to wetlands that have not been analyzed."

MAG member Kathleen Heideman said, "This red flag review underscores our existing concerns. Aquila's Wetland permit application is shoddy. It is mired in untested assumptions about wetland hydrology, and the whole scheme hinges on a facility design which nobody has reviewed, much less approved."

Heideman noted wetlands are protected by both state and federal laws. In order for a permit to be granted, the Michigan DEQ must find that the proposed activities described in the Public Notice meet certain criteria set by Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, Part 303 Wetlands Protection, and Part 31, Water Resources Protection of Act 451.***

"Before wetlands can be destroyed, the company needs to demonstrate that wetland impacts are unavoidable," Heideman added. "They’ve failed that test. I don’t see how this permit will pass muster with environmental regulators."

A large crowd, with many people standing along the walls, attended the Oct. 6, 2016, public hearing at Stephenson High School on mining, wastewater and air quality permits for the Back 40 mining project. Despite much opposition, DEQ granted those three permits. The remaining permit for Wetlands, Inland Lakes and Streams will be the subject of the Jan. 23, 2018, public hearing. (Keweenaw Now file photo courtesy Horst Schmidt)

Horst Schmidt, president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, said, "This mine threatens cultural and natural resources of the Menominee people, and the Shakey Lakes Savanna, a globally unique habitat. The Menominee River is the worst possible place for an open-pit sulfide mine. Aquila’s plan for on-site milling is especially dangerous, and needlessly destroys wetlands."

Front 40 and the Mining Action Group will deliver CSP2’s review to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at the Public Hearing on Jan. 23rd, and ask that key findings and recommendations be incorporated into the Wetland Permit review process.

"As soon as we saw the extent of the facility modifications, we asked the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals to immediately require Aquila to apply for an amendment of the Back Forty Mine permit, or review the facility changes along with the Wetland permit -- but they’ve refused to consider these questions until after the Wetland permit review is done," Heideman explained. "Aquila seeks to destroy 28.4 acres of wetlands in order to build a sulfide mine on the bank of the Menominee River. It is an alarming proposal, given the proximity of wetlands to the river, and concerns about the company’s plan to follow the orebody deeper underground. This site is complex, hydrologically, with wetlands on all sides, flowing in different directions. And the total wetland impacts may be significantly underestimated, since additional years of underground mining would greatly increase the groundwater drawdown."*

MAG member Steve Garske asked, "How many wetlands will be destroyed or impaired by the Back Forty? These wetlands are just in the way -- Aquila will mine them out, or fill them in, or the surface water will be diverted, or they’ll be buried under mine waste tailings and waste rock storage areas. Are all of these wetland losses unavoidable? That’s the big question."

Nathan Frischkorn, a Fellow with the Mining Action Group, added, "Our goal is to identify errors and inconsistencies between data and Aquila’s predicted impacts to wetlands. We want to ensure that concerned citizens, stakeholders and environmental regulators are fully informed as to the true impacts of this permit."

Ron Henriksen is a spokesman for the Menominee River Front 40 -- an environmental group in Menominee County, Mich., dedicated to ensuring that metallic sulfide mining operations are not allowed to adversely impact rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands. The Front 40 name is in direct response to the "Back Forty" venture that was created by the mining interests.

"Local residents are very frustrated, understandably," Henriksen said. "Aquila is using a bait-and-switch strategy. Since the facility’s impacts on wetlands are at the heart of the review, it would have made more sense to scrutinize all the proposed changes to the design first, before submitting the Wetland permit application. Aquila does everything backwards."

A broad coalition of fishing groups, residents, tribal members and environmental groups are united in their opposition to the Aquila Back Forty project. Downstream communities are concerned about potential impacts to drinking water and tourism, and have passed resolutions against the project. Marinette County unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Back Forty; additional resolutions have been passed by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Oneida Nation, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, Amberg, Peshtigo, Porterfield, Sister Bay, Wagner, the City of Marinette, Door County, Oconto County, Outagamie County, Shawano County, Menominee County, and Brown County, which includes the city of Green Bay. After concerned citizens levied significant pressure on local officials, Menominee County became the first county in Michigan to pass a resolution opposed to the Back Forty mine.

For the Menominee Indian Tribe, the area near the Menominee River, including the mine site, is their sacred place of origin and includes sacred sites and burial grounds. In addition to cultural reasons, the tribe opposes the proposed Back 40 project because of their commitment to protect the water, as they state on their Web site: "Much like our brothers and sister in the NODAPL movement we also know that water is essential to life. The Menominee River is, in fact, the very origin of life for the Menominee people. It also provides life to Michigan and Wisconsin residents and the natural wildlife within the Great Lakes ecosystem. The harmful threats to this area and all who depend on it far outweigh the corporate interests of a Canadian exploratory company and justify the denial of the necessary permits for the proposed mine."****

This ancestral burial mound is among the archaeological sites that could be impacted by the proposed Back 40 mine. (September 2017 Keweenaw Now file photo)  

"The Menominee River is my friend," said Dick Dragiewicz, an avid fisherman. "It gives me and my fishing friends a lot of excitement when those bass, especially the big ones, are seen and when they strike at our flies. The Menominee is a valuable resource that shouldn’t be damaged or destroyed, which is why I’m working to protect it from the problems the proposed Back Forty mine would cause. I don’t want to lose the river to a polluting metallic sulfide mine."

Scenic view of the Menominee River, not far from the proposed Back 40 mine site. (September 2017 Keweenaw Now file photo)

If fully permitted, the Back Forty will be a large open-pit sulfide mine on the bank of the Menominee River, the largest watershed in the wild Upper Peninsula of Michigan, only 100 feet from the water. Milling, using cyanide and other chemicals, and mine waste will be stored at the mine site, with some tailings waste remaining permanently. Most of the rock will be "reactive" or capable of producing acid mine drainage (AMD) when exposed to air and water. AMD devastates watersheds: it is difficult and expensive to remediate, and may continue leaching from the tailings for hundreds or thousands of years. American Rivers named the Menominee River to their list of "America’s Most Endangered Rivers" in 2017.

Fundamental objections to the Aquila Back Forty project remain unresolved, and two contested case petitions have been filed: one by an adjacent landowner, and another by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. The Back Forty Wetland application is currently under review by the public, tribal stakeholders, environmental groups, Michigan DEQ, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Independent review of the Aquila Back Forty Wetland permit is made possible by the generous support of groups and individuals concerned about the future health of the Menominee River. Working collaboratively, the Mining Action Group of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition and the Front 40 secured small grants and donations from Freshwater Future, Superior Watershed Partnership, the Western Mining Action Network, DuPage Rivers Fly Tyers (DRiFT), Northern Illinois Fly Tyers (NIFT), Badger Fly Fishers, M and M Great Lakes Sport Fisherman, Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance, Fly Fishers International, Great Lakes Council of Fly Fishers International, the Emerick Family Fund, and individual fishing enthusiasts throughout the Great Lakes area.


* Written comments may be submitted to Upper Peninsula District Office, Re: Back Forty Comments, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, MI, 49855. You can also submit written comments here.

** (Updated) Here are direct links to the Wetland permit documents:
 Sections 1-4:  1 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Sections 1-4 rev Dec 2017.pdf

Sections 5-7:  2 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Sections 5-7 rev Dec 2017.pdf

Section 8: 3 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Section 8A.pdf

                4 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Section 8B.pdf

                5 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Section 8C.pdf

Appendix A1:  6 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced App A1 rev Dec 2017.pdf

Appendix A2:  7 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced App A2 (1).pdf

Appendix B:   8 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced App B.pdf

*** Click here for the DEQ Public Hearing statement.

**** Visit the Menominee Tribe Web site for more info on their opposition to the Back 40 project.