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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Michigan Tech students publish report on waste management, recycling in Houghton, Hancock, Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech Professor Richelle Winkler, third from left, with members of her Fall 2015 Sociology of the Environment class, who worked together to publish the report, "Waste and Recycling Programs in Hancock and Houghton, Michigan, and Michigan Technological University." (Photo © and courtesy David Hall)

HOUGHTON --Graduate students at Michigan Tech have published a report that brings together information from multiple sources about how waste and recycling are handled in Houghton and Hancock so that decision-makers and community members can make informed decisions about managing waste. They presented this information at a forum and community discussion at Portage Library on Dec. 9, 2015. Since then the report and an executive summary have been posted on line.*

The report, "Waste and Recycling Programs in Hancock and Houghton, Michigan, and Michigan Technological University," is the work of Michigan Tech Professor Richelle Winkler's fall semester 2015 Sociology of the Environment class.

"The purpose of this report is to describe and assess waste and recycling programs available to residents of Hancock, Houghton, and at Michigan Technological University," Winkler states in the introduction to the report. 

The report begins with an executive summary that points out the need for reducing waste in the cities of Hancock and Houghton (including Michigan Technological University) and describes the recycling and composting programs now in existence in this area. These include the following:
  • the curbside recycling program in Hancock**
  • the drop-off recycling center at Waste Management in Houghton (now charging $4 per vehicle)
  • a new cardboard recycling program at the Houghton County Transfer Station in Atlantic Mine***
  • a recycling program at Michigan Tech
  • a Michigan Tech composting program (yard waste and some food waste)
  • some yard waste composting in Hancock and Houghton
  • the diversion of special wastes such as e-waste, appliances, tires, batteries, and oil from household trash through a variety of private systems
  • a state-sponsored bottle deposit system that collects and recycles aluminum beverage cans and glass bottles.
Local recycling opportunities "below average"
The executive summary of the report also calls attention to the fact that recycling opportunities in this area are below average. Not only is Hancock the only community in Houghton and Keweenaw counties with curbside recycling, but recycling rates in Houghton and Hancock are below both the Michigan average and the national average.

"Recycling rates in Houghton and Hancock are about 5 percent of the waste stream and Michigan Tech recycles about 14 percent, which is below Michigan’s state average (15 percent) and even more below the US national average (34 percent)," the executive summary states. "Recycling rates are well known to increase dramatically when regular curbside collection programs are in place. Moreover, not all drop-off programs are created equal -- those located in less convenient locations, with less convenient hours of operation, and/or greater fees are less likely to be utilized as much."*

In addition, Houghton County does not provide for convenient disposal of hazardous wastes such as pesticides, solvents, and other chemicals.

Benefits of Recycling

The executive summary notes that local recycling offers several environmental benefits, including "reducing the amount of energy required to extract and process raw materials, reducing pollution associated with landfills (leachate and methane emissions), reducing carbon emissions that contribute to global climate change, conserving resources for future generations, and encouraging the development of systems and technology for using resources efficiently."

The authors of the report mention some economic benefits for the community, such as money saved through lowered garbage tipping fees and fewer plastic garbage bags needed for households, but add that the environmental benefits of recycling motivate people more to recycle and improve recycling opportunities.


They mention several recommendations for that improvement: making recycling easy, simple and cheap with expanded curbside recycling and more convenient drop-off sites and hours; partnering and coordination between Houghton County and municipalities; including businesses and schools in solid waste planning and recycling programs; encouraging composting; informing the public about hazardous and e-waste and offering drop-off sites for these; holding waste reduction and recycling discussions with community and university leaders; encouraging reuse, trading and sharing and removing disposable options; promoting Michigan Tech as a sustainability leader and community partner in helping municipalities meet waste management and recycling goals.


* Click here to access the report. The executive summary begins on p. vii.

** Visit the City of Hancock Web site to learn about their curbside recycling.

*** The cardboard recycling center opened on Jan. 4, 2016. Click here for info.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Environmentalists criticize proposed open-pit sulfide mine near Menominee River; MDEQ to hold Public Hearing Jan. 5

Save the Wild U.P. joins the Front 40 environmental group in opposing the proposed "Back 40" sulfide mine adjacent to the Menominee River. (Image courtesy Save the Wild U.P.)

From Save the Wild U.P.
Posted on Dec. 21, 2015
Text and images reprinted with permission

MARQUETTE -- In November, Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) learned that Aquila Resources (Aquila) submitted a mine permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for their "Back Forty Project" ("Back 40" in some sources, including MDEQ’s website). Aquila describes the proposed open-pit mine as "gold- and zinc-rich" but their investor materials list several other "metals of primary interest" including lead, copper and silver. The Back Forty, a volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit, also contains additional toxic metals, arsenic, corrosive sulfosalts, and radioactive elements including uranium. Aquila’s mine permit application has been deemed "administratively complete" by the MDEQ.

Several grassroots environmental organizations, including Save the Wild U.P. and the Front 40, with local property owners, have been deeply critical of the Back Forty proposal for years, contending that an open pit sulfide mine, with on-site processing and tailings, will pollute the adjacent Menominee River. Tribal natural resources, including archeological sites, are also threatened by any mining operation on the Menominee River, the largest watershed drainage system in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. According to the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, "our origin or creation begins at the mouth of the Menominee River."

MDEQ to hold Public Meeting Jan. 5 in Stephenson

Concerned citizens are asked to review the proposed Mine Permit Application, now available from the MDEQ website.*

The MDEQ will hold a Public Meeting concerning Aquila’s Mine Permit Application from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, at Stephenson High School, W526 Division Street in Stephenson, Michigan. Public comment is due Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. Concerned citizens and other interested persons are urged to submit written comments by mail or e-mail until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. Email comments to Joe Maki: or mail comments to MDEQ Back Forty Mine Comments, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, Michigan, 49855.**

Steve Garske, biologist and Save the Wild U.P. board member, notes the Menominee is the U.P.’s largest river system. It has a watershed of 4,070 square miles with 2,618 square miles located in Michigan and 1,452 square miles located in Wisconsin (according to the Environmental Protection Agency) and more than 100 tributaries.

"It supports large populations of smallmouth bass, walleye and northern pike, and provides spawning habitat for sturgeon," Garske says. "Nearby Shakey Lakes Savanna is one of the few intact savanna ecosystems left in the Upper Midwest and supports rare prairie plants and abundant wildlife. Mounds, garden beds, and other remnants of an ancient Native American village are also clearly evident. Aquila Resources couldn’t have chosen a worse place for a mine."

Watercolor painting of the Menominee River courtesy Save the Wild U.P.

Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director, says she questions the wisdom of digging an open pit mine on the edge of a river.

"These metals are wrapped in an enormous amount of sulfides, so the risks to the U.P.’s clean water are real, unavoidable, and numerous," Maxwell says. "In describing the Back Forty project, Aquila doesn’t mention the sulfides and pyrites in their rock. With a sulfide mine on a riverbank, acid mine drainage is a real threat. Aquila has no experience dealing with acid mine drainage. Back Forty would be their very first project, anywhere."

According to Ron Henriksen, spokesman for the Menominee River Front 40 environmental group, "This is not a done deal. Even though Aquila’s permit was deemed 'administratively complete' by the MDEQ, the company must comply with Lake Township’s 'Mineral Extraction Ordinance' and 'Land Usage Permit.' Front 40 will continue to do what is necessary to ensure that a metallic sulfide mine is not allowed to impact our rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands."

Marla Tuinstra of Lake Township adds, "As a long-time Lake Township landowner and taxpayer, I am concerned that a foreign company can come in and dictate, through what appears to be a flawed permit process, what will happen to the area."

In opposing this sulfide mine proposal, Save the Wild U.P. cites numerous threats to the Menominee River watershed.

"Aquila’s press release never mentioned the Menominee River," notes Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president. "That’s a very bad sign. This project would literally undermine the Menominee River -- first with an open pit mine, and later with an underground mine, with milling and tailings proposed for the site as well. Furthermore, cyanide will be used in the processing, exponentially increasing the risks. I applaud all of the citizens who are fighting the Back Forty project, and defending Michigan’s clean water."

This photo shows how close the proposed open-pit sulfide mine could be to the Menominee River. (Photo courtesy Save the Wild U.P.)

SWUP, Front 40 to hold informational forum Feb. 17 

Save the Wild U.P. and Front 40 will host "Don’t Undermine the Menominee River!" -- an informational forum reviewing the Back Forty sulfide mine proposal and what’s at stake. The forum will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016 in the Shiras Room of the Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

"We still have the opportunity to help make 'Pure Michigan' a reality, rather than just a catchy slogan," said Jim Voss, a resident of Lake Township.

* Click here for MDEQ information and links concerning the Back 40 Project.
** Click here for details on the public meeting and public comment.

Save the Wild U.P. to host Jan. 7 showing of Michael Loukinen's documentary "Winona: A Copper Mining Ghost Town"

Poster for Save the Wild U.P.'s Jan. 7 showing of Michael Loukinen's documentary Winona: A Copper Mining Ghost Town. (Poster courtesy Save the Wild U.P.)

MARQUETTE -- Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) will host a special screening of Michael Loukinen’s documentary Winona: A Copper Mining Ghost Town. The film will be shown from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 7, in the Baraga Conference Room located at 129 W. Baraga Street, Marquette. Note: $5 cover for the film screening.

Michael Loukinen, who serves on Save the Wild U.P.’s Advisory Board, has also made copies of the film for sale at the screening, with proceeds to benefit Save the Wild U.P.’s work.*

"You can dig out the heart of a community, but you can’t kill its spirit," said Chip Truscon, SWUP board member.

Winona, Michigan, a former copper mining town 33 miles south of Houghton is fast becoming a "ghost town." The town’s population has shrunk from an estimated 1,000+ in 1920 to perhaps 13 residents today. Noted documentary filmmaker and sociologist Michael Loukinen has created this beautiful, fascinating and elegiac film documenting the community’s history and demise.

"I really look forward to seeing our supporters at this screening of Winona," said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP executive director and contributing photographer to the project.

"There’s a poignant human story here, but the film also acknowledges a dirty little secret -- when the mining boom ends, the U.P. is always left with struggling communities and collapsed economies, in addition to a polluted environment."

Loukinen is a retired professor of sociology at Northern Michigan University. He started by trying to teach using 35mm slide presentations. Gradually, he learned 16mm filmmaking, working with experienced filmmakers such as Tom Davenport, Debora Dickson, Kathleen Laughlin and especially Miroslav Janek (Czech Republic). Recently he has teamed up with digital cinema artist, Grant Guston. Most of his films are about the traditional cultures of the Lake Superior Region: Finnish Americans, Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and wilderness workers (loggers, trappers, and fishers). He has also made three sociological intervention films concerning at-risk youth in alternative schools, adults with disabilities who are fighting for independent lifestyles, and the prevention of vehicular homicide. His films have won both academic and artistic awards and have been featured at film festivals across the country.

* To learn more about Save the Wild U.P., visit their Web site.