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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Copperwood applies for permit to construct Tailings Disposal Facility; public comments due Aug. 1, 2018

By Michele Bourdieu

Highland Copper subsidiary Copperwood Resources, Inc., has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for a Part 315 Dam Safety permit for constructing the Tailings Disposal Facility (TDF) (outlined above in orange, lower center of map) for the Copperwood Mining Project near Wakefield. Click on map for slightly larger version or go to page 53, Fig. 1-2, of Copperwood Resources' proposed Part 632 mining permit amendment for a larger version. (Screenshot of map courtesy Copperwood Resources, Inc.)

GAYLORD, Mich. -- Thomas Repaal, Copperwood Resources, Inc., 310 East US Hwy 2, Wakefield, Michigan 49968, has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Water Resources Division Gaylord Field Office for a permit under authority of Part 315, Dam Safety, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended (NREPA).

The applicant proposes to construct a 320-acre Tailings Disposal Facility (TDF) as part of the Copperwood Project
underground copper mine. The final TDF will be constructed of earth fill and will include approximately 9.29 million cubic yards of material for the embankments. The project is located in T49N, R45W, Sections 6, 7, and 8; Wakefield and Ironwood Townships; Gogebic County, Michigan.

Jim Pawloski, DEQ Water Resources engineer in the Gaylord office (Hydrologic Studies and Dam Safety Unit), said the Part 315 permit is required because of the size and height of the proposed TDF -- 320 acres and up to 130 feet high.

Pawloski told Keweenaw Now Copperwood's Part 315 application is essentially the same as the one they applied for and received previously.

"It's actually a new application because the previous one expired after five years," Pawloski said.

Further description from the summary of activities in the Part 315 permit application form:

"The TDF embankment will be comprised of three zones of soil fill, the innermost of which is a low permeability recompacted soil fill. In addition to these three embankment zones, a HDPE geomembrane liner will be installed on the upstream face of the embankment to control tailings water seepage. Construction of the TDF will also impact 51.25 acres of wetland, which will be mitigated on-site and through preservation off-site. The TDF will also require the filling of 16,557 linear feet of stream and creek; provisions have been made to intercept all upstream flow and route it around the TDF through the construction of stream channels using natural stream channel design. The downstream watershed will be left intact and undisturbed. Upon closure of the mine, the TDF will be capped, reclaimed, and returned to a natural, self-sustaining ecosystem. The cap will consist of a geosynthetic separation layer, a capillary break layer, a soil cover layer, and a vegetative support layer. Once reclaimed, the TDF will provide approximately 320 acres of grassland habitat with drainage directed north into existing stream channels."*

In their description of the TDF, the applicant also notes, "The sediment in the tailings and contact water will settle out in the TDF, and the water will be collected via decant structure piping and transferred to the on-site wastewater treatment plant."*

The scenic North Country Trail passes very near the south side of the TDF.

Doug Welker of Atlantic Mine, a member of a local North Country Trail chapter, helps maintain the North Country Trail and enjoys hiking in Upper Peninsula areas of the trail.

This drawing shows Stage 3 of the proposed Tailings Disposal Facility (TDF) with base liner grades. Note streams to the north and the proximity of the North Country Trail to the south of the TDF (arrow above the letter A on south side points to the scenic trail). For a larger view go to page 70, Fig.5-4, of Copperwood Resources' proposed Part 632 mining permit amendment.

"I have commented publicly on this issue in the past," Welker told Keweenaw Now recently.  "My biggest concern is the scale of the tailings basin and the lack of a spelled-out 'worst case scenario,' should the tailings basin fail. Our 'new climate normal' will likely feature more intense rainfalls than the model the company is using to project tailings basin-related safety."

Because of the impacts to wetlands and the re-routing of streams planned for the construction of the TDF, the Part 315 permit is related to other DEQ Water Resources permits.

On July 17, 2018, a public hearing was held at Gogebic Community College on the renewal of Copperwood's permit application for Part 301, Inland Lakes Streams; Part 303, Wetland Protection; and Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands.

James Caron of DEQ Water Resources, who chaired the July 17 public hearing, said about 66 people attended the hearing and most of those who made comments were in favor of granting those permits. Only one person spoke in opposition -- Chuck Brumleve, environmental mining specialist for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), who presented the tribe's opposition to the application.

Brumleve told Keweenaw Now he was surprised to be the only person expressing environmental concerns at the hearing. He noted the local government representatives who spoke were all in favor of Copperwood's project.

Native Americans' objections to Copperwood plans

According to Brumleve, the tribe is presenting several objections to Copperwood's present project. Here are a few of their concerns:

-- They object to the fact that the company plans to store all the tailings on the surface rather than backfilling the mine with at least some of the tailings so that the size of the TDF, wetland impacts and stream diversions could be reduced -- thus reducing the height of the TDF and its visual, aesthetic impacts as well (presently DEQ officials admit that, should the TDF reach the anticipated height of 130 feet, it would be visible from the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park). Backfilling is a well established technology for this type of underground mine and was even recommended by the mining company's consultant in 2012.

-- Another possibility for reducing the size of the TDF, reducing the wetland fill, and possibly avoiding stream diversion (apparently not included in the company's plans) would be to transport tailings from the Copperwood Mine to the White Pine tailings basin.

-- The tribe has also cited studies that question the company's claim that the streams and wetlands are not connected to groundwater. They note the company has not heeded warnings from experts, made in comments in 2012, that contaminated mine water could discharge from the underground mine workings to the surface.

-- The proposed water intake from Lake Superior raises concerns about tribal treaty rights, since the mine and the intake are located within the 1842 Ceded Territory. Potential impacts on treaty-guaranteed tribal fishingand nearby spawning areas should be studied before permits are granted.

Today, July 26, is the DEQ's extended comment deadline for the Part 301, Part 303 and Part 325 permit.**

Public comments on Part 315 application due by Aug. 1, 2018

The public may submit comments on this Part 315 application by 5 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2018. Written comments will be made part of the record and should reference the application number HNE-DAD2-17YT1. Objections must be factual, specific, and fully describe the reasons upon which any objection is founded. Unless a written request is filed with the DEQ within the 20-day public comment period (which began July 12, 2018) the DEQ may make a decision on the application without a public hearing. The determination as to whether a permit will be issued or a public hearing held will be based on an evaluation of all relevant factors, including the public comments received and the effect of the proposed work on the public trust or interest, including navigation, fish, wildlife, and pollution.***

Asked why only two documents concerning the Part 315 application are available on the DEQ's MI Waters Web site (the Public Notice and the Joint Permit Application Form), Pawloski said the other documents are too large for the Internet system.

"We've decided to make documents available upon request," he told Keweenaw Now.

The entire copy of the public notice package may be requested by calling 989-731-4920 or may be viewed at the DEQ Water Resources Division Gaylord Field Office, 2100 M-32, Gaylord, Michigan 49735. Written comments may be mailed to this office and must be received by 5 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2018. To comment on line, click here to download, from the MI Waters Web site, the complete Public Notice (PN Copperwood Mine) and the Joint Permit Application Form (DEQ and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). Click on Add Comment to submit comments. You may also comment by email to Jim Pawloski at; however, comments on line through MI Waters are preferable.


* See the Joint Permit Application Form (DEQ and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), pp. 1-3. Click here to download this Application Form.

** See our July 13, 2018, article, "UPDATED: MDEQ to hold public meeting/hearing on proposed Copperwood mining permit amendment, water permit updates."

*** See the Public Notice (PN Copperwood Mine). Click here to download it.