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Friday, November 30, 2018

Environmental and human health threats from poorly regulated mining in Michigan's UP continue to multiply; DNR to hold meeting on Highland Copper's lease request Dec. 4

Click on map for slightly larger version showing mineral lease requests. (Map courtesy Steve Garske and Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition)

[ANNOUNCEMENT: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Minerals Management will hold an informational public meeting on a metallic minerals lease request by UPX Minerals Inc., a division of Highland Copper, from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, Dec. 4, in the Charcoal Room at the University Center on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette. DNR officials will give a brief overview of the metallic mineral lease request submitted by UPX Minerals, Inc., and will provide the audience with the opportunity to ask questions. Questions will be answered as time allows. The following article, by Steve Garske, is a slightly updated version of his article that appeared recently in UP Environment, the Fall 2018 newsletter of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC). It is published here with permission.]

By Steve Garske*

On May 30, 2017, Highland Copper Company Inc. acquired approximately 447,842 acres (700 square miles) of mineral properties in the central UP (the "UPX Properties") from the Rio Tinto Group. Then this spring Highland/UPX Minerals requested some 3900 acres (over 6.1 square miles) of mineral leases from the state.

Unlike previous lease requests, which targeted primarily state and commercial forest lands, these potential leases include a state natural area (Rocking Chair Lakes), the Noquemanon Trail Network in the Forestville Trailhead area, and the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy's Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve near Marquette. They also include lakes, wetlands, streams and rivers, camps, homesteads and residential areas. Affected landowners are understandably upset with the possibility of mineral exploration under their lands and even their homes.

Highland's lease request follows on the heels of the Michigan DNR's handing mineral leases for 15,300 acres (23.9 square miles) of mostly public and private forest land in Baraga, Houghton, Iron and Marquette Counties to Eagle Mine/Lundin LLC in 2017. Soon afterwards, Lundin requested a lease for state mineral rights under Haystack Mountain in Houghton County, which the state gladly handed them earlier this year. Haystack Mountain is a unique geologic feature, an ancient 100-foot high "volcanic plug" that straddles Ottawa National Forest and private land.

Except for Highland's lease request, which is still "under consideration," the Michigan DNR has handed over leases to every square inch of mineral rights that mining companies have requested. Why? It certainly can't be the state royalties. As stated by the state's Metallic Minerals Lease Agreement, "Rental for the first (1st) through fifth (5th) year shall be paid at the rate of $3.00 per acre per lease year, and for the sixth (6th) through tenth (10th) year at the rate of $6.00 per acre per lease year." Lease royalties don't kick in until the 11th year, when rates go to $10.00/acre and up. (See

Topping off the state's willingness to please the mining industry was the decision by DEQ director Heidi Grether to overrule her professional staff and hand Aquila Resources Inc. a wetland destruction permit for their "Back 40" mine, even though the company's application failed to meet the requirements of state and federal law.

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, UPEC's Mining Action Group.)

The willingness of the DNR and DEQ to freely hand out exploration and mining permits can be blamed in large part on a phenomenon known as "regulatory capture." Wikipedia (2018) defines regulatory capture as "... a form of government failure which occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating." A University of Chicago School of Business blogger defines it as "...the tendency of regulators, politicians, and bureaucrats to cater to the interests of special interest groups that are highly informed and not to the interests of the general public" (Rolnik 2017). Regulatory capture can also occur when industry is the only source of technical expertise needed to understand production processes and what might go wrong (Cohen 2018).

Cohen goes on to describe a new form of regulatory capture: the willful rejection of science in setting environmental policy. This form of regulatory capture is based on fantasy and a disregard for expertise. In June Governor Snyder institutionalized regulatory capture in Michigan by passing the "Fox in the Henhouse" bills (Senate Bills 662-654), which let the governor appoint a panel of mostly industry representatives with the power to veto regulations written by the DEQ's environmental and health professionals.

The wild U.P. that many of us know and love is under threat like never before. The government agencies that are supposed to protect it are in large part working for the industries they are supposed to be regulating. It's going to be up to the rest of us to save the wild U.P.


Wikipedia. 2018. "Regulatory capture."

Rolnik, Guy. April 17, 2017. "When We Are Less Interested in the Truth, Capture Thrives." ProMarket: the blog of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Cohen, Steve. April 16, 2018. "Scott Pruitt, Andrew Wheeler, and regulatory capture at the EPA."

Editor's Notes:

* Guest author Steve Garske is a botanist and a member of UPEC's Mining Action Group.

** Click here to see detailed maps of the mineral lease requests.

*** See our Feb. 2, 2018, article, "DEQ hearing on Back 40 wetlands permit attracts nearly 500; Menominee Tribe lawsuit seeks federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction."

Thursday, November 29, 2018

"Permission," new exhibit by Finnish American artist Tia Keo, opens Nov. 29 at Finlandia University Gallery

"Permission," an exhibit by Finnish American artist Tia Salmela Keobounpheng, is now on display in the Finlandia University Gallery through Feb. 15, 2019. An opening reception will be held TONIGHT, Nov. 29. (Photos courtesy Finlandia University Gallery)

HANCOCK -- Finlandia University Gallery will present the 28th Annual Contemporary Finnish American Artist Series Exhibition featuring the work of artist Tia Salmela Keobounpheng. Her exhibit, titled "Permission," will be on display at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock, from Nov. 29, 2018, to Feb. 15, 2019.

An opening reception for the public will take place at the gallery from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. TONIGHT, Thursday, Nov. 29, with an artist talk beginning at 7:20 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Tia Salmela Keobounpheng (Tia Keo), the 28th Finnish American artist and designer to exhibit in Finlandia University's Annual Contemporary Finnish American Artist Series Exhibition, has spent much of her life exploring the intersection of architecture, design, art and craft. Across disciplines, she creates work that is rooted in the spirit of everyday design principles and organic handcraft of her Finnish heritage.

After ten years of growing as a designer and creative entrepreneur with her Silvercocoon collection of everyday laser-cut acrylic and wood jewelry, she is returning to exploring in art and craft.

"Permission" is a collection of work across mediums that she gave herself the freedom to make -- not tied to marketplace considerations. Hand-woven wall hangings, watercolor and acrylic paintings spurred from her daily painting practice are fodder for her expansion into woven metal sculptures that pull together all of her skills and vision. They are her current, most passionate, permission.

Bosom Bowl no.3, 2018, by Tia Keo. Copper and copper wire.

"My new sculpture work merges metal and weaving. Reliant on the skill of my hands, flat sheets of metal take form and thin fibers of varying materials are repetitively connected to create vessels that are organic and textured, solid and permeable," notes Tia Keo. "These small-scale sculptures started as exploratory exercises and have become symbolic of larger emotional issues I am stewing on. They feel new and also intrinsic. Some reflect my history as a jewelry artist, others are suggestive of the lifelong influence of architecture and design. For the first time in my life, all of my disparate experiences and skills are merging together into one body of work that is tied directly to me claiming my purpose."

Tia’s love of weaving goes back over twenty years and ties her to Finland and to the rich history of women’s work.

"Working with my hands connects ancestral women in my lineage (beyond the grandmothers I never knew) through blood memory and instinctual know-how. Symbolic of the break in tradition, my sculptures allow me to present weaving in an untraditional way; not functional or practical or soft -- but strong with deliberate vulnerability," says Keo.

The artist Tia Salmela Keobounpheng.

Tia’s work also explores how culture, gender, and identity contribute to our internal and external narratives of personal image.

"As a white American woman of Finnish heritage as well as the wife of a Southeast Asian refugee, and the mother of mixed-race children, I am in the unique position to connect to other white Americans as a way to begin working to recognize bias, inspire greater tolerance and to address privilege as it relates to different cultures," says Keo. "Immigrant stories of a hundred years ago relate again and again to the immigrant stories of today which weave tightly into the racial fabric of our society."

Keo’s work inspires an authentic expression of self in order to highlight common threads of humanity, with the grace of a person both boldly questioning and humbly observing.

Keo graduated with a BA degree in Architecture from the University of Minnesota, and co-founded Silvercocoon with her husband in 2001 as a means to work on creative projects across disciplines. In December 2007 she launched her laser-cut jewelry collection under the Silvercocoon label with a solo-trunk show in the Walker Art Center shop. In 2017 she received a MN State Arts Board Grant to help her expand her jewelry practice into metal. The grant became a catalyst for creating new metal jewelry, expanding into metal sculpture, and for developing a daily watercolor practice that has exceeded 500 days.

This activity is made possible, in part, by funds provided by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) through a grant from the McKnight Foundation.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday Noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 906-487-7500 or email

Monday, November 26, 2018

Obituary: Joseph Freed (updated)

Joseph Freed. (Photo courtesy Brian Rendel)

Joseph Dean Freed of Hancock, MI, age 58, passed away at St. Mary’s Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester, MN, on November 14 after their world-class medical team made heroic efforts to treat his sudden illness.

Joe’s values of helping hands, loving heart, and giving spirit impacted hundreds of people he cared for and worked with as a nurse for Copper Country Mental Health, specializing in the healthcare of individuals with disabilities. In both work and personal life, Joe practiced kindness to all, encouraging everyone to have fun and celebrate life to the fullest. Joe wanted everyone to feel free to be themselves and to be empowered by their community.

Joe was preceded in death by his parents, James and Jean Freed of Wakarusa, Indiana. He is survived by his husband, best friend, and life partner of 29 years Brian Rendel and their adopted pound dog JaXeN; Joe’s siblings Kim (Tom) Swank of Fort Wayne; Mark (Tomi) Freed of Blanchard, Idaho; Tammy (Rick) Maust of Wakarusa, Indiana; his father-in-law and mother-in-law Benjamin, Jr., and Bonnie Rendel of Calumet, Michigan, for whom Joe helped care; Joe’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law Gary and Diane Russell of Allouez, Michigan; numerous aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, countless friends, co-workers, and patients.

A memorial fund at the Keweenaw Community Foundation will advance Joe’s caring legacy. The Joe Freed Empowerment Fund mission is to empower persons with disabilities. Donations to the fund may be made by visiting or calling 906-482-9673.

Brian invites everyone who loved Joe to the Miscowaubik Club in Calumet, Saturday, December 29, from 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. for a celebration evening in honor of Joe’s life. Those wishing to attend are encouraged to RSVP online at or voicemail at 906-451-4510.