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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Concerned residents speak out against UPX mineral lease requests at DNR public meeting

By Michele Bourdieu

Mark Sweatman, third from left, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Office of Minerals Management, speaks about mineral leases requested by UPX Minerals, Inc., a division of Highland Copper, at a Dec. 4, 2018, DNR public meeting to give information and take comments on the UPX requests. Also seated at the table are, from left, Steve Casey, now retired, former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Upper Peninsula District coordinator, Water Resources Division; Don Mankee, DNR Forest Resources Division; and Julie Manson, property manager, Lease Management Unit, DNR Office of Minerals Management. (Photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

MARQUETTE -- -- Citizens concerned about mineral lease requests from UPX Minerals Inc., a division of Highland Copper, filled the Charcoal Room of Northern Michigan University's University Center for an informational meeting held by officials of Michigan's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on Dec. 4, 2018. DNR officials provided some information on mineral rights in Michigan and tried to answer questions from the public, but some questions went unanswered.

During the question-answer session of the well attended Dec. 4, 2018, DNR public meeting at Northern Michigan University, residents concerned about parcels nominated for mineral lease requests by UPX Minerals listen to DNR officials' replies to their questions. As monitor of the meeting, DEQ's Steve Casey, now retired, circulates through the audience with a microphone to take questions. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Many property owners asked questions related to the fact that, in Michigan, severed minerals occur when the mineral estate, which includes metallic mineral rights, is severed from the surface estate. In this case, one party may own the right to farm the land, build a house, or graze cattle, while another party may own the right to explore for and produce the metallic minerals from beneath the land at the same property, if such minerals exist.

UPX is seeking to lease thousands of acres of State-owned minerals in Marquette County. These mineral properties are underneath private property, homes, camps, rivers and streams, lakes, wetlands -- even nature reserves and the DNR’s own Rocking Chair Lakes. Located 25 miles northwest of Marquette, the Rocking Chair Lakes are a natural area, managed for trout fishing, in a rugged and nearly inaccessible part of Marquette County.*

Granite Cliff Community along (North) Rocking Chair Lake is one sensitive area included in recent mineral lease requests to the State of Michigan by UPX Minerals, a subsidiary of Highland Copper. (File photo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

"Our property was nominated, and that's how I got involved, Sue Beckstrom-Noël told Keweenaw Now. "We have a creek that flows into the Dead River basin, and we have wetlands on our property that feed into that creek."

Sue Beckstrom-Noël comments during the Dec. 4, 2018, DNR public meeting at Northern Michigan University. (Photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

Some residents, whose properties are outside the parcels nominated for leasing mineral rights, were still concerned because of their own property's proximity to a parcel nominated for leasing by UPX.

Dennis Ferraro, who lives on Eagles' Nest Road, and his neighbor, Amy Frieden, were among the landowners concerned about potential leases near their properties. Ferraro said his property is only about three or four miles from Echo Lake, which is one of the areas included in the lease request.

Dennis Ferraro, who lives near an area nominated for a UPX mineral lease, expresses concern about the public health impacts of sulfide mining. (Photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

Speaking for herself and her neighbors, Amy Frieden told Keweenaw Now, "We're all pretty concerned about the health effects that sulfide mining will have."

This detail from one of the UPX lease request maps shows the nominated parcels near Echo Lake (left of center). Green boxes mean State owns mineral and surface rights. Boxes with diagonal lines going one way /// are classified as development with restrictions. Those with diagonal lines going both ways are classified as non-development. Click here for the complete map. (Map courtesy Michigan DNR)

Marcia Gonstead of Big Bay shared her experience living 13 miles from the Eagle Mine, noting concerns about the noise of mining trucks, her health and her water.

Should a UPX mineral lease request be approved by DNR, UPX would receive the exclusive right to explore for the presence of metallic minerals in these areas. A lease alone does not grant a lessee a right to mine. While a decision on the leases of state-owned mineral rights was to be made in February, so far the DNR Web site does not indicate a decision has been made. The local residents who gave comments at the Dec. 4 meeting were unanimously opposed to the lease requests and/or the mining exploration those leases would allow, which could lead to further sulfide mining and threats to the environment.

Videos: DNR officials reply to questions

The first part of the Dec. 4 meeting was devoted to questions presented in written form on cards and to open verbal questions from the audience. Steve Casey, now retired, former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Upper Peninsula District Coordinator, Water Resources Division, read the written questions and assisted officials from the DNR's Office of Minerals Management in moderating the meeting.

Julie Manson, property manager with the Lease Management Unit of the DNR’s Office of Minerals Management, replied to a question on mineral rights ownership.

Julie Manson, DNR property manager, explains how mineral rights may be severed from the surface property and how the fact that Michigan is not a recording state makes it difficult at times to determine the mineral rights owner. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)**

Mark Sweatman, director of the Michigan DNR's Office of Minerals Management, explained that when mineral rights are severed from the surface estate, the mineral estate becomes the "dominant estate" and the surface estate becomes the "servient estate." Sweatman also noted that royalties on state-owned minerals are constitutionally protected. Those funds are used for parks and recreation, wildlife, etc.

Mark Sweatman, director of the Michigan DNR's Office of Minerals Management, fields questions from concerned residents at the Dec. 4, 2018, public meeting on mineral lease requests by UPX Minerals Inc. (Photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

"People are paying for the resources they're taking from the State," Sweatman said. "We are getting paid for the use of our land or for the taking of those minerals."

On the other hand, Sweatman gave an example of the State of Michigan, as the surface owner, being sued for opposing drilling by an owner of mineral rights under sand dunes. In that case, the court ruled against the State and Michigan had to pay $90 million.

A question from the audience referred to that example in expressing concern that an individual surface-only property owner is in a worse position than the State if drilling occurs on his/her land. Another audience member asked about the possibility of mediation between a property owner and a lessee.

Mark Sweatman, director of the Michigan DNR's Office of Minerals Management, replies to questions on loss to an individual surface property owner when drilling for minerals occurs and on mediation between the surface owner and the lessee. This video clip shows the "standing room only" at the meeting.

Sweatman also replied to a question on monitoring, based on recent exploratory drilling by Highland Copper near the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. He explained interaction between Highland Copper and the DNR helped avoid surface damage within the park. Sweatman said the DNR required various safeguards to protect the surface features at the park, including drilling only when the ground was frozen. Some damage was done during the exploratory drilling, but it was outside the park boundaries.***

In the case of Rocking Chair Lakes, Sweatman explained the lease classification of "non-development."

Using the example of Rocking Chair Lakes, Mark Sweatman explains that the classification of "non-development" in a potential mineral lease would require a specific plan to protect the surface.

This DNR map of UPX lease requests shows the area of Rocking Chair Lakes (in upper left detail here). Pink boxes mean State owns mineral rights. Green boxes mean State owns mineral and surface rights. Boxes with diagonal lines going one way /// are classified as development with restrictions. Those with diagonal lines going both ways are classified as non-development. Click here for full map of UPX lease requests in this area of Champion Township. (Map courtesy Michigan DNR)

Chris Burnett of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy asked DNR officials how they determine value, for example, the value of water rights vs. the value of mineral rights.

Following up on his question, Kathleen Heideman, board member of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) and member of UPEC's Mining Action Group, asked if DNR officials -- before the lease nomination process -- consider their own management plan to determine the actual value of resources that would be impacted should mining occur because of the mineral values below the surface.

Chris Burnett and Kathleen Heideman challenge DNR officials with questions on the value of resources other than the minerals targeted by the mineral lease requests.

Sweatman asked Don Mankee of the DNR Forest Resources Division to reply to their questions on value.

DNR officials attempt to answer questions on resource values, noting that while Rocking Chair Lakes is a sensitive area it can be classified as non-development and still be leasable.

Videos: Concerned residents offer comments to DNR

The last half hour of the Dec. 4 meeting was devoted to individual comments (not questions) from members of the audience.

Marquette County resident Dennis Ferraro commented on mercury pollution from mining, offering facts from recent scientific research, including a study by Charles Kerfoot,  Michigan Tech professor emeritus in Biological Sciences, and his research team.

Dennis Ferraro cites scientific studies on threats to human health from sulfide mining, especially the danger from mercury pollution in local wetlands. Since Ferraro speaks longer than the three minutes allowed for comments, Steve Casey asks him to stop and calls for DNR security.

Horst Schmidt, UPEC president, thanked DNR officials for having the meeting and acknowledged the role played by UPEC's Mining Action Group in calling attention to the mineral lease issue. He also mentioned several ongoing mining projects in sensitive Upper Peninsula areas.

In his comments, UPEC President Horst Schmidt cites the need for this meeting between the DNR and the public and notes how ongoing sulfide mining projects in the Upper Peninsula have been permitted and encouraged by state legislation.

Jeffery Loman of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community contrasted Alaska, where residents receive royalties from oil, with the U.P., where the potential for a renewable fishing industry has been hindered by clearcutting and stamp sand waste from century-old mining.

Jeffery Loman of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community speaks about the future economic potential for fishing as opposed to non-renewable industries like mining.

The UPEC / Mining Action Group's Kathleen Heideman commented on why the minerals in Marquette County should be left in the ground and why landowners should be given the right to re-unite mineral rights to their properties. Heideman reminded DNR staff members that the DNR is reviewing the Lake Superior Watershed Partnership's Watershed Plan, which covers most of the area of the UPX mineral lease requests and recommends not allowing sulfide-based mining in these areas. She also explained why the DNR's nomination process should include contacting landowners.

Kathleen Heideman of UPEC and its Mining Action Group challenges the DNR mineral leasing nomination process in her comments at the Dec. 4, 2018, public meeting in Marquette.

During his comments at the meeting, Chris Burnett of the U.P. Land Conservancy, learned that the parcels owned by his group and nominated for mineral lease had been withdrawn. While he was glad to hear that, he expressed concern about the nomination process and whether DNR staff actually made site visits to learn about the areas they were leasing.

As a landowner whose property has been nominated for a mineral lease, Sue Beckstrom-Noël noted that the DNR is operating under certain restraints. She challenged residents to be pro-active and continue to speak out if they wish to change laws in order to protect this beautiful environment.

Chris Burnett of the U.P. Land Conservancy and landowner Sue Beckstrom-Noel offer challenging comments during the Dec. 4, 2018, DNR public meeting. 

Following the meeting, in answer to a question from Keweenaw Now, Mark Sweatman said, "It (the meeting) accomplished all of my goals for informing the public."****


* See our May 9, 2018, article, "Landowners alarmed by Highland Copper subsidiary's mineral lease requests; Highland completes Copperwood 2018 winter exploration in Porkies."

 ** See "Digging into severed mineral rights (Showcasing the DNR)," by Michigan DNR.

*** See our May 12, 2017, article, "DEQ cites Highland Copper's wetlands, soil erosion violations from mining exploration in Porkies, along CR 519."

**** For more information on the UPX mineral lease requests, click here and scroll down to UPX Minerals Inc. Direct Mineral Lease Request for additional links.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

UPDATED: Celebrate World Water Day at Michigan Tech March 20-26

Michigan Tech invites the community to celebrate the 2019 World Water Day March 20-26. (Poster courtesy Michigan Tech University)

HOUGHTON -- Michigan Tech will celebrate World Water Day from March 20-26, 2019, with events related to the United Nations theme, "Leaving No One Behind - Human Rights: Near and Far." The public is invited to attend the following events.

Green Film Marathon for Justice: Two screenings -- March 20 and 26

Marathon for Justice, a documentary by EmpathyWorks Films, tells the story of marginalized communities in Philadelphia, the Navajo Nation, and the Black Hills emphasizing the environmental injustices that these groups struggle against and fight with daily. (Photo courtesy Cultural Survival)

Events begin with a showing of the Green Film Marathon for Justice (2016) from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, in G002 Hesterberg Hall, Michigan Tech Forestry Bldg. Marathon for Justice explores the ways in which people of color have been disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals in/on the air, land, and water. Meet communities around the country who have experienced the detrimental effects of pollution, contamination and the degradation of their lands and find out how these citizens are mobilizing in the long race for justice (44 min). The film will be followed by a discussion facilitated by Marie Richards, Michigan Tech PhD student, Department of Social Sciences, and enrolled Citizen of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (Baawting Anishinaabeg).

Enjoy coffee and refreshments. Cost: FREE, $5 suggested donation.

A second screening of Marathon for Justice will be at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, in in Room 202, Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC).

A Panel Discussion, "Leaving No One Behind," will follow the film at 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26. Moderators will be Valoree Gagnon, director of University-Indigenous Community Partnerships, Great Lakes Research Center, and Emily Shaw, MS, Environmental Engineering Science. Panelists will include Monica Lewis-Patrick, We the People of Detroit; Kathleen Smith, Habitat Specialist/Plants Program, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Natural Resources Department; Peter Baril, REHS, MPS, Director of Community Planning and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department; Angie Carter, assistant professor in Environmental/Energy Justice, Social Sciences, Michigan Tech.

Following the Panel Discussion the GLRC will host a Recognition of Artists and Reception at 5:45 p.m. with refreshments provided by GLRC. A concluding ceremony with the Woodland Singers will follow at 6:15 p.m.

UPDATED: Keynote Address: "Mapping the Water Crisis of Unaffordability" Monday, March 25

The Keynote Address for the World Water Day celebration will be "Mapping the Water Crisis of Unaffordability" by Monica Lewis-Patrick, human rights activist and advocate and co-founder, president and CEO of We the People of Detroit, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, March 25, in Michigan Tech's Memorial Union Building Ballroom (MUB).

Through her work with We the People, Lewis-Patrick has set up emergency water stations, opened hotlines, delivered water, provided education and conducted community research to raise awareness about water shutoffs and water affordability in Flint and Detroit. She is one of the leaders at the forefront of the water rights struggle in Detroit and beyond.

Recently, Lewis-Patrick co-designed and co-authored "Mapping the Water Crisis: The Dismantling of African-American Neighborhoods in Detroit" as volume one of a three-part series documenting the effects of austerity and its relationship to race in Detroit.

The Keynote lecture will be preceded by the Welcome to Traditional Homelands by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the Woodland Singers from the Ojibwe and Menominee Nations. The lecture will be followed by an open reception

(Insert photo of Monica Lewis-Patrick © Jackie Hicks and courtesy Michigan Tech University)

POSTER SESSION: Monday, March 25

Preceding the Keynote Address, Michigan Tech students will be available from 2:30 p.m. - 4 p.m. on Monday, March 25, for informal discussions with visitors to the Poster Session in the Memorial Union Building Ballroom.

Wilderness Art Show opening reception: Tuesday, March 26, in GLRC

The Wilderness Art Show for World Water Day will be on exhibit March 21 - June 14, 2019, in the Great Lakes Research Center. (Poster courtesy GLRC)

The Wilderness Art Show for World Water Day opens on Thursday, March 21 and continues through June 14, 2019, in the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC), first and second floors.

Exhibiting artists are Daniel Hill from Six Nations of the Grand River Reservation in Ontario Canada; Josh Jaehnig, Bramble and Stag Tattoo Parlour, Houghton; and Jonathan Soper, graphic designer and entrepreneur in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula.

An opening reception for the artists will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, in the GLRC. Regular building hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

World Water Day Sponsors include the Great Lakes Research Center, Department of Social Sciences, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Sustainable Futures Institute, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Visual and Performing Arts and the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region.

Green Film sponsors are Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, Michigan Tech Great Lakes Research Center, Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Keweenaw Land Trust, Michigan Tech Dept. of Social Sciences, and Michigan Tech Sustainable Futures Institute.