Eagle East hearing generates discussion

Economic benefits vs. enviro concerns


MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality held a meeting Thursday to gather input on the Eagle Mine’s request to amend its permit and expand its mining operation, which had supporters pointing to jobs and economic benefits while those opposed cited a need for more environmental monitoring and safeguards.

Eagle Mine, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Lundin Mining Corp., is seeking state approval to begin extraction of a deposit called Eagle East, which is located roughly 1.5 miles east of the Eagle Mine. The deposit, discovered in June 2014, is about 2,500 feet deeper than and one-third the size of the nickel and copper ore body currently being mined in Michigamme Township.

The meeting, held in Westwood High School’s auditorium, was attended by roughly 50 people, consisting of mine employees, environmental advocates, government officials and others.

Joe Maki, in the DEQ’s Oil, Gas and Minerals Division, said his office is in the early stages of the technical review process, and will likely request more information from the company before any decision is made.

“As we know it right now, there’s not going to be any changes to the original footprint of the Eagle infrastructure,” he said, adding that review of water and other geotechnical information is still ongoing.


Kathleen Heideman, a member of an environmental advocacy organization called the Mining Action Group, said she would like the DEQ to require additional tests and studies as part of permit conditions to address potential concerns, such as air quality and emissions, as well as light and noise pollution, that could arise with expanded mining operations.

“At this point it is definitely adding noise to the Yellow Dog Plains, and an industrial footprint in terms of the noise … up there, just from the exploration phase, but also when the blast takes place,” she said.

She also said the DEQ should monitor cumulative impacts that could affect the environment, such as Eagle Mine taking gravel from the surface to use as backfill in the cavities left behind after extraction of the ore.

Speaking in favor of Eagle Mine’s request, Commissioner Joe Derocha said the Marquette County Board has always been supportive of the mining operation.

“I personally have been fully supportive of the project, and will maintain to be supportive of this project for Eagle so long as we continue with safe ecological practices,” he said.

Derocha said the company over the life of the mine will pay around $100 million in taxes, with local schools receiving a sizable share of that, and additional tax revenue going to support other countywide services, such as emergency services and veterans affairs.

Derocha also responded to a comment made earlier in the night about Eagle Mine or the Humboldt Mill possibly becoming a Superfund site, which are properties deemed to be some of the nation’s most contaminated land requiring long-term remedial efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I share … that woman’s concerns because I lived through this in Humboldt Township and worked with the EPA and the DEQ during the review of whether Humboldt should be considered a Superfund site or not,” he said. “And I will tell you what Eagle has done; they spent millions and millions of dollars cleaning up the Humboldt facility.”

Others said Eagle Mine has been a responsible corporate citizen, provided jobs and helped local schools and students address a skilled trades gap.

Meanwhile, some raised concerns about remedial efforts following the closure of the mine and mill, and felt the DEQ should also hold Eagle Mine to a higher financial assurance than the $50 million it’s currently required to pay should the company seize operations without properly returning the areas to suitable conditions.

Maki said the DEQ annually evaluates that figure, and said the original financial assurance has increased significantly since original estimates were made several years ago, at around $21 million.

Several people at the meeting considered Eagle East to be a new mining operation — in part because of the distance it is from the original Eagle Mine deposit — which would require an entirely new permit, rather than an amendment. But Maki said an amendment is appropriate under state law Part 632, which regulates nonferrous metallic mining.

“It’s not uncommon to have (access tunnels) go that far and reach different types of an ore body … (Part) 632 says that if we deem is significant, it shall go through the same process as if it were a new application,” Maki said. “I don’t think anything is different here. They’re still required to provide the same amount of data that they would have had to if this was a greenfield. Now, granted, there’s a lot of data that’s been collected because of Eagle that they know, so you’re not seeing the 13 volumes, but this is the legal process.”

The DEQ will also be accepting written public comment until 5 p.m. July 6. Comments may be addressed to DEQ Eagle East Permit Amendment, Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals, 1504 W. Washington St., Marquette, MI 49855. Emailed comments can be sent to DEQ-Mining-Comments@michigan.gov, and should include “Eagle East Permit Amendment” as the subject.

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Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.