HUMBOLDT - Several local governing boards are supporting efforts by the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company to re-use the Humboldt Mill as a rock refining site.
On Dec. 19, Kennecott filed applications with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for air, water and operating permits for the mill. The permitting process, which includes opportunities for public comment before decisions are made, will likely take at least a year to complete.
Kennecott officials hope to have the mill up and running in two years, with up to 70 full-time workers employed, largely from Marquette County. Another 100 to 200 local contract jobs would be available during site reclamation, facility refurbishment and construction efforts.
Over the past several months, local officials have written letters to the mining company and the DEQ in support of Kennecott's plans to seek permits from the state for the project.
"This project will re-use an abandoned industrial site and create much-needed jobs in Marquette County," wrote Ely Township Supervisor Ted Pepin.
The Humboldt Township Board unanimously approved a letter to Kennecott welcoming Kennecott to the township and the Humboldt Mill.
"The Humboldt Township Board and staff are looking forward to working together with Kennecott Minerals and will expedite any local unit governmental operating permits that will be required by Humboldt Township," the board wrote in a statement signed by all members. "We wish Kennecott Minerals great success and prosperity for the good of our community."
The mill would process 1,500 tons of ore per day from Kennecott's proposed nickel and copper mine on the Yellow Dog Plains.
Kennecott purchased the mill in September and has begun remediation work, which will include general clean up, lead paint removal, improved storm water management systems, soil remediation and containment and management of existing rock piles at the site.
There will also be general repair and restoration of the mill building and salvageable millworks, as well as retooling for planned milling of ore from the Eagle Mine.
"Re-use of the abandoned industrial site is an outstanding opportunity for environmental clean-up, with the cost borne by Kennecott," wrote Ishpeming Township Supervisor James Nankervis. "The site clean-up and rehabilitation effort would cost $80 million. Such a significant investment is beyond the reach of local and regional development organizations and local governments."
Ishpeming City Manager Alan Bakalarski wrote the city will "lend our full support to the project," if Kennecott's project meets or exceeds DEQ environmental standards.
"As a municipality, we recognize the economic impact of rehabilitating the Humboldt mine and processing the mined ore and rock in our community," Bakalarski wrote. "The addition of 50 to 60 family-sustaining jobs created by the processing unit in our county makes an impressive economic impact."
"In addition, the auxiliary jobs created to support the processing plant will further benefit our community by stabilizing and expanding our work force," Bakalarski said.
The Six County Employment Alliance approved a resolution supporting the project, provided it meets state and federal requirements. The alliance resolution "encourages complete support by community, U.P., state and federal leaders of this project for the continued economic growth of our region."
There is no smelting planned for the Humboldt Mill. Basketball-sized rocks would be trucked from the mine to the mill where they would be crushed and ground to the consistency of sand.
Water will then be added and the slurry will undergo a process to separate copper and nickel, which will be dried and shipped by rail car to existing processing facilities in Ontario.
Tailings from the operation will be dumped in the existing tailings pond at the mill.
"Concentrating the rock in Marquette County would re-use a abandoned industrial site, create jobs, reduce the total mass of rock sent to processors in Canada and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent," wrote Marquette County Board Chairman Gerald Corkin.
Michelle Halley, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation and the group's Lake Superior Project Manager, said she has some possible reservations about Kennecott's planned re-use of the mill.
"From Kennecott's testimony, my understanding is that the company is interested in disposing of sulfide tailings and processing ore at the Humboldtsite," Halley said. "Those activities have the potential topose serious threats to the environment and residents, but untilI see what the permits propose,I amreserving judgment."
Kennecott officials said the permit applications include information from environmental field studies conducted at the site, proposed brownfield site remediation plans, as well as planned environmental protection and operational controls required for regulatory agency review and permit approvals.
Permit applications will be available for public review through the Kennecott Eagle Web site at: www.eagle-project.com