MARQUETTE - The last of four Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. community forums Tuesday in Marquette was dominated by those challenging or opposing numerous aspects of the company's mining project in Michigamme Township.
Kennecott officials wanted to hold the sessions to answer questions and concerns of the public and to also provide updates on various developments about the company's nickel and copper mining and milling operations.
The three-hour session at the Ramada Inn was attended by roughly 160 people, including many who confronted Kennecott representatives with often contentious dialogue.
Gabriel Caplett of Skandia asked whether Kennecott's dividing the community against itself was part of the company's business plan.
Matt Johnson, Kennecott's manager of external affairs, was asked by Rosa Musket of Marquette whether he would be willing to entrust the lives of his co-workers and children to the mining project.
Barbara Bradley of Skandia asked Johnson how the company's pledge to clean up once mining is finished can be believed. She said he need not bother to reply because she didn't want to hear "one more slick answer."
Unlike three other sessions held over the past week, the questions and comments voiced Tuesday focused far less on transportation routes, Kennecott's Humboldt Mill or electric power provided to the mine by Alger Delta Electric.
There were technical questions on water quality testing, the mine's rock storage pad layering and the reverse osmosis technology behind the mine's water treatment system.
Concerns were expressed over underground water seepage from the mine potentially polluting water sources including streams, aquifers and Lake Superior. Other issues focused on the alleged inadequacy of Kennecott's mine permit application, a past record of pollution issues with Kennecott parent company Rio Tinto's mining projects in Alaska and Utah and the suggestion of creating a non-renewable resource tax on Kennecott's profits.
Cynthia Pryor of Big Bay said if Kennecott plans to dig its underground tunnel south to the ore body that would constitute a major change to its plan, needing new studies.
"If you're heading south, you're heading into the drain of the Yellow Dog (River)," Pryor said.
Jeffrey Loman, a former area resident now living in Alaska, questioned the ethics of current Kennecott employees working previously for state government. Johnson was a former aide to former U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Kennecott environmental and permitting manager Kristen Mariuzza previously worked on the mining company's permits for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community resident Charlotte Loonsfoot warned Kennecott of possible harmful spiritual consequences. Loonsfoot said when she was removed from Eagle Rock last summer and a sacred fire extinguished at the site where the company plans to drill the mine portal, a violent (spiritual) death occurred.
"I'm worried for your workers for the spirits that are surrounding this rock," Loonsfoot said.
Loonsfoot said "people could be risking their lives" and there could be cave-ins.
"When you take something, you have to give something back," she said.
Two Powell Township residents dressed as a bride and groom, with signs on their backs suggesting a marriage between Kennecott and the DEQ.
George Lindquist of Negaunee Township said the mine prevents hunting on 120 acres of state land, which he views as "a taking" which should be compensated.
"What's in it for me? What's in it for the sportsman, the outdoorsman," Lindquist asked. "What are you doing to mitigate this?"
John Hongisto of Deerton, one of a handful of speakers Tuesday in support of the mine, compared Kennecott's operation favorably to environmental impacts created by Cliffs Natural Resources projects, which occurred over decades.
"This mining project will pale in comparison, even in its worst case scenario," Hongisto said.
With lawsuits pending, Michelle Halley, an attorney from Marquette with the National Wildlife Federation, said Kennecott's intimating that judicial challenges are over with was disingenuous.
Loman said he intends to seek federal designation of the Yellow Dog River as an area of aquatic national interest. Other issues raised discussed contingency plans at the mine, use of the term "sulfide mining" and labor and treaty rights.
Kennecott officials, who viewed the sessions as successful, intend to hold another series of community forums later this year.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.