MARQUETTE - Marquette County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Solka heard oral arguments Thursday on a case involving whether the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association is a public body subject to producing financial information under the Freedom of Information Act.
The association is important to plaintiffs in the case because it was created under state law requirements by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which makes it a public body by extension, the plaintiffs contend.
According to the DEQ, the association, which is located in Marquette - and another one focused on the western Michigan geology in Kalamazoo - are working with the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program to identify, catalog and preserve a wide range of materials and data.
Geologic core samples from the Upper Peninsula, like these collected as part of exploration by the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co., could be among the items important to the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association, aiding efforts to study the region. (Journal file photo)
Those items support a variety of activities, including identifying new oil, gas and mineral deposits; contributing to research on climate change; addressing water quality related issues; enhancing the ability to identify geologic hazards; and support research on development of unconventional energy sources, the DEQ website states.
The association is intended to fund and operate a "core shed" - a warehouse dedicated to storing mineral core samples - which is a function of the Office of Geologic Survey, according to Michigan law.
According to opponents of the former Rio Tinto Eagle Mine, the mining company made tax deductible contributions to the association - which was setup by the state - while the state is charged with regulating the mine and its activities.
Mine opponents, including Save the Wild U.P. and the Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, contend there is a conflict of interest because the DEQ gave the mining company a favorable permit alteration for electric power upgrades without proper public input.
In February, the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice of Detroit sued the association after its registered local agent did not respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for budgets, tax statements and other financial information
"The murky facts surrounding the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association exemplify the need for the Freedom of Information Act and the purpose for which it was enacted: to shine a light on the actions of government officials which directly impact the citizens whom they purport to represent," said Jana Mathieu, the plaintiff's attorney.
Having heard the oral arguments, Solka will take the matter under advisement and issue a written decision. No time frame for the publication of that decision was given, according to court staff.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org