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KBIC becomes part of most recent CEMP agreement

Living Green

Editor’s note: This is the final part of a five-part series on the Community Environmental Monitoring Program, or CEMP. This article focuses on the role of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. Previous articles outlined the CEMP agreement and focused on the the roles of other entities involved.

MARQUETTE — How does a nickel mining operation impact a culturally and ecologically significant area such as the Yellow Dog Plains? What can be done to know if the quality and health of traditional native plants and food sources are being preserved?

It can sometimes be difficult to get concrete answers to questions of this nature, but in the case of the Community Environmental Monitoring Program, or CEMP, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and Superior Watershed Partnership are working in conjunction with Eagle Mine and the Community Foundation of Marquette County to keep tabs on the environmental impacts of the mine, including how it impacts traditional Native American food sources.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community was formally added to the collaborative program with the signing of the most recent CEMP agreement taking place in December after around a year of negotiations among the four entities.

Formally joining CEMP provided “an opportunity for our staff — that have extensive experience and expertise in surface water monitoring, and air quality monitoring — to lend that expertise to the development of what that monitoring would be,” KBIC Natural Resources Department Director Evelyn Ravindran said.

“It gave us a seat at the table to discuss what type of monitoring could be done,” she said.

CEMP involves third-party verification of Eagle Mine’s state permit-required environmental monitoring, additional monitoring “over and above required state permit monitoring,” as well as the publication of monitoring results, and community outreach through swpcemp.org, organizers said.

The Superior Watershed Partnership and KBIC’s Natural Resources Department conduct third-party monitoring of the mine and associated sites, while the community foundation acts as a convener and a fiduciary pass-through agency for the program, with Eagle Mine paying for the independent monitoring by providing up to $300,000 annually.

“In the beginning, we just asked for site tours and while we were touring with Eagle (Mine) staff, they answered any questions we had, and then to be able to do this monitoring, we had to be trained to be allowed on-site at the mine … So we learned a lot along the way,” said Shannon DesRochers, Great Lakes resource specialist for the KBIC’s Natural Resources Department.

The monitoring conducted includes baseline assessments as well as continued monitoring to ensure “things are still going well for the environment and protecting our foods that are on the landscape, the rights of other beings in the landscape,” Ravindran said.

Particulate matter from mining is one concern, said Jane Kahkonen, an air quality specialist with the KBIC’s Natural Resources Department, as this can impact air quality as well as “affect the fruits and the berries out there in the plains.”

Although the KBIC has had a “working relationship and a strong partnership” with the SWP throughout the years and had requested monitoring of “unique sites such as groundwater seeps and traditional tribal foods such as blueberries and wild rice” through CEMP, the KBIC joining CEMP represents a new era of the agreement, as the “partnership between KBIC and SWP enables CEMP monitoring to expand to include new mining exploration sites in the Sidnaw area and other sites in the western Upper Peninsula,” officials said in a press release.

“They did ask us before if we would be interested in being part of the (CEMP) program, but at the time KBIC did not choose to be part of it,” Ravindran said. “And then recently — within the past couple years — when it was known that there was exploration that was going to be done outside of the reservation and outside of the area that Eagle Mine currently is, we had some additional new conversations … And as a result of our discussions, we felt that it would be good for us to become more proactive in the monitoring and to work with the Superior Watershed Partnership to get that going.”

The first Community Environmental Monitoring Agreement was signed by the mine, the community foundation and the Superior Watershed Partnership in 2012, stemming from the local controversy about the development of the mine.

As plans for the Eagle Mine in the Yellow Dog Plains of Michigamme Highlands developed after the ore body was discovered in 2002, many area residents and entities were concerned about the disruption of ecological, cultural and spiritual resources in the area, as the Yellow Dog Plains contain the sacred Eagle Rock site, the headwaters of the Yellow Dog and Salmon Trout rivers, and belong to the Lake Superior Watershed.

“All we wanted was to be ensured that there was responsible mining going on,” Kahkonen said. “And I think this is another opportunity that we can make sure (to) — provide a little oversight — that is what’s happening there for the Salmon Trout River and the sacred site there, Eagle Rock.”

While the parties in CEMP aren’t “necessarily going to agree on everything,” they “are comfortable approaching each other with our questions and concerns,” Ravindran said.

Ravindran said that overall: “The KBIC takes its stewardship responsibilities very seriously and we recognize that we have those obligations and we bring that to any seat at the table we’re at.”

To learn more about CEMP and view testing results, visit swpcemp.org

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.