Blog > Lundin Lease Op-Ed: Here We Go Again

Lundin Lease Op-Ed: Here We Go Again

Aerial photo by Chauncey Moran.

By Gene Champagne

Concerned Citizens of Big Bay

Eagle Mine LCC, a subsidiary of Lundin Mining of Toronto and Sweden, has recently applied for a mineral lease on 40 acres of state owned property (in other words OUR property) that lie a short distance southeast of the current Eagle Mine site. It also lies within a few hundred [feet] of the Yellow Dog River; close enough to be in the river’s 100 year floodplain. Public comment is currently being accepted by the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources (MDNR) until December 1, 2014. Citizens should not only comment on this proposed mineral lease, but also request that a public hearing be held on the permit application either in Marquette or Big Bay. Marquette is a regional hub that would enable more people to comment. Big Bay is the community most affected by the creeping industrialization of the decreasingly pristine Yellow Dog Plains.

Residents of Big Bay are literally the “canary in the coal mine” for this segment of the mining industry that is mapping out a new mining region around Lake Superior. Big Bay residents are just beginning to experience some of the negative side effects of this industrialization. Our quality of life is being seriously diminished by noise, super highways, and other precursor effects. Other potential effects to our water and air may not be felt for years to come. By the time any negative impacts to our water are realized, it will be too late; the horse will be out of the barn with no turning back. You cannot reverse the process of acid mine drainage. We need to give pause before proceeding with any new mineral leases of state land in this area.

First of all, Eagle Mine has just commenced production and not even up to full speed yet. This segment of the mining industry is relatively new to the region. The history and science of hard rock mining has left a legacy of watershed devastation worldwide and in the western US, where it is DRY. Michigan and the Great Lakes region may have too much water for this type of mining. Water is becoming the oil of the 21st century. Many consider the current permit very inadequate at the least. There is enough evidence to render it fraudulent and illegal. If Eagle Mine is to operate we should wait a few years with Eagle at full capacity before jumping down some sink hole we may never recover from. The minerals are going nowhere. If our water is ruined, it is ruined forever. No one is making any more.

Of most concern is the process of mineral leasing and mine permitting itself. The state leases minerals for exploration that may, or may not, turn out to be profitable. If determined to be profitable, the company submits a permit to mine. The State of Michigan, through the Dept. of Environment Quality (MDEQ) feels obligated to grant a permit. You cannot lease minerals without the expectation of a permit application to follow. The area may be an inappropriate place to mine due to the sensitivity of the environment (read water table/watershed/rare fauna/flora).

The permit may be totally inadequate to protect such an area, but will be granted regardless.

Those who speak of our toughest in the nation mining laws (politicians and mine advocates/officials) are blowing smoke. For example, South Dakota, a traditional mining state, has siting criteria, which determines areas that are too sensitive for mining activity. Michigan needs one. The writers of the current rules and regulations refused to include a siting provision when Kennecott Minerals opposed it. Some of these same mine advocates, with the backing of local media, portend the need to balance the environment with development, but there is no balance when development always wins out. All we get is an inadequate and illegally compromised permit. The ‘winners” of late are international conglomerates beholden to stockholders, while we are tossed” trinkets and beads’. Trinkets and beads buy us nothing when our lands are gone.

Dan Blondeau, Senior Advisor – Communications & Media Relations for Eagle Mine, has stated that Eagle Mine LLC has no interest in mining this parcel, but hopes it will help them understand the geology of the area better. Dan states, “Contrary to speculation there is no mine plan for the proposed lease area, nor is there an immediate plan for exploration.” I can relate to that. I lease parking spaces all the time and let them sit idle. I just want to better understand the nature of parking lots. I do the same with apartments and cars. When Lundin acquired Eagle Mine from Rio Tinto, the package came with over 5,000 acres owned/leased mineral rights in the vicinity of Eagle Mine. What is this 40 acre parcel going to tell them that they don’t already know? And so we begin the slide down the slippery slope.

To grease the skids down this slippery slope, the MDNR Fisheries Division quietly changed the property’s designation to “development – with restrictions”, which could include a mine, when Eagle Mine made their intention for a mineral lease application known to the MDNR. The property was originally designated as “non-development” in 2003. What changed on this land other than a mining company’s interest in it? This land is OUR land. This 40 acre parcel of OUR land sits adjacent to an additional 481 acres of OUR land. Sound familiar. It should.

Many area residents, as well as tourists, use this area for camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, gathering, snowmobiling, skiing, and quiet reflection. This is OUR quality of life. It is the main reason many have chosen to live here. Private land adjacent to this state controlled 40 is used by many people for some of these same purposes. There was a recent gathering here in October for religious and spiritually inclined individuals to mourn the loss of our solitude and quality of life. The gathering bemoaned the destruction of our immediate environment and, reflecting upon nature’s gifts, resolved to stand against further loss. The gathering was well attended.

Do we, as residents of the central Upper Peninsula, wish to maintain our quality of life or would we rather sell out to foreign internationals for a temporary infusion of “trinkets and beads”? Your opinion matters.