Blog > Petitioners appeal MDEQ decision

Petitioners appeal MDEQ decision

August 21, 2009
Contact: Michelle Halley, NWF – 906-361-0520
Preserving public access at heart of mine opponents’ appeal

MARQUETTE, MI — Wrongfully putting a private company’s profit margin before the public’s interest is at the heart of a Notice of Appeal filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals today by the National Wildlife Federation and three other local organizations.

Earlier this month, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield said her court did not have jurisdiction to determine whether the Michigan Department of Natural Resources erred in its decision to lease 120 acres of State of Michigan lands to Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company for mining facilities. Opponents of a risky metallic sulfide mine proposed by Kennecott believe the lease is illegal.

Eagle Rock, a sacred outcropping visited by Native Americans for generations, is at the heart of the debate. Earlier this week, an administrative law judge recommended to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that the mine’s entry portal be moved away from the sacred rock. In his decision, the judge stated that Kennecott and the MDEQ “did not properly address the impact on the sacred rock outcrop known as Eagle Rock.”

Availing themselves of the next step in the judicial process, NWF, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Huron Mountain Club, and Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve are pursuing their right to present evidence and be heard on whether denying the public access to public lands, including the rock sacred to local Native American tribes, is a violation of the public trust doctrine.

“The practical implication of the judge’s decision is that we could not present evidence regarding the public trust doctrine. We believe that having a hearing on the merits is the only fair way for this matter to proceed. This ruling eviscerates the public’s ability to implement the doctrine that requires that assets held by the State must be managed for the good of the public,” explained Michelle Halley, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation.

“Our challenge of the DNR lease dovetails with the administrative law judge’s finding that the MDEQ did not properly consider Eagle Rock’s use as a place of worship. The MDNR neglected to do so as well,” said the NWF attorney.

In addition to Eagle Rock, the portion of the Yellow Dog Plains that would be off limits to the public if the mine is allowed has historically been used by local hunters, anglers, hikers, and berry pickers.

“The public trust doctrine takes into consideration the historical use of the area, as well as public access. In this case, the public not only had access to the area for centuries, but actively used the lands for a variety of purposes. Now the State wants to take it away from the public and give it to a private, foreign-owned company for private gain. We deserve the chance to make our case and have it decided on merits. We are confident,” Halley said.