Friday, January 19, 2018

Red-Flag Review finds big holes in Back 40 Mine’s Wetland Permit application; DEQ Public Hearing to be Jan. 23, 2018

Information from UPEC's Mining Action Group, Front 40 and Menominee Tribe 

Sixty Islands section of the Menominee River, riparian wetlands located approximately 200 feet from the proposed Project Boundary of the Aquila Back Forty Mine site. (Jan. 9, 2018, photo by Kathleen Heideman, Mining Action Group.)

STEPHENSON, Mich. -- The Front 40 Environmental Group and the Mining Action Group (MAG) of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC), working with regional environmental allies and fishing organizations, have secured an independent red flag review of Aquila Resources’ Back Forty Wetland permit application. The Back 40 is an open-pit sulfide mine for gold, zinc and other metals, proposed for the bank of the Menominee River, 10 miles west of the town of Stephenson, Mich. The review was provided by the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2) which analyzes mining applications and provides objective research and technical advice to communities impacted by mining.

A Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Public Hearing for the Back Forty’s Wetlands, Lakes and Streams permit application will be held at 6 p.m. (Central Time) on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, at Stephenson High School, located at W526 Division Street, Stephenson, MI 49887. Note: due to public interest, the hearing has been moved to the school’s large gym. In addition, the hearing will be live-streamed by the IndianCountryTV Livestream studio, beginning at 6 p.m. (CT) and running until the hearing ends. The deadline for submitting written comment is Feb. 2, 2018.*

A youth-led Water Walk at 3 p.m. (CT) to Stephenson High School and a Press Conference at 4:30 p.m. (CT) will precede the hearing.

Poster announcing Jan. 23, 2018, Public Hearing and related activities in Stephenson, Mich. Click on poster for larger version. (Poster courtesy Paul DeMain)

The Wetland application includes technical information regarding wetland hydrology, direct and indirect impacts to wetlands from the proposed sulfide mine and the on-site milling operation, a compensatory wetland and stream mitigation proposal, and more.  CSP2’s technical review was completed by Dr. Kendra Zamzow (Ph.D., Environmental Geochemistry) and Dr. David Chambers (Ph.D., Geophysics).**

CSP2’s report flags significant omissions in Aquila’s permit application, especially concerns related to the Feasible and Prudent (Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable) Alternatives analysis, the fundamental test of any wetland permit, as follows:
  • "An environmental analysis needs to be conducted comparing the new proposed facility siting impacts on wetlands with the siting approved in the mining permit. The proposed single mine waste storage area is now two areas, and is much larger. The description of what is to be contained in each is inadequate and there is no description of the protections to be put in place."

  • "The former site plan was discarded in part because waste would be 'less dense' than anticipated. There is no explanation for what is behind the anticipated change in waste material density that drove the need for the greater area required for waste disposal...."
  • "Given the terrain, direction of water flow, and proximity of valley wetlands and the River, this poses risks to wetlands -- and aquatic resources in the River -- that have not been analyzed."
  • "Although there is no formal proposal for underground mining, it is reasonable and foreseeable. Therefore the full potential life of the mine should be considered when evaluating feasible and prudent alternatives that are the least damaging to wetlands."

  • "An economic analysis needs to be conducted to determine the feasibility of moving the mill out of wetland areas."
  • "It appears that most of the stream and wetland impacts might be avoided if the mine facilities could be moved further upland to a dryland site, possibly on other state lands."
Under Michigan regulations, Aquila bears the burden of demonstrating that either (a) the proposed activity is primarily dependent upon being located in the wetland, or (b) there are no feasible and prudent alternatives, and they must show they are using all practical means to minimize impacts to wetlands. According to CSP2’s review, "The mining permit and wetland permit are inextricably linked. The location and size of proposed mine site facilities as presented in the November 2017 Wetland Permit Application are different from those presented in the Mining Permit Application, and pose risks to wetlands that have not been analyzed."

MAG member Kathleen Heideman said, "This red flag review underscores our existing concerns. Aquila's Wetland permit application is shoddy. It is mired in untested assumptions about wetland hydrology, and the whole scheme hinges on a facility design which nobody has reviewed, much less approved."

Heideman noted wetlands are protected by both state and federal laws. In order for a permit to be granted, the Michigan DEQ must find that the proposed activities described in the Public Notice meet certain criteria set by Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, Part 303 Wetlands Protection, and Part 31, Water Resources Protection of Act 451.***

"Before wetlands can be destroyed, the company needs to demonstrate that wetland impacts are unavoidable," Heideman added. "They’ve failed that test. I don’t see how this permit will pass muster with environmental regulators."

A large crowd, with many people standing along the walls, attended the Oct. 6, 2016, public hearing at Stephenson High School on mining, wastewater and air quality permits for the Back 40 mining project. Despite much opposition, DEQ granted those three permits. The remaining permit for Wetlands, Inland Lakes and Streams will be the subject of the Jan. 23, 2018, public hearing. (Keweenaw Now file photo courtesy Horst Schmidt)

Horst Schmidt, president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, said, "This mine threatens cultural and natural resources of the Menominee people, and the Shakey Lakes Savanna, a globally unique habitat. The Menominee River is the worst possible place for an open-pit sulfide mine. Aquila’s plan for on-site milling is especially dangerous, and needlessly destroys wetlands."

Front 40 and the Mining Action Group will deliver CSP2’s review to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at the Public Hearing on Jan. 23rd, and ask that key findings and recommendations be incorporated into the Wetland Permit review process.

"As soon as we saw the extent of the facility modifications, we asked the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals to immediately require Aquila to apply for an amendment of the Back Forty Mine permit, or review the facility changes along with the Wetland permit -- but they’ve refused to consider these questions until after the Wetland permit review is done," Heideman explained. "Aquila seeks to destroy 28.4 acres of wetlands in order to build a sulfide mine on the bank of the Menominee River. It is an alarming proposal, given the proximity of wetlands to the river, and concerns about the company’s plan to follow the orebody deeper underground. This site is complex, hydrologically, with wetlands on all sides, flowing in different directions. And the total wetland impacts may be significantly underestimated, since additional years of underground mining would greatly increase the groundwater drawdown."*

MAG member Steve Garske asked, "How many wetlands will be destroyed or impaired by the Back Forty? These wetlands are just in the way -- Aquila will mine them out, or fill them in, or the surface water will be diverted, or they’ll be buried under mine waste tailings and waste rock storage areas. Are all of these wetland losses unavoidable? That’s the big question."

Nathan Frischkorn, a Fellow with the Mining Action Group, added, "Our goal is to identify errors and inconsistencies between data and Aquila’s predicted impacts to wetlands. We want to ensure that concerned citizens, stakeholders and environmental regulators are fully informed as to the true impacts of this permit."

Ron Henriksen is a spokesman for the Menominee River Front 40 -- an environmental group in Menominee County, Mich., dedicated to ensuring that metallic sulfide mining operations are not allowed to adversely impact rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands. The Front 40 name is in direct response to the "Back Forty" venture that was created by the mining interests.

"Local residents are very frustrated, understandably," Henriksen said. "Aquila is using a bait-and-switch strategy. Since the facility’s impacts on wetlands are at the heart of the review, it would have made more sense to scrutinize all the proposed changes to the design first, before submitting the Wetland permit application. Aquila does everything backwards."

A broad coalition of fishing groups, residents, tribal members and environmental groups are united in their opposition to the Aquila Back Forty project. Downstream communities are concerned about potential impacts to drinking water and tourism, and have passed resolutions against the project. Marinette County unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Back Forty; additional resolutions have been passed by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Oneida Nation, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, Amberg, Peshtigo, Porterfield, Sister Bay, Wagner, the City of Marinette, Door County, Oconto County, Outagamie County, Shawano County, Menominee County, and Brown County, which includes the city of Green Bay. After concerned citizens levied significant pressure on local officials, Menominee County became the first county in Michigan to pass a resolution opposed to the Back Forty mine.

For the Menominee Indian Tribe, the area near the Menominee River, including the mine site, is their sacred place of origin and includes sacred sites and burial grounds. In addition to cultural reasons, the tribe opposes the proposed Back 40 project because of their commitment to protect the water, as they state on their Web site: "Much like our brothers and sister in the NODAPL movement we also know that water is essential to life. The Menominee River is, in fact, the very origin of life for the Menominee people. It also provides life to Michigan and Wisconsin residents and the natural wildlife within the Great Lakes ecosystem. The harmful threats to this area and all who depend on it far outweigh the corporate interests of a Canadian exploratory company and justify the denial of the necessary permits for the proposed mine."****

This ancestral burial mound is among the archaeological sites that could be impacted by the proposed Back 40 mine. (September 2017 Keweenaw Now file photo)  

"The Menominee River is my friend," said Dick Dragiewicz, an avid fisherman. "It gives me and my fishing friends a lot of excitement when those bass, especially the big ones, are seen and when they strike at our flies. The Menominee is a valuable resource that shouldn’t be damaged or destroyed, which is why I’m working to protect it from the problems the proposed Back Forty mine would cause. I don’t want to lose the river to a polluting metallic sulfide mine."

Scenic view of the Menominee River, not far from the proposed Back 40 mine site. (September 2017 Keweenaw Now file photo)

If fully permitted, the Back Forty will be a large open-pit sulfide mine on the bank of the Menominee River, the largest watershed in the wild Upper Peninsula of Michigan, only 100 feet from the water. Milling, using cyanide and other chemicals, and mine waste will be stored at the mine site, with some tailings waste remaining permanently. Most of the rock will be "reactive" or capable of producing acid mine drainage (AMD) when exposed to air and water. AMD devastates watersheds: it is difficult and expensive to remediate, and may continue leaching from the tailings for hundreds or thousands of years. American Rivers named the Menominee River to their list of "America’s Most Endangered Rivers" in 2017.

Fundamental objections to the Aquila Back Forty project remain unresolved, and two contested case petitions have been filed: one by an adjacent landowner, and another by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. The Back Forty Wetland application is currently under review by the public, tribal stakeholders, environmental groups, Michigan DEQ, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Independent review of the Aquila Back Forty Wetland permit is made possible by the generous support of groups and individuals concerned about the future health of the Menominee River. Working collaboratively, the Mining Action Group of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition and the Front 40 secured small grants and donations from Freshwater Future, Superior Watershed Partnership, the Western Mining Action Network, DuPage Rivers Fly Tyers (DRiFT), Northern Illinois Fly Tyers (NIFT), Badger Fly Fishers, M and M Great Lakes Sport Fisherman, Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance, Fly Fishers International, Great Lakes Council of Fly Fishers International, the Emerick Family Fund, and individual fishing enthusiasts throughout the Great Lakes area.


* Written comments may be submitted to Upper Peninsula District Office, Re: Back Forty Comments, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, MI, 49855. You can also submit written comments here.

** (Updated) Here are direct links to the Wetland permit documents:
 Sections 1-4:  1 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Sections 1-4 rev Dec 2017.pdf

Sections 5-7:  2 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Sections 5-7 rev Dec 2017.pdf

Section 8: 3 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Section 8A.pdf

                4 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Section 8B.pdf

                5 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Section 8C.pdf

Appendix A1:  6 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced App A1 rev Dec 2017.pdf

Appendix A2:  7 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced App A2 (1).pdf

Appendix B:   8 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced App B.pdf

*** Click here for the DEQ Public Hearing statement.

**** Visit the Menominee Tribe Web site for more info on their opposition to the Back 40 project.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

SAUNA: DIVINE COMEDY exhibit by Onni Nordman opens at Finlandia University Gallery Jan. 18

The exhibit SAUNA: DIVINE COMEDY, by artist Onni Nordman, opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Finlandia University Gallery in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock. (Photos courtesy Finlandia University)

HANCOCK -- Finlandia University Gallery will present a series of artwork by Finnish-Canadian artist Onni Nordman. His exhibit titled SAUNA: DIVINE COMEDY will be on display at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock, from Jan. 18 to Feb. 17, 2018.

An opening reception for the public will take place at the gallery from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18, with an artist talk beginning at 7:20 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Onni Nordman’s Sauna: Divine Comedy is a series of paintings that set Dante’s Commedia, the 14th century Italian narrative poem, in the sauna.

Finnish-Canadian artist Onni Nordman.

"The Commedia, for all its world-building, is also an interior drama," notes Nordman. "The sauna is a pressurized space coequally infernal, purgatorial, and paradisiacal, built on three levels, housing figures who are naked and vulnerable, as well as serene and exalted. The Sauna: Divine Comedy series has emerged as a continuing response to the possibilities of splicing together fertile ideas."

Dante’s Divine Comedy describes the poet’s travels through the nine circles of hell, seven terraces of Purgatory and journey to paradise. Rather than illustrate the Commedia poem, Nordman’s paintings use it as a matrix to tell a story with a cast of figures, all set in the heat of the sauna.

Sauna: Divine Comedy, Purgatorio No. 2.

Nordman’s creative process is fluid, moving quickly to manipulate the painted surface while the paint is still wet, but any given work can be the product of months of strategy. Colorful, textured and dynamic, Nordman’s paintings speak both on the surface and below the surface.

"My job as a painter is to find a pattern, to create abstract loveliness and order, to find a design with which to create a dynamic, satisfying flatness," says Nordman.

But his fluid working method is not without risk: "Failure is necessary. If you don’t fail, you’re not doing something organic. I’m sitting on a mountain of failures," Nordman says, almost impatiently, before adding, "But the good stuff I’m willing to stand with."

Onni Nordman currently lives on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. His home and studio are on the cliffs of South Bar, overlooking the mouth of Sydney Harbour, the watery highway to the Cabot Strait and Newfoundland.

Onni is the only child of Finnish immigrants Aulis and Toini Nordman. Aulis was born in Nuoramoinen, Sysmä, Toini in Sortavala, Rauta-Lahti. They came to Canada in 1951, were located to Cape Breton, the only Finnish speakers on the island. Onni’s first language was Finnish and says he and his parents learned English together. The Nordmans adapted to their new country while maintaining strong ties to family in Finland, proud of their heritage. Nordman’s exhibit at Finlandia is an extension of this pride.

"I am very interested in showing my work at Finlandia University as it represents the heart of Finnish culture in North America," says Nordman.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursdays 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 906-487-7500.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

L.A. Theatre Works to present THE MOUNTAINTOP Jan. 23 at Rozsa Center; Michigan Tech commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. with banquet, discussion, more

Michigan Tech invites the public to commemorate 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in their 29th year of celebrating his legacy of social justice and inclusion. (Poster courtesy Michigan Tech University)

HOUGHTON -- This year, in conjunction with Michigan Tech’s 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Martin Luther King Jr., the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts and Michigan Tech’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion are proud to present L.A. Theatre Works' brand new production of Katori Hall's play, The Mountaintop.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated outside room 306 of The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. What happened inside room 306 the night before the killing is a mystery. In her internationally acclaimed play, playwright Katori Hall imagines what may have transpired in the overnight hours between the legendary civil rights leader and a seemingly inconsequential hotel maid.

See The Mountaintop at 7:30 p.m. at the Rozsa Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Immediately following the play, join a panel discussion and Q and A with student members of Michigan Tech’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), L.A. Theatre Works' The Mountaintop cast, and staff from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in the Rozsa Lobby, with beverages and dessert served.

According to L.A. Theatre Works, "Beginning January 12, L.A. Theatre Works commemorates the anniversary with a touring production of the internationally acclaimed play, The Mountaintop, written by Katori Hall, directed by multiple award-winner Shirley Jo Finney and starring Gilbert Glenn Brown (CBS TV’s The Inspectors, upcoming feature film The Best of Enemies) and Karen Malina White (The Cosby Show, A Different World, Malcolm and Eddie). The production will travel to 38 cities across the United States."

Recipient of London’s 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play, Hall’s gripping re-imagining of events is rife with humanity and humor as the celebrated Reverend reveals his hopes, regrets and fears to a seemingly inconsequential hotel maid.

"It was really important for me to show the human side of King," said playwright Hall. "During this time, he was dealing with the heightened threat of violence, he was tackling issues beyond civil rights -- economic issues -- and was denouncing the Vietnam War. So I wanted to explore the emotional toll and the stress of that. King changed the world, but he was not a deity. He was a man, a human being like me and you. So it was important to show him as such: vulnerable."

The Mountaintop received its world premiere in London at Theatre 503 before transferring to Trafalgar Studios in the West End. The 2011 Broadway production starred Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.

This performance is supported in part through funding from the Arts Midwest Touring Fund, a program of Arts Midwest, generously supported by the National Endowment for the Arts with additional contributions from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Crane Group. It is also sponsored by WGGL, Minnesota Public Radio, and Michigan Tech’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

Tickets are on sale now: $22 - Adult, $10 - Youth. No Charge for Michigan Tech Students with the Experience Tech Fee. To purchase tickets in advance, please call (906) 487-2073, go online at, or visit Ticketing Operations at Michigan Tech’s Student Development Complex (SDC). Tickets will also be available at the Rozsa Box office the evening of the performance. The Rozsa Box Office opens two hours before event times.

29th Annual MLK Banquet to precede L.A. Theatre Works performance

In Michigan Tech's 29th year of MLK celebrations, the university invites the public to reflect on Dr. King's vision of inclusion. 2018 marks 50 years since we lost one of the most influential visionaries and impactful social justice advocates of United States history. The public is invited to celebrate Dr. King by attending a free, reserved banquet at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23, in the Rozsa Lobby preceding the L.A. Theatre Works performance of The Mountaintop. Please arrive at 5 p.m. CLICK HERE to reserve your space.

More MLK Week events:

Monday, Jan. 15: Michigan Tech students, faculty and staff will volunteer time reading books about Dr. King's life and legacy to students in local schools. Participating schools include Houghton Elementary, Barkell Elementary and Dollar Bay School.

Tuesday, Jan. 16: BSA Poetry Slam, 7 p.m. in DHH Ballroom. Join BSA (Black Student Association) for a night of entertaining, emotional, intellectual and thought provoking pieces performed.

Thursday, Jan. 18: NSBE Rap Game Night, 7 p.m. in DHH Ballroom. Do you like to rap? Wanna showcase your skills? Come join NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) and compete in the MLK Rap Game Night. Winner will get a prize.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Nancy Langston, environmental historian, to present her new book, "Sustaining Lake Superior," Jan. 14 at KUUF Forum; presentations book signings offer book preview

By Michele Bourdieu

Nancy Langston, MichiganTech University professor of environmental history, signs copies of her new book, Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World, for two Michigan Tech colleagues -- Erik Lilleskov, left, of the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, and Casey Huckins of Biological Sciences -- following her presentation during the book launch event at Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center on Nov. 1, 2017. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Environmental historian and kayaker Nancy Langston's love for Lake Superior led her to write a book about the history of the big lake's recovery from polluting industries -- from deforestation and paper mills to invasive species, mining and chemical industries -- and the present and future environmental challenges mobilizing with climate change.

Langston, who has been at Michigan Tech since 2013 as professor of environmental history in the Department of Social Sciences, the Great Lakes Research Center, and the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, recently published Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World (Yale University Press: October 2017) and has been speaking about her book, involving local community members in discussions on Lake Superior, and donating some of the proceeds from the sale of the book to educational environmental causes.

Her next presentation and book signing will be at the Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (KUUF) Sunday Forum at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14. Langston will lead a conversation on what we can learn from the past to help sustain Lake Superior. The Forum is held at BHK Campus, 700 Park Ave., Houghton (enter on Waterworks Street).

Langston has written four books and more than 50 scientific papers on environmental change, and she has won fellowships and awards from the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the National Humanities Center, the National Science Foundation, and the American Society for Environmental Historians. During 2012-2013, Nancy was the King Carl XVI Gustaf Professor of Environmental Science at Umeå University in Sweden, where she was a recipient of an honorary doctorate. She served as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 18 years with appointments in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology. Former president of the American Society for Environmental Historians and editor of Environmental History, she is now writing a book on climate change and wildlife in the north. Langston is presently active in the Keweenaw Climate Community and the local Citizens' Climate Lobby group.

Some of the facts Langston presents in Sustaining Lake Superior include the following:
  • Lake Superior is the largest lake in the world (by surface area) and contains 12 percent of the world's freshwater, a resource of enormous importance.
  • Lake Superior is big enough to contain all the other Great Lakes "with a couple of additional lake Eries tossed in." The lake is big enough to create its own storm systems.
  • The lake is so vast that a drop of water stays in the lake for an average of 191 years.
  • Lake trout, once nearly extinct, now thrive -- one of conservation's great success stories.
  • From the other side of the globe, China exerts a strong influence over the lake. Atmospheric currents bring chemicals, and pressures to mine iron ore are driven by China's steel boom. These global influences have profoundly local effects.
  • Global warming is now changing Lake Superior rapidly, remobilizing contaminants that were thought to have vanished.
The book has been praised by many knowledgeable authors for its careful research, scientific and historical detail, passion and insight, engaging writing and concern for future generations.

"Langston has written nothing less than the definitive biography of the Greatest Lake, from its birth right up to its current encounter with climate change," writes James Gustave Speth, former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. "It is a wonderful, moving story, and as she eloquently describes, a new and challenging chapter must now be written."

Langston speaks at Keweenaw Climate Community event

More than 100 local community members, educators and students attended the Oct. 5, 2017, Keweenaw Climate Community (KCC) event that preceded the official publication of Sustaining Lake Superior. Langston presented "Lake Superior Impacts" and involved the audience in a discussion on how climate change is affecting Lake Superior and what the lake could look like in the future.

Michigan Tech University Professor Nancy Langston, author of the 2017 book Sustaining Lake Superior, speaks about Lake Superior and climate change during a meeting of the Keweenaw Climate Community on Oct. 5, 2017, at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

When some members of the audience commented on recent intense weather changes, Langston noted that climate change could mean more intense wind and more intense lake effect snow events in the Keweenaw's future:

During the Oct. 5, 2017, Keweenaw Climate Community climate change discussion, Michigan Tech Professor Nancy Langston replies to audience comments on changes in snowfall and wind events in the Keweenaw because of climate change.

Asked for their opinion on Langston's KCC presentation, students had positive reactions.

Emily Prehoda, Michigan Tech Ph.D. student in environmental and energy policy, who took a course on Global Environmental History from Langston, was enthusiastic: "She's great! She's always captivating," Prehoda said.

In response to Langston's mention of the Citizens' Climate Lobby and their efforts to include lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, Will Lytle, Michigan Tech Ph.D. candidate and student leader, said, "I thought it was nice to hear about the bipartisan solutions beginning -- and local discussions and successes (such as Rep. Jack Bergman joining the House Climate Solutions Caucus)."

Emily Prehoda, left, Lydia Lytle and Will Lytle enjoy Nancy Langston's presentation and discussion at the Keweenaw Climate Community event on Oct. 5, 2017.

Lucille Zelazny of Michigan Tech's Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences Institute (EPSSI) said she could relate to some of the climate changes Langston mentioned in the discussion.

"I've lived here a long time, and I have a house on the Portage," Zelazny said. "I see changes in plants."

During one of the small-group discussions at the Oct. 5 Keweenaw Climate Community event, Lucille Zelazny, second from right, discusses climate changes with, from left, Craig Waddell, Michigan Tech professor in Humanities; Charles Kerfoot, Michigan Tech professor in Biological Sciences and director of the Lake Superior Ecosystem Research Center (and Zelazny's husband); and John Soyring, a retired senior IBM executive of Austin, Texas, who is on the PAVLIS board at Michigan Tech and is interested in climate and environmental research.

Book launch at Great Lakes Research Center

Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center was the scene of a book launch and reception for Sustaining Lake Superior on Nov. 1, 2017, shortly after the official publication of the book by Yale University Press. Author Langston gave a short reading from the book and a presentation, followed by a question and answer session with the audience and a book signing.

At the Nov. 1, 2017, book launch for Sustaining Lake Superior at Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center, author Nancy Langston reads some of the important facts about Lake Superior and the challenges to the lake presented by the impacts of climate change.

Questions from the audience included concerns about Lake Superior's future and what to do about the present pollution challenges.

Following her Nov. 1 reading and presentation from Sustaining Lake Superior, Nancy Langston replies to a question on citizen science from Bill Rose, Michigan Tech research professor in Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, and a question on monitoring pollutants from Marshall Plumer, retired Isle Royale district ranger.

Dawn Plumer, who teaches in the Houghton-Portage Township schools, said she found Langston's presentation informative.

"We need to start now (protecting Lake Superior)," Dawn said. "I don't want it to go backwards."

A question from Craig Waddell, Michigan Tech professor in Humanities, led to Langston's account of how she decided to write a book about Lake Superior.

In reply to Prof. Craig Waddell's question on how she came to write Sustaining Lake Superior, Nancy Langston speaks about her kayaking, her love of the lake -- and her experience with Wisconsin's Mining Moratorium and the Bad River Band of Anishinaabe, struggling to stop a proposed open-pit taconite mine in Wisconsin in order to protect the water and their wild rice crop.

In Chapter 6 of her book, "Mining, Toxics, and Environmental Justice for the Anishinaabe," Langston recounts struggles by the Mole Lake Sokaogon to defeat the proposed Crandon Mine that threatened to pollute their water and the Bad River Band's efforts to protect their wild rice from Gogebic Taconite's proposed open-pit mine, both in Wisconsin. As she mentioned in the above video clip, the Anishinaabe determination to protect water from mining pollution inspired her to write Sustaining Lake Superior -- a book that challenges citizens to think about the environment, as Native Americans do, in terms of future generations.

Patty Loew of the Bad River Anishinaabe expresses her appreciation of the philosophy behind Langston's book: "This insightful environmental history is a cautionary story about the true cost of the unenlightened commodification of Lake Superior. Like the Anishinaabe whose stewardship Nancy Langston chronicles, she invokes Seventh Generation thinking: make wise decisions today based on the best interests of future generations."

Langston speaks at FOLK Annual Meeting

Nancy Langston also spoke about Sustaining Lake Superior at the Nov. 9, 2017, annual meeting of FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), a local environmental group formed in 1989 to oppose the siting of a bleach kraft pulp paper mill on the shores of Lake Superior's Keweenaw Bay. A year later after a lot of public outcry and a law suit against the State of Michigan for misappropriation of State funds, James River Corporation withdrew their proposal. FOLK’s mission is to protect and preserve the ecological integrity of the Lake Superior Watershed through education and citizen involvement. FOLK’S most current issue is monitoring the L’Anse Warden Electric Plant, located near Keweenaw Bay, to help ensure that it is properly permitted and in compliance with its permits.

Linda Rulison, FOLK president, in her report on the meeting, commented on how Langston's book is related to FOLK's mission: "[Langston's] new book explores the environmental and social history of the Lake Superior basin and what that history can teach us about why it is important to protect Lake Superior," Rulison writes. "Conventional wisdom surrounding pollution which was primarily from pulp mills in the early days was that 'dilution was the solution' to dealing with industrial waste. It was thought that Lake Superior is so large that the pollution will be mixing with the large body of water and will not hurt our drinking water or the fish. What we did not count on was the fact that pollution is not only local but also global. It knows no boundaries. Through air deposition toxins end up in the Great Lakes and that pollution often stays close to shore where it can bioaccumulate in fish. Mercury and PCB bioaccumlates in large enough quantities to be toxic to humans who eat the fish. It was noted that people around the Great Lakes eat twice as much fish as those who don’t live around the Great Lakes. Therefore, it behooves all of us to love and protect the 'greatest' of all of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior. FOLK will continue to be an advocate for Lake Superior helping to protect the health of the Lake and its people."

To learn more about Nancy Langston, her three previous books and other publications, and her present projects, visit her Web site,

Inset photo: Nancy Langston. (Photo courtesy Nancy Langston)

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Environmental groups, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community question Lundin Mining's permit amendment request for Humboldt Mill tailings disposal

By Michele Bourdieu
This aerial photograph shows the Humboldt Mill Wastewater Treatment Plant and the north end of the Humboldt Pit Lake, referred to by the permit amendment request as the "Humboldt Tailings Disposal Facility" (HTDF). (2017 Photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

MARQUETTE --Environmentalists in the Mining Action Group -- part of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) -- along with the Concerned Citizens of Big Bay and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, have sent comments to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) expressing strong concerns about Lundin Mining's permit amendment request for Eagle Mine's Humboldt Mill.

The mining company has asked approval to place tailings to a higher elevation in the Humboldt Tailings Disposal Facility (aka HTDF or the Humboldt Pit) than currently permitted by the Eagle Mine's 2010 mining permit. The public comment period, which followed a public meeting on Nov. 27, officially ended on Dec. 26, 2017, despite requests from concerned citizens that DEQ officials extend the comment period and provide more information. Here are some excerpts from the public comments:

Comments (summary) to DEQ from Mining Action Group: "Don’t Fill Humboldt Pit Lake with Toxic Mine Waste"
Posted Dec. 26, 2017 on their Web site*

The Public Comment period on Lundin Mining’s proposed "Humboldt Mill permit amendment request" came to a close at 5 p.m. today, Dec. 26, 2017. Members of the Mining Action Group participated in the Public Meeting held on Nov. 27. We thank everyone who attended the DEQ meeting and all of the environmental stakeholders who have voiced their concerns about this flawed permit amendment request.

Our Conclusion:

We are concerned that Michigan law (especially Part 301, with regards to the filling of Humboldt Pit Lake with toxic mine tailings) and the Clean Water Act are being applied inconsistently, and that regulations are improperly interpreted. The Humboldt Pit Lake is treated, simultaneously, as an "Inland Lake" according to Michigan’s Part 301 Inland Lakes and Streams Program, but not regarded as "waters of the state" under Part 31.

During the DEQ's Nov. 27, 2017, public meeting on Lundin Mining's request to amend the Humboldt Mill mining permit because of an anticipated increase in tailings to be added to the Humboldt pit, Kathleen Heideman of the Mining Action Group asks questions of DEQ officials concerning the mining regulations, in particular the interpretation of statutes to determine whether the Humboldt Pit qualifies for protection as an inland lake. Joe Maki, geology specialist of DEQ Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division, UP District, and Steve Casey, DEQ Water Resources Division Upper Peninsula District supervisor, reply to her questions. Also representing DEQ is Melanie Humphrey, geological technician, Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division, UP District. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

The DEQ’s stewardship of Michigan’s freshwater natural resources is the shared interest and responsibility of all stakeholders. Concerned citizens, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, the Community Environmental Monitoring Program, the Mining Action Group and other UPESG (Upper Peninsula Environmental Stakeholders Group) stakeholders have all expressed our concerns regarding Lundin’s use of the Humboldt Pit Lake as a "waste disposal facility" which appears to violate common sense, as well as the law. We ask the DEQ to regulate this body of water in full accordance with the Clean Water Act and NREPA, keeping in mind that Michigan citizens and the Escanaba River Watershed will bear the burden of these polluting activities long after Lundin’s mining and milling operations have ceased.

We believe the Humboldt Mill amendment request does not fulfill the requirements of Part 632. The applicant failed to provide an updated EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), failed to update the reclamation plan, dismissed the contingency plan, failed to provide a list of all additional necessary permits, and did not increase the financial assurity to offset the significant, permanent environmental hazards posed by additional tailings storage and reduced water cover at the Humboldt Pit Lake.

The Applicant has Not Met the Standard for Review

Furthermore, the DEQ has a statutory requirement under Section 324.63207 (6)(c) of Part 632 to "submit the request for amendment to the same review process as provided for a new permit application" and consolidate multiple permits into a single review process, to facilitate public participation.

The DEQ has Not Met this Statutory Requirement

The permit amendment request is fundamentally incomplete, as it falsely and narrowly limits discussion to a single permit condition; because Condition F.4 is being considered apart from other connected permits and deprecated permit conditions, steamrolling the permit process without offering an opportunity for public input; and because the applicant provides no supporting material, with no updated analysis of the cumulative Environmental Impacts.

"DEQ shall deny a permit if it determines that the mining operation will 'pollute, impair, or destroy, air, water or other natural resources or the public trust in those resources, in accordance with part 17' (Michigan Environmental Protection Act)."

This permit amendment request is obviously unsubstantiated and incomplete. Environmental stakeholders are unable to consider the implications of such a significant change, in the absence of monitoring data, modeling, and the lack of a revised EIA. Confident predictions made by Lundin’s experts in public presentations do not change our conclusion. Please deny the Humboldt Mill MP-012010 permit amendment request, on the grounds that it fails to meet the standard for review as required under Part 632.

Here is another aerial view of the Humboldt Mill Wastewater Treatment Plant and the north end of the Humboldt Pit Lake, referred to by the permit amendment request as the "Humboldt Tailings Disposal Facility" (HTDF). (2017 Photo © Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

* To read the Mining Action Group’s full public comments on the Humboldt Mill permit amendment request, click here and and follow the link at the end to access their pdf file with the complete comments.

Excerpts from comments to DEQ from Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), dated Dec. 21, 2017

In the cover letter to their comments, KBIC President Warren C. Swartz, JR, states the basic reason for the tribe's concerns about the Humboldt Mill permit: "Under the 1842 Treaty of LaPointe, KBIC reserved rights to hunt, fish, trap, and gather on traditional lands ceded to the United States. Today KBIC continues to harvest berries, medicinal plants, water from springs, fish from streams, and wildlife within the Escanaba River watershed for subsistence and cultural lifeways. The Humboldt Mill, and its water treatment outfalls, are in the Escanaba River watershed and within the 1842 Ceded Territory."

During the Nov. 27 DEQ public meeting on Lundin Mining's request to amend the Humboldt Mill mining permit, KBIC tribal member Jeffery Loman reminded the DEQ of the tribe's concern for migratory birds and other natural resources that could be impacted by the Humboldt pit/artificial lake. He suggested the DEQ seek the participation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in regulating the lake.

Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member, addresses Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality officials during the Nov. 27, 2017, public meeting on Lundin Mining's request to amend the permit for the Humboldt Mill because of anticipated added tailings in the Humboldt pit. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

In their comments, KBIC also questions Lundin's original EIA, which claims that Eagle Mine activities are not expected to harm threatened, endangered or special concern species: "What is being done to keep Threatened or Endangered and Special Concern species out of the HTDF? Especially if the lake strata turn over. If bald eagles or other birds fly into and land on the HTDF lake, what is being done to keep them off? There could be the potential for animal poisoning." 

At the beginning of their comment document, KBIC states, "Lundin Mining Company, Eagle Humboldt Mill is not prepared to request an amendment to their Mining Permit, MP 012010, Condition F4. This is due to the state of understanding of the pit lake now in 2017, the modeling performed to date and the unavailability of relevant data."

The document notes that before considering Lundin's request for a higher elevation of the tailings, the DEQ, the tribe and the public need to know and understand "the complex geochemistry and fluid dynamics of the current pit lake tailings discharge." KBIC also notes concern about very high salts from the Humboldt Mill that potentially threaten the top layer of cleaner water. They also question the modeling being done -- but not yet completed -- by Lundin, specifically modeling wind speed at which lake turnover and mixing would occur.

During the Nov. 27, 2017, public meeting on Lundin Mining's request for an amendment to the mining permit for Humboldt Mill, Chuck Brumleve, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) environmental mining specialist, asks Michigan DEQ officials several questions related to the regulatory limits for tailings in the Humboldt pit. Seated with him (second from left) is Timothy Dombrowski, KBIC Great Lakes resource specialist. DEQ's Joe Maki comments on the geochemistry of the Humboldt pit. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

KBIC also expresses several concerns about the shallow pit lake -- impacts that could result from raising the elevation of the tailings -- in the following comments:

"Without a satisfactory water depth over the tailings, as is requested by the Humboldt Mill's Amendment to Condition F.4, the lower anoxic layers will not develop and the sulfide reducing bacteria will not develop. The thin remaining top layer will stay mixed and oxygenated due to wind-driven upwelling and other natural processes. Metals will remain dissolved and water treatment will be required before discharge well into the future after the mill closes. The elimination of an anoxic layer and sulfide reducing bacteria significantly increases the risk of perpetual or at least long term pit lake treatment."

They add that the irregular pit bottom caused by the cone-shaped mounds of tailings under the water would prohibit the planting of wetland plants, which is a sulfide mining remediation technique that has been used in other pit lakes to produce anoxic conditions.

KBIC adds, "While Lundin goes to great lengths in the Request for Amendment to Condition F.4 to calm questions about a shallow water cover with no anoxic layer for managing the dissolved metals, we fear this removes another safety measure and increases the risk of this tailings disposal site to be a long term environmental problem for the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River, Tribes and people of Michigan."

KBIC's conclusions indicate their concerns for future generations and their unwillingness to take risks based on DEQ's acceptance of Lundin's questionable modeling:

"Lundin Mining Company will be in and out of here in a matter of less than ten years. The logic presented in the amendment request is short term when considering the centuries that the Ojibwa people have been in the area in the past and intend to remain into the future. While laboratory experiments are good starting points for input to modeling, we all know that the modeling of geologic systems over decades in the short term and centuries in the long term is an inexact science if for no other reason than models have not been around for these time periods -- it is a relatively new tool. To gamble the environmental health and sustainability of the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River on model predictions is a risk the mining company and the DEQ expects the tribes to take for little or no reward for the additional risk."

Concerned Citizens of Big Bay: Public needs more information

During the Nov. 27 public meeting, Gene Champagne of the Concerned Citizens of Big Bay asked the DEQ to extend their comment period because of the lack of information available to the public:

During the Nov. 27, 2017, public meeting on Lundin Mining's request for an amendment to the Humboldt Mill mining permit, Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay asks DEQ officials to extend the public comment period because of missing information needed by the public. He also asks DEQ to consider the impacts of the project as a whole rather than treating it in a piecemeal fashion. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

At one point during the Nov. 27 meeting, Joe Maki, geology specialist of DEQ Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division, UP District, stated that DEQ officials are willing to consider public comments that arrive after the deadline. Champagne took Maki at his word in sending the following comments on Dec. 28, 2017:

"Regarding 'Humboldt Mill MP-012010 Permit Amendment Request':

"I apologize for being late in sending my comments concerning this permit amendment request. The Dec. 26th deadline made it difficult to send my comments on time, as I have been traveling for the Holidays. I was also waiting until the last minute for information that was requested, and agreed upon with DEQ personnel at the public hearing November 27 at Westwood High School, that the information regarding geochemistry was necessary to make both good comment and good judgment on the requested permit amendment. I do appreciate that Joe Maki informed attendees at the November 27th public comment meeting that the DEQ does accept and take into account comments that are received after the deadline date.

"Two of the main points brought up in public comment on November 27th were the lack of geochemistry data and the lack of an anoxic layer being utilized in the 'pit lake.' Without these two pieces of critical information, along with several others, the permit is lacking in data to comment sufficiently on it, thus making it incomplete. At this point the DEQ has a due diligence to either deny the permit, or request further information and begin a new comment period of at least 90 days for the public to be able to dissect and understand, and comment on any new and needed information when it becomes available."

Maki also announced during the Nov. 27 meeting that the 28-day DEQ review of the permit amendment request, should DEQ come to a proposed decision on the permit, would be followed by a public hearing and another comment period on the proposed decision.

Several members of the public have indicated their dissatisfaction with the DEQ timeline, since they find it more difficult to persuade DEQ of their concerns once a "proposed decision" has been made; thus the need for the public to be fully informed at the time of the first comment period.

During the Nov. 27 meeting Carla Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay also questioned the meaning of "significant" as used by DEQ to determine that changes in the mining company's plans or actions are important enough for new permitting and public input.

Maki admitted that DEQ does not have a formal definition for "significant."

Editor's Note: For links to DEQ documents concerning Lundin's Humboldt Mill Permit Amendment Request, click here.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Michigan Public Service Commmission orders utilities to report on savings from new federal tax law

From Michigan Public Service Commission:

LANSING -- The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), on Dec. 27, ordered  all rate-regulated utilities to report to the Commission on the impact passage of the new federal tax law will have on their customers.

Commission Chairman Sally Talberg said the special meeting was called to make sure the savings are calculated from the effective day of the federal legislation, which is Jan. 1, 2018.

The new law, signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 22, is expected to reduce the amount utilities will pay in federal taxes.

"While regulatory accounting isn’t always the most headline-grabbing topic, the guidance the Commission is providing in today’s order is important because it maximizes our future options as we sort through the totality of impacts the new federal tax law will have when it takes effect Jan. 1," Commissioner Rachael Eubanks said on Dec. 27. "The information we receive in this docket will be incredibly useful in understanding the magnitude of the expected reduction in federal taxes that the utilities pay, which is likely to be significant. It will also provide broader input regarding the appropriate avenue for how to extend benefits to customers."

Utilities have until Jan. 19 to file their comments with the Commission (Case No. U-18494) on how they propose to return savings to ratepayers. Other interested parties will have until Feb. 2 to respond to utility proposals. The Commission will then determine how and when the savings will flow back to ratepayers.

Melissa Davis, Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) manager, whose work includes making people more comfortable while improving the efficiency of their homes, welcomed this announcement if it indeed means rate relief for utility customers.

"If our utility pays less in taxes, and they're mandated to pass those savings along to us, then bring it -- the sooner the better," Davis said.*

This MPSC order applies to Alpena Power Co.; Consumers Energy Co.; Detroit Thermal, LLC; DTE Electric Co.; DTE Gas Co.; Indiana Michigan Power Co.; Northern States Power Co.; Upper Peninsula Power Co.; Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp.; Wisconsin Electric Power Co.; Presque Isle Electric and Gas Co-Op; Michigan Gas Utilities Corp.; and SEMCO Energy Gas Co.

For more information about the MPSC, please visit or sign up for one of its listservs to keep up to date on MPSC matters.

DISCLAIMER: This document (press release) was prepared to aid the public’s understanding of certain matters before the Commission and is not intended to modify, supplement, or be a substitute for the Commission’s orders. The Commission’s orders are the official action of the Commission.

* Editor's Note: Visit the HEET Web site to learn about their work. Read also about Melissa Davis's New Power Tour, a local non-profit whose mission is to increase the use of renewable, water and energy-efficient technologies.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Deadline for public comments on Lundin Mining request to amend Humboldt mining permit is Dec. 26, 2017

By Michele Bourdieu, with information from Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) officials field questions and comments during the Nov. 27, 2017, public meeting on Lundin Mining's request to amend their (2010) Part 632 Mining Permit for the Humboldt Mill. Pictured here, from left, are Steve Casey, MDEQ Water Resources Division Upper Peninsula District supervisor; Melanie Humphrey, geological technician, and Joe Maki, geology specialist, both of MDEQ Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division, UP District. The deadline for public comments on this request is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

MARQUETTE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced in their calendar for this week that Tuesday, Dec. 26, is the deadline for comments on Lundin Mining’s request to amend their Humboldt Mill Mining Permit MP 01 2010, issued to Eagle Mine under Part 632, Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended. Lundin is requesting approval to place tailings to a higher elevation in the Humboldt Tailings Disposal Facility (aka HTDF or the Humboldt Pit) than currently permitted. The MDEQ has determined that the request constitutes a significant change from the conditions of the approved 2010 mine permit, and as such the review of the request will proceed as for a new permit application.*

MDEQ held a public meeting on Lundin's request on Nov. 27, 2017, at the Westwood High School in Ishpeming. While the attendance was limited, MDEQ staff provided printed copies of Lundin's request and of the original Part 632 Mining Permit MP 01 2010 for the Humboldt Mill and fielded questions and comments from the audience.

During the MDEQ's Nov. 27 public meeting at Westwood High School in Ishpeming, Kathleen Heideman of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's (UPEC's) Mining Action Group, asks detailed questions concerning Lundin Mining's request to amend their Humboldt Mill Mining Permit. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

The Humboldt Mill mining permit states, under Condition F.4, "The permittee shall utilize the HTDF for subaqueous tailings disposal.The surface elevation of tailings shall not exceed elevation 1420 feet mean sea level."**

In their Aug. 2, 2017, letter to MDEQ requesting an amendment to Condition F.4 in the permit, Lundin states the following: "The recent discovery of Eagle East resulted in an increase in estimated reserves and will result in an increase in associated tailings if approval to mine is received. Please note that this permit amendment request would have been required even without the contribution of Eagle East due to the additional ore reserves identified during delineation work at Eagle since operations have begun."***

Lundin states in their request that the subaqueous tailings peaks are calculated to reach a maximum elevation of approximately 1515 ft. mean sea level with a reasonable water cover of about 20-25 ft. at closure. The request for the 1515 ft. amendment to Condition F.4 includes several pages of details and diagrams, including limnology and geochemistry predictions and a treatment and containment plan.***

At the Nov. 27 public meeting, MDEQ staff said the deadline for comments on the amendment request would be followed by a 28-day review. Once MDEQ has issued a proposed decision, a public hearing would be required.

The public may still email comments to, including "Humboldt Mill Amendment Request" as the subject.


UPDATE: Joe Maki said at the Nov. 27 meeting that comments received after the deadline would also be considered.

* The announcement of the Dec. 26 comment deadline can be found on the MDEQ Calendar for this week. (Please note that the meeting site mentioned refers to the Nov. 27 public meeting held at Westwood High School.)

** Click here for the MDEQ's Non-Ferrous Metallic Mining page with links to permits and click on Humboldt Mill Permit for the pdf document (27 pages).

 *** Click here for Lundin's Aug. 2, 2017, amendment request. A Nov. 20, 2017, letter from MDEQ to Eagle Mine confirms the agency's final decision to grant Eagle Mine's request to amend Mining Permit MP 01 2007 to include development of the Eagle East mineral resource under the provisions of Part 632. However this decision does not authorize final deposition of Eagle East tailings into the Humboldt Tailings Disposal Facility. This Nov. 20th letter is linked on the Non-Ferrous Metallic Mining page under Eagle East Permit Amendment.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board passes resolutions including temporary Line 5 shutdown

Information from National Wildlife Federation, Oil and Water Don't Mix, and Michigan Technological University

The Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. (Photo courtesy National Wildlife Federation)

LANSING -- On Dec. 11, 2017, members of Michigan’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board (PSAB) passed formal resolutions -- including a temporary shutdown of Line 5 -- at their quarterly meeting, urging the State of Michigan to amend its agreement with Enbridge on Line 5, which Governor Snyder signed without consulting the PSAB in November.

The resolutions call for a shutdown of Line 5 until the entire line is inspected for protective coating gaps and all gaps are filled; and they modify the definition of "adverse weather conditions" to a higher standard than eight-foot waves, which triggered a temporary shut down when waves exceeded nine feet on Dec. 5. An additional resolution calls for the state to study more fully Michigan’s needs from Line 5, including alternatives that focus on the needs for Michigan over the business interests of Enbridge.

"These resolutions seek to strengthen the agreement the Governor signed with Enbridge so that it actually does what it purports to do: provide a path forward for determining the future of Line 5 while protecting the Great Lakes," said Mike Shriberg, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center and a member of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, who co-sponsored the resolutions. "While the few services Line 5 provides to Michigan have been shown to have feasible alternatives, there is no substitute for the Great Lakes and our way of life."

On Nov. 27, Governor Rick Snyder announced an agreement with Enbridge to study a tunnel replacement for Line 5, one of the alternatives included in a state-commissioned alternatives analysis released on Nov. 20. The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board was not consulted in the agreement, which included a trigger for a temporary shutdown of flow through the pipeline in "adverse weather conditions," defined as when waves reached an average of eight feet. While those conditions were met during the recent temporary shutdown, the resolutions urge that definition to be modified to three feet and include ice cover and other conditions when the Coast Guard would be impeded from an oil spill response.

All three resolutions, introduced by Mike Shriberg, R. Craig Hupp and Jennifer McKay, were passed by the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, with support from the sponsors, as well as Homer A. Mandoka and Chris Shepler, and the rest abstaining. There was one "no" vote on the resolution to temporarily shut down Line 5 until coating gaps are repaired. Resolutions adopted by the PSAB are advisory and not binding upon the state.

Oil and Water Don't Mix: Shutdown Line 5 as soon as possible

According to Oil and Water Don't Mix, at the Dec. 11 meeting PSAB members cited their dismay at Gov. Snyder's failure to consult with the Board on the deal with Enbridge. PSAB members also noted Enbridge's repeated failures to disclose critical information about the condition of the pipeline rationale for the votes.

Sean McBrearty, coordinator for Oil and Water Don't Mix, said, "The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, led by members representing Michigan businesses, communities, and tribes, took a promising step forward today by acknowledging the 64-year-old Line 5 pipelines are unsafe to operate; and we look forward to continuing to work with all MPSAB members, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Governor Rick Snyder to shut down these dangerous, outdated pipelines as soon as possible."

This map from Oil and Water Don't Mix shows a North American pipeline system. Line 5, which carries oil from Superior, Wis, to refineries at Sarnia, Ontario, uses the Straits of Mackinac as a short cut, jeopardizing Great Lakes waters and nearby lands. (Map courtesy Oil and Water Don't Mix)

Sierra Club's Anne Woiwode calls the PSAB actions a major turning point in the multiyear process of considering how Michigan should address Line 5: "We applaud the MPSAB's rejection of Enbridge's increasingly hollow assurances about the damaged oil pipelines that threaten our Great Lakes, as well as the drinking water, livelihood and economy of our state. There is more to do, but these brave board members have shown the path forward to permanently shut down Line 5."

The most sweeping resolution calls for an amendment to the Snyder Enbridge deal which would require the temporary shut down of Line 5 until there has been the full inspection of and repair of all the bare steel and coating breaches in the dual pipelines on the bottom of the Straits. During the meeting Enbridge acknowledged that they don't know why more than forty gaps in the coating to the pipelines have occurred, that repairs of all of those cannot be completed until next spring at the earliest and that because of mussels, debris, and vegetation, most of the length of the pipelines have not been thoroughly inspected. The resolution also calls for Enbridge to "Ensure that propane is delivered to the Michigan markets served by Line 5 at a reasonable cost to customers," mainly residents of the Upper Peninsula.

The second resolution called for an amendment to the Snyder Enbridge deal to modify the definition of "adverse weather conditions" that dictate shutting down Line 5 so that it is consistent with the limitation of emergency response to any potential spill. The last resolution calls for the state to conduct a much more robust assessment of alternatives to Line 5 by June 25, 2018. The Snyder Enbridge deal calls for completion of the review process for Line 5 by August 2018.

Michigan Tech's role: leading risk analysis team

At the same Dec. 11 PSAB meeting, Michigan Tech Professor Guy Meadows spoke to the board on the progress of a team proposal for an independent risk analysis of the Straits pipelines.

According to a Dec. 11, 2017, article by Stefanie Sidortsova in the Michigan Tech News, Meadows, who is the Robbins Professor of Sustainable Marine Engineering and director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Tech, updated the PSAB on a team of 41 researchers from nine universities and other organizations working on a risk analysis for Line 5. Meadows estimated that the final risk analysis report could be delivered in August 2018.*

In her article, Sidortsova states, "On Sept. 18, 2017, the PSAB unanimously recommended that Michigan Tech organize and lead state universities in an independent risk analysis of the Line 5 Straits pipelines, two parallel 20-inch pipelines that form the 4.5-mile section of Line 5 that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. In conducting the risk analysis, Michigan Tech, state universities and other collaborators would analyze the environmental and economic impacts of a 'worst-case scenario' spill or release."*

Comment period on Line 5 Alternatives Analysis ends Dec. 22

The State of Michigan released a revised Line 5 Alternatives Analysis on Nov. 20, followed by a comment period that ends this Friday, Dec. 22. Public feedback meetings were held in early December, but the closest to our area was held in St. Ignace.**

Citizens can still submit comments on line by going to the Oil and Water Don't Mix site. Click on "Submit Your Comment." This site also has extensive information about Line 5.

* Click here to read the entire Michigan Tech News article by Stefanie Sidortsova, "Meadows Updates State Advisory Board on Line 5 Risk Analysis Proposal." 

** See our Nov. 12, 2017, article, "State announces 3 public feedback sessions on final version of Line 5 Alternatives Analysis report."