Monday, May 29, 2017

HEET: Houghton County residents cutting energy use, saving money on utility bills

Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) Manager Melissa Davis displays information about HEET's work during the April 26, 2016, Lake Superior Celebration at Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

HANCOCK -- Houghton County has seen a significant overall drop its home energy consumption since entering the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition, the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) has reported.

Approximately 50 communities are in the running for the $5 million prize, which challenges communities to rethink their energy use and implement creative strategies to increase efficiency. HEET is an ad hoc group of volunteers formed to help Houghton County compete for the prize.

During the first two years of the competition, from January 2015 through December 2016, average power use dropped 13.0 percent for residential electrical customers compared to the previous two-year period. On average, Semco Energy residential customers cut their natural gas consumption by 15.9 percent over the same time frame.

The Georgetown University Energy Prize statistics are calculated by totaling the energy use of Semco, UPPCO and Ontonagon County REA customers and dividing that by the number of residential and municipal utility bills. This method helps to account for changes in energy use that are unrelated to energy conservation practices, such as a growth or decline in population.

Ten finalists for the Georgetown prize are expected to be announced soon; but whether or not Houghton County is selected it is still a winner, said HEET manager Melissa Davis.

"I am super satisfied," Davis said. "Houghton County residents have saved some money, and many are a little warmer come winter."

The electrical and natural gas usage figures are encouraging, but they are preliminary, Davis noted. They will be weighted to reflect any weather-related variation in energy use during the time frame of the contest.

Many of HEET’s activities were made possible by Efficiency UNITED, which offers a variety of energy-saving programs to Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO) and Semco customers. Early in the competition, HEET launched a county-wide effort to encourage those customers to take advantage of Efficiency UNITED services.

"We’ve connected people with rebates that take the edge off of energy-efficient homeowner upgrades, and we’ve encouraged people to switch incandescent light bulbs for LEDs," Davis explained. "Probably the most popular Efficiency UNITED program has been the refrigerator replacement program for income-qualified residents. A close second was the program to replace electric water heaters with heat-pump water heaters, which bring the operating costs down substantially."*

Some of the energy efficient products promoted by Efficiency UNITED include these LED light bulbs and night lights and a water saving shower. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Though the first phase of the Georgetown competition is winding down, HEET is still in business, she noted.

"We are still doing what we’ve always done: finding leaky homes and working with volunteers to tighten them up," Davis said.

HEET trains volunteers to winterize their own homes, then brings together groups of volunteers to help tighten up other residences in the community.

"It’s like a 'handy guy' party, where the homeowner gets an assist and everyone has a good time," said Davis. "We do this twice a month."**

None of HEET’s success would have been possible without widespread community support.

"Dozens of local businesses, municipalities, service organizations and individuals put an oar in and kept HEET moved along," Davis said. "Thanks to their support, we’re still going strong."

* For more information on Efficiency UNITED, visit

** To learn more about HEET go to Click on "Volunteer" to find out how you can help with winterizing residences.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

UPSTART to bring community solar to L’Anse and to participate in National Solar Competition

L'Anse Village Manager Robert LaFave is pictured here in front of solar panels installed at the Village’s Water Treatment Facility. (Photo courtesy Brad Barnett, Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region regional planner)

L'ANSE -- The Upper Peninsula Solar Technical Assistance Team (UPSTART) has been selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative’s Solar in Your Community Challenge. 

Over the next 18 months, UPSTART will design a community solar program to enable residents and businesses in L’Anse, Mich., to go solar. UPSTART received a $10,000 technical assistance award from the U.S. Department of Energy to support its efforts. UPSTART’s program will explore innovative funding models, and the lessons learned from this pilot project will inform other Upper Peninsula communities looking to go solar. UPSTART is one of eight Michigan-based teams competing in the competition and the only Upper Peninsula-based team to receive an award.

UPSTART will join hundreds of other teams from around the country in their pursuit of solar projects and programs that expand solar access to low- and moderate-income households and nonprofit organizations. All teams will compete for $1 million in final prizes, which will be awarded by judges based on each project or program’s innovation, impact, and replicability. 

UPSTART will work with L’Anse residents and businesses to develop a 50kW community solar program. The team will identify opportunities to increase low- to moderate-income (LMI) families’ access to solar power through creative funding and outreach models and will build on a technical feasibility study completed this spring by Michigan Technological University’s Keweenaw Research Center.

UPSTART is an innovative partnership dedicated to facilitating rapid community solar growth in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. UPSTART’s team members include Michigan Tech's Keweenaw Research Center and Environmental and Energy Policy Program, WPPI Energy, the Village of L’Anse, and the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region (WUPPDR).

Visit UPSTART’s Facebook Page for the latest news, updates, and ways for you to get involved.

The Solar in Your Community Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and administered by SUNY Polytechnic Institute, is a $5 million prize competition that aims to expand solar access to low and moderate income households; and state, local, and tribal governments; and non-profit organizations.

More information about the selected teams and the Solar in Your Community Challenge is at      

Monday, May 22, 2017

Citizens' Climate Lobby workshop inspires local citizens concerned about climate change; local CCL Chapter to meet May 22

By Michele Bourdieu

Elizabeth Dell, Great Lakes Regional coordinator for the Citizens' Climate Lobby, meets with a group of local citizens concerned about climate change at a workshop on May 6, 2017, in the Keweenaw Co-op in Hancock. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- In preparation for forming a local chapter of the Citizens' Climate Lobby, a group of about a dozen citizens concerned about climate change met with Elizabeth Dell, Great Lakes Regional coordinator for the Citizens' Climate Lobby (CCL) on May 6, 2017, in the meeting room at the Keweenaw Co-op in Hancock.

[The first meeting of a local CCL chapter will be held TONIGHT, Monday, May 22, at 7:30 p.m., following the presentation "Sea Change: Addressing Climate Change on Lake Superior," at the Portage Lake District Library.*]

To begin her workshop, Dell, who is from Traverse City, Mich., gave a brief history of the founding of CCL and presented CCL's single proposed solution to climate change: To empower citizens to connect with and influence their members of Congress to work toward passage of Carbon Fee and Dividend, a climate change solution that bridges the partisan divide.

Carbon Fee and Dividend is a revenue-neutral carbon tax with 100 percent of the net revenue returned directly to households. CCL believes it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 52 percent below 1990 levels within 20 years while growing the economy and saving lives.

"Our purpose is to create the political will to address climate change," Dell said. "We advocate for Carbon Fee and Dividend because we think it's one of the most effective, efficient and visible ways to reduce greenhouse gases, and we think we can get bi-partisan support."

Elizabeth Dell, Great Lakes Regional Coordinator for the Citizens' Climate Lobby (CCL), introduces her May 6, 2017, workshop in Hancock by relating how CCL was founded and defining its mission. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

The Carbon Fee

CCL proposes an initial fee of $15/ton on the CO2 equivalent emissions of fossil fuels, escalating $10/ton/year, imposed upstream at the mine, well or port of entry.**

Dell noted citizens are paying an artificially low price for fossil fuels -- a price that doesn't include hidden costs such as health impacts, military use, sea level rising, floods and more.

An increasing tax on fossil fuels will result in high prices that consumers and investors will try to avoid, she added.

"All this will drive technology in the direction of more clean energy," Dell said.

The Dividend

According to the CCL Web site, "100 percent of the net fees from the carbon fee are held in a Carbon Fees Trust fund and returned directly to households as a monthly dividend. About two-thirds of households will break even or receive more than they would pay in higher prices. This feature will inject billions into the economy, protect family budgets, free households to make independent choices about their energy usage, spur innovation and build aggregate demand for low-carbon products at the consumer level."**

The revenue neutral dividend does not grow government and is intended to protect lower income earners, Dell explained.

According to the proposal so far, every adult in a household would receive the same amount, and each child (up to two children per household) would receive half that amount monthly.

According to CCL, economic modeling studies have found that in just 20 years a Carbon Fee and Dividend policy could reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels while adding 2.8 million jobs to the American economy.**

Clean Energy Economy

During the workshop, a question on whether the Carbon Fee and Dividend policy would lead to replacing fossil fuels with clean energy led to a discussion on why this would happen:

After Elizabeth Dell points out how the increased cost for fossil fuels is expected to lead to more investment in clean energy, workshop participants join in the discussion. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

The CCL Web site points out statistics showing that green energy jobs already outnumber coal, oil and gas jobs and renewable energy is expected to provide more and higher paying jobs as well as more diverse opportunities.***

Lobbying Congress

Dell explained the importance of lobbying Republican members of the House and Senate to communicate to them CCL's proposed Carbon Fee and Dividend solution to climate change. She described recent progress in the U.S. House of Representatives, which now has a bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus with 38 members -- 19 Republicans and 19 Democrats.

During her May 6 workshop in Hancock, Elizabeth Dell speaks about the bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

The bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus explores policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate. The caucus was founded in February of 2016 by two south-Florida representatives Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) who serve as co-chairs of the caucus.****

During a break in the workshop for small-group discussion, participants share personal experiences and thoughts about climate change solutions and lobbying . Pictured here, from left, are Nancy Langston, Anne Newcombe, Julie Bakkila and Bill Binroth. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Dell encouraged the workshop participants to form a local chapter of the Citizens' Climate Lobby and coordinate with other Michigan CCL chapters, including those in Marquette and Traverse City, to lobby District 1 House Rep. Jack Bergman and/or his staff members in order to communicate CCL's mission.

"Lobbying is one of the most important things we can do," Dell said. "That (lobbying) allows us to build relationships with members of Congress (House and Senate) and start making change that could lead to legislation," Dell said.

Sharing their recent lobbying experiences with the group were Nancy Langston, who visited with one of Bergman's Marquette staff recently, and Sarah Green, who spoke about visiting Bergman's office in Washington, DC, while she was there for the Apr. 29, 2017, People's Climate March. Langston and Green are co-organizers of the Keweenaw Climate Community (KCC), which has sponsored several events on climate change locally.*****

Elizabeth Dell speaks about lobbying Congressional representatives and senators to gain their support for CCL's Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Dell also noted the importance of speaking with local officials about CCL and making them aware of the need to address climate change. A local chapter of CCL could, for example, influence county or city officials to adopt a resolution such as the Republican Climate Resolution (H.Res.195), which is being introduced by a group of 20 Republican House Members led by Reps. Elise Stefanik, Carlos Curbelo, and Ryan Costello. The resolution invokes the conservative principle "'to protect, conserve, and be good stewards of our environment, responsibly plan for all market factors, and base our policy decisions in science and quantifiable facts on the ground.'" 

The House Resolution resolves, "'That the House of Representatives commits to working constructively, using our tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism, to create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.'" ******

Dell encouraged everyone at the workshop to join CCL and to volunteer to spread the word about its proposed climate solution.

During the May 6 workshop, Elizabeth Dell displays a handout for recruiting new CCL volunteers. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Dell reminded workshop participant to check the CCL Web site for more detailed information and to tune in to the one-hour weekly intro call on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (EDT). The Web site also holds monthly meetings with guest speakers accessible on line.

Dell is optimistic about CCL's efforts and proud of their accomplishments.

"Nobody deals with Congress about climate change more than we do," she said.


* Click here to learn about tonight's presentation and meeting.

** See details on Carbon Fee and Dividend on the CCL Web site.

*** Click here to see job statistics.

**** Read about the Climate Solutions Caucus here.

***** Do a search for Keweenaw Climate Community in our upper left corner of Keweenaw Now to see our articles on the KCC Climate Caf├ęs.

****** Click here to read the Republican House Climate Resolution. See also the May 19, 2017, New York Times Opinion article on CCL, "Cracking Washington’s Gridlock to Save the Planet."

Friday, May 19, 2017

Portage Library to host "Sea Change: Addressing Climate Change on Lake Superior" May 22; local Citizens' Climate Lobby chapter to meet

The Portage Lake District Library will host "Sea Change: Addressing Climate Change on Lake Superior" with the Gordon family and crew at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, May 22. Their boat will be docked near the library between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 23, for tours. The local chapter of Citizens' Climate Lobby will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the library. (Poster courtesy Citizens' Climate Lobby)

HOUGHTON -- The Gordon family -- Mark and Katya Gordon and their two daughters, Cedar and Lamar -- return to Houghton for another presentation on "Sea Change: Addressing Climate Change on Lake Superior" at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, May 22, 2017, in the Portage Lake District Library community room. At 7:30 p.m. the local chapter of Citizens' Climate Lobby will join the discussion and hold a meeting. All are welcome.

Sea Change is an ambitious three-year sailing and community-building project that takes youth sailing around Lake Superior in order to enhance climate change awareness and education, do citizen science, and build alliances in communities around the shores of Lake Superior.

The Gordons will share the story of their liveaboard sailing experiences and discuss climate science as it relates to the changing eco-systems of Lake Superior and its surrounding coasts. They will also suggest climate solutions including carbon pricing.

The public is invited to go on board the Gordons' custom-built 40 ft. steel sailboat, Amicus II, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 23. The sailboat will be docked at the Houghton public docks.

Since 2010 the Gordons have been taking youth and young adults sailing with them on voyages lasting from four days to three months. Students experience the immensity and wildness of Lake Superior while they study, collect, and record data to support climate change research on the lake.

Click here to learn more about their Sea Change Expeditions.

Following the Gordons' presentation on Monday, members of the Citizens' Climate Lobby will join the discussion about climate change and hold their monthly meeting. Citizens' Climate Lobby is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change. They train and support volunteers to engage elected officials, the media, and the public in order to generate the political will necessary for passage of their Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal.*

* Watch for an article on the Citizens' Climate Lobby, coming soon.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Michigan Tech News: The Sugarbush Diaries: 73 Taps, 500 Gallons, 12 Dozen Bottles of Made-in-Alberta Deliciousness

By Cyndi Perkins, Michigan Tech Web Writer
Posted Apr. 19, 2017, on Michigan Tech News
Reprinted in part with permission

Michigan Tech Instructor Tara Bal is pictured here with the wood-fired evaporator used to bring sap to its optimal boiling temperature. Bal, whose PhD work centers on sugar maples, and who remembers syrup-making from growing up in a tightknit Amish community, didn't like to see it sitting there unused at the Ford Forestry Center in Alberta. She wrote a development grant for a non-traditional online course, which includes a fieldwork component and has the added benefit of introducing students to forestry and biology, including how tree physiology relates to sap flow. (Photo © and courtesy Cyndi Perkins)

Plonk. Plonk. Plonk. The sap drips hitting the bottom of galvanized buckets in Preacher Park are louder than the raindrops on an April weekend at Michigan Tech's Ford Forestry Center.

The buckets aren't full yet (at time of this writing). But across US-41, Tara Bal's maple syrup management and culture class is collecting from the sugarbush maples that line the streets of Alberta Village. The trees look a little like hospital patients receiving IV drips. Some bear rectangular blue sacks; you can see the clear liquid inside. Flexible, thin blue tubing protrudes from the tap holes on others, snaking down into white plastic buckets.

Students also learn a second boiling method: In the Native American tradition, Jamie Opsahl uses heated rocks to bring sap to the boiling point in a hollowed-out maple log. (Photo © and courtesy Cyndi Perkins)

But tapping doesn't hurt the trees, says Bal, a research assistant professor in Michigan Tech's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science (SFRES) -- you can pinpoint her location by following the smoke billowing above the Sugar Shack, out back of the research, education and conference center's dining hall and dorms. ... Ford Forestry Center, the planned community of Alberta built by Henry Ford, is graced with fine maple specimens. How long has syrup been made here?

"As long as Ford was here, and before that, the Anishinabe," says Bal....

Click here for the full article on Michigan Tech News. This article also received attention in Lake Superior Magazine's June/July 2017 issue.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

DEQ staff to hold 2017 open house on Torch Lake Abandoned Mining Wastes Project May 16 in Lake Linden

From Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and Amy Keranen, Abandoned Mining Wastes Project manager

During the May 2016 open house, Abandoned Mining Wastes Project Manager Amy Keranen, right, DEQ Remediation and Redevelopment Division, talks about educating the public about the project with visitors from Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK), from left, Catherine Andrews and FOLK President Linda Rulison. Keranen and DEQ staff will hold their 2017 open house on the project this Tuesday, May 16, at Lake Linden-Hubbell High School Auditorium. (Keweenaw Now file photo)
LAKE LINDEN -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) invites the public to an informal open house from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 16, at Lake Linden-Hubbell High School Auditorium to learn about the project findings and next steps for the Abandoned Mining Wastes Project.

The focus of the Abandoned Mining Wastes (AMW) Project is the investigation of mining-era chemical containers and residues historically discarded in or near Torch Lake. Work to date has included a review of historic studies, on-land and in-lake investigative activities, and a series of remedial actions.

The DEQ Abandoned Mining Wastes (AMW) project team will be available to share their findings with the community and to answer questions during the May 16 open house.

This project team consists of staff involved in the planning, fieldwork, interim responses, and reporting for the project; the DEQ sampling crew who conducted investigative activities; and the On-Scene Coordinator from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Emergency Response Branch (ERB) who is managing two projects in the Lake Linden area. Project area maps and photos will be on display to show where the team conducted their work, what they have found, and what they have planned.

Contact DEQ staff at 906-337-0389 for more information.

Notes from the Desk of Amy Keranen: Spring 2017 Newsletter

In her latest newsletter, Amy Keranen, DEQ project manager for the Abandoned Mining Wastes - Torch Lake project, gives an update on the DEQ's AMW project, including recent referrals to the EPA Emergency Response Branch. The following information is taken from this Spring 2017 Newsletter:

Lake Linden Recreation Area Sediments

Removal of contaminated sediment from Lake Linden Recreation Area. (Photos courtesy Amy Keranen)

Evaluation of results of several key studies conducted at the Lake Linden Recreation Area (LLRA) between 2005 and 2015 concluded that contamination exceeding health-based and ecological criteria extends outward from the area along the shore, which was the focus of a 2007 emergency removal (pictured above). Based on these findings, in January 2017, the DEQ requested EPA Emergency Response assistance to address the contaminated sediments at the LLRA site. The EPA is currently evaluating the existing information to determine what next steps are necessary.

Calumet Stamp Mill Asbestos

Asbestos removal near foundations of the Houghton County Historical Society Museum in Lake Linden. 

The EPA ERB from Grosse Ile, Michigan, continues to work with Honeywell Specialty Materials and the Houghton County Historical Society to remove asbestos near the foundations at the Museum in Lake Linden. Work started in October 2016, and cleanup activities will be completed by this summer. Mr. Brian Kelly, who manages these projects for the EPA ERB, will be at the May 16th Open House.

Quincy Mining Co. Mason Area: Focus of 2017 Field Investigation

 Quincy Reclamation Plant ruins in Mason.

In 2016, the AMW project team started looking at the third and final stretch of the Torch Lake shoreline -- the Quincy Mining Co. area in Mason. They reviewed existing data, completed preliminary reconnaissance activities, conducted a side scan sonar survey and recorded underwater video using a remotely operated vehicle. Based on the comprehensive review, a Sampling and Analysis Plan has been developed to assist in the identification of historic areas of contamination or data gaps requiring further assessment. This plan will be implemented during 2017; and, depending on the findings, interim response actions may be undertaken to reduce the public’s potential for exposure to mining era wastes.

2017 Remediation Projects

Investigations at the former Hubbell Smelter property and on the south side of the Tamarack Sands confirmed that debris has been buried under the soil cap constructed on the stamp sands during the Torch Lake Superfund project. Investigations also show polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-contaminated soils are eroding into Torch Lake at the former Hubbell Coal Dock property. To address the conditions in these three areas, interim response actions have been designed and will be implemented during 2017 following completion of contracting and permitting activities.

Drums are visible sticking out into Torch Lake from beneath the Superfund soil cap near the former Hubbell Smelter property. The drums that contain PCBs and hazardous levels of lead will be removed and disposed. This removal is planned for May 2017.

This photo shows one of the seep areas where fluid wastes are coming up from likely buried drums that have decomposed beneath the Superfund soil cap in the Tamarack Sands. The seeping wastes that contain high concentrations of solvents and chemicals, not typically associated with mining related industry, will be removed and disposed. This area will be excavated for proper disposal in May/June 2017.

This photo depicts surface water runoff and erosion of PCB-contaminated soils into Torch Lake from the Coal Dock PCB Burn Area. A project to address these concerns by capping the area and improving the drainage from the site is being planned for this summer, 2017.

Work planned for 2017 
  •  Implement the Quincy Mining Co. Mason Sampling and Analysis Plan, prepare a Site Investigation Report, and undertake interim response actions if needed.
  •  Implement interim response actions in the Hubbell Processing Area (Shoreline Drums and Coal Dock PCB Burn Area) and Tamarack Sands.
  • Prepare summary reports documenting all aspects of the 2016 and 2017 Emergency Response Actions.
  • Honeywell Specialty Materials, under EPA ERB oversight, will continue to remove asbestos near the foundations at the Museum in Lake Linden.
  • EPA ERB will proceed with removal assessment activities related to the Lake Linden Recreation Area.
  • All project documents will be posted on the Abandoned Mining Wastes Project Web site as they are finalized.*
If you have questions, any information regarding historic waste issues or concerns you wish to discuss, please contact Amy Keranen at

* Click here for the DEQ Abandoned Mining Wastes Project Web site.

Friday, May 12, 2017

DEQ cites Highland Copper's wetlands, soil erosion violations from mining exploration in Porkies, along CR 519

By Michele Bourdieu

Some water remains in a ditch area between Gogebic County Road 519 and a snowmobile trail along the eastern right-of-way of the county road. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is investigating wetlands and soil erosion violations in this area from equipment used in an exploratory drilling effort conducted by Highland Copper in and adjacent to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park as the spring thaw arrived. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo taken Apr. 29, 2017.)

MARQUETTE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Office of the Great Lakes (OGL) recently announced the importance of the month of May as American Wetlands Month.

"Healthy wetlands are now being recognized for their ecological and functional importance, and many groups at the federal, state, and local level are working to protect and restore them," notes the OGL. "As part of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s focus on protecting wetlands, the Office of the Great Lakes supports healthy wetlands ecosystems by restoring areas affected by legacy pollution, working to prevent introductions of aquatic invasive species, protecting our unique coastal environments, and promoting stewardship of our Great Lakes water resources."

The Michigan DEQ has responded to recent violations of wetlands and soil erosion statutes by Highland Copper's exploration activities in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (the Porkies).

In an April 20, 2017, press release, the DEQ states it issued a violation notice to Highland Copper Company Inc. for soil erosion and wetlands impacts at sites on road commission property along County Road 519 in Gogebic County. The violation follows environmental damage discovered in early April.*

This April 26, 2017, photo shows sediment-filled muddy water passing through fiber rolls (erosion control) on an access road left chewed up by Highland Copper's drilling equipment. Muddy water is flowing into ditches of CR-519, which convey the water to a ravine that feeds the Presque Isle River. (Photo © Steve Garske and courtesy Mining Action Group)

The notice requires Highland Copper Company Inc. to stabilize the site, restore disturbed wetlands, obtain additional permits, and investigate previously used drill sites to determine if other wetlands have been disturbed.

According to Steve Casey, DEQ Water Resources Division district coordinator for the Upper Peninsula, the DEQ violation notice requires that the company delineate wetlands and apply for an appropriate after-the-fact permit for impacting wetlands. This permit may have penalties associated with it. They must also obtain a soil erosion control permit from Gogebic County.**

John Pepin, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) deputy public information officer, said, "Highland Copper’s exploration at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park did not cause any damage under permits issued by the DNR, which included several provisions for protection of park surface features. Highland Copper, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Gogebic County Road Commission continue to address wetlands and soil erosion concerns on road commission property, within the right-of-way of County Road 519, which were discovered in April and are currently being remedied."

Hay bales and other short-term remediation measures are in place and working along Gogebic County Road 519. This photo shows a ditched area with standing water between the county road and a snowmobile trail, along the east side of the county road. Later, long-term measures like grading and reseeding will be undertaken to help restore original surface features. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources Apr. 29 photo)

Highland Copper Company Inc. has been conducting exploratory drilling of copper minerals situated beneath the surface of a mile-square section of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, bisected by County Road 519. Drilling ceased on road commission property on April 4 after company officials were made aware of the erosion issues.*

This Apr. 26 photo shows water in a CR-519 ditch flowing north to the Presque Isle River. (Photo © Steve Garske and courtesy Mining Action Group)**

"According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s website: 'Sediment is the greatest pollutant by volume impacting our lakes, streams, and wetlands. Sediment is the product of uncontrolled erosion,'" the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) Mining Action Group recently noted in an update on the Highland Copper violations in the Porkies. "'Erosion and sedimentation result in: loss of fertile topsoil, filling of lakes and streams, increased flooding, damage to plant and animal life, and structural damage to buildings and roads.'"**

Kathleen Heideman, board member of UPEC's Mining Action Group, commented recently on Michigan's track record in wetland protection, noting her concerns for another mining project in the Western U.P. as well.

"Michigan wetlands, especially the iconic vernal wetlands where spring peepers are now breeding and singing, are extremely vulnerable," Heideman said. "Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality has a bad track record when it comes to wetlands protection, permitting them to be drained by mining projects, obliterated by roads, and intentionally filled with industrial wastewater discharges. These threats are real. The Aquila Back Forty project, for example, recently submitted a Wetland permit application, seeking the permission of state regulators to destroy and impair wetlands at the Back Forty mine site, located on the banks of the Menominee River. Will Michigan's DEQ protect these wetlands? Or will Michigan facilitate the desires of the mining industry, and sacrifice more wetlands in the process? In honor of American Wetlands Month, the Michigan DEQ should remember that it is easy to write celebratory press releases. It is more difficult to make permitting decisions that actually protect Michigan wetlands. We must encourage them to do the right thing."

Highland Copper's exploration within and adjacent to the Porkies is part of a feasibility study related to their Copperwood mining project, located near the Porkies.

According to Highland Copper's Web site, "Highland acquired the Copperwood Project from Orvana Minerals Corp. ('Orvana') in June, 2014. The Copperwood deposit is located in Gogebic County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, USA within the Porcupine Mountains copper district (Figure CW 1) and about 35 kilometers west of the White Pine North Project. Copperwood is a project at the final feasibility stage. All major permits required for mining the Copperwood Project were obtained or approved in 2012 and 2013, subject to certain conditions, including providing financial assurance."***

As to whether mining could take place within the Porkies, Casey noted, "Highland is doing exploratory drilling, which is a preliminary step to determining whether an ore body can be feasibly mined. They don't even know if it's feasible yet."

Highland had indicated they planned to access the ore body under the Porkies underground from Copperwood, but Casey added the DEQ does not know enough at this time to determine what permits would need to be issued or modified should they decide to do so.

"If they want to add the additional ore body that's under Porcupine Mountains State Park, there will be multiple public meetings and a comment period," Casey said.


* See our Apr. 7, 2017, article, "State, county officials address citizens' concerns about erosion from Highland Copper mining exploration along CR 519 in Porkies." 

** Click here to see more photos from the Mining Action Group. Click here for information on Soil and Sedimentation Control under Part 91 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), 1994 PA 451, as Amended.

*** See Highland Copper Company's description of the Copperwood project here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Local "Bergman/Trumpcare Die-In" event to expose dangers of "American Health Care Act" May 13

"Die-In" participants display signs to warn of the potential deadly consequences of the "American Health Care Act" passed last week by the U.S. House of Representatives. (Photo via @Indivisible_SAZ and courtesy Marika Seigel)

HOUGHTON -- Veteran's Park in Houghton will be the scene of a "Bergman/Trumpcare Die-In" at noon on Saturday, May 13. The Houghton County Democratic Party, in partnership with Indivisible and Houghton/Keweenaw Forward Action Michigan, will host this event in order to expose the "American Health Care Act" (AHCA, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week) for the harm it will do, to hold Congressman Bergman accountable to his constituents for the lives that will be lost, and to put the Senate on notice that the only way forward for the American people is Medicare-for-All.

According to the progressive group Indivisible, "A die-in is a form of nonviolent direct action protest where participants publicly pretend to die to highlight a deadly problem."*

Here is the problem:

Under the AHCA, as passed by the House, more than 24 million Americans would lose their health insurance over the next 10 years. This includes over 40,000 residents of Congressman Jack Bergman’s 1st District of Michigan. It is estimated that upwards of 44,000 Americans could die every year from lack of health insurance. Guaranteed protection for persons with pre-existing conditions would end, resulting in no coverage or premiums that are unaffordable by many Americans. Older Americans would pay far more for health insurance and health care. The tax on high income taxpayers that extended the solvency of Medicare would be repealed, throwing the future of Medicare into doubt. Medicaid would no longer be a program for anyone who qualifies but, rather, a block grant to states who would have to ration care and cut the quality of services.

The only people who come out ahead under the AHCA are the wealthy and corporations. They would get over $600 billion in tax breaks while the rest of us pay more for health care or are denied access to affordable health care. Bottom line is that the AHCA is nothing more than a tax break for the wealthy. This is the bill that Congressman Bergman -- who is supposed to represent the constituents of the 1st District -- voted for. He must now own it and all the adverse consequences that follow.

This bill now goes to the Senate but, unless the Senate adopts Medicare-for-All, there isn’t much that the Senate can do to take the harm to Americans out of the AHCA. This is an immoral piece of legislation that must be defeated.

How to participate in the Die-In:

Gather at Veteran's Park at noon on Saturday, May 13. Bring a sign shaped like a tombstone. The sign could name a pre-existing condition that would no longer be covered, comment on the AHCA, or call out Bergman/the GOP directly. A sign-making event will be held in the Michigan Room of the Portage Lake District Library from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 11. You can drop in at any time during these two hours to make a sign. Supplies will be on hand. (If you don't have time to make a sign but would still like to participate in the die-in, please come anyway!)


The MC will make opening remarks about the AHCA, and then signal that it is time to die (lie down) with the phrase "Here are the consequences." At that point, participants lie down and hold up tombstones. (If you are not able to lie down, you could bring a folding chair to sit in or remain standing).

Several people will share brief (1-2 minute) stories about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) helped them, or about how the AHCA would negatively effect them or people they love. If you would be willing to share a story, please email Marika Seigel at Those who are sharing stories should remain standing and lined up next to the MC.

The MC will make closing remarks and then signal that it is time to stand with the phrase "We will rise."

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