Rio Tinto reports on progress of Eagle Mine

L’ANSE – Rio Tinto representatives provided an update on the Eagle Mine, collected survey results through a community scorecard and fielded an array of questions and comments during a mining forum recently at the L’Anse American Legion Post 144.

Matt Johnson, manager of external relations at Rio Tinto Eagle, gave a brief historical overview of the mine, starting with explorations dating back to the 1950s, the discovery of the ore body in 2002, the permit process and the start of underground drilling in 2011.

“We do have a goal of being in production in 2014,” he said. “A few months ago we announced a moderated schedule, so we pushed our schedule back. (Work on the Humboldt Mill) has been postponed for the time being.”

Production was originally slated to start in early 2014, but now it’ll likely be toward the end of the year, but that’s not the only reason the life of the mine will extend farther.

“Over the last six months to a year or so, we’ve been able to find more ore, so we’re very happy to announce that we’ve been able to add 20 percent to our resource, which extends the life of the mine probably about a year,” Johnson said.

That’ll push the life of the northwest Marquette County mine, which will produce copper and nickel concentrate, to about eight years.

After fielding a few questions and before turning the floor over to Chantae Lessard, principal advisor for communities and social performance, Johnson said the community scorecard method of receiving feedback is a new concept for Rio Tinto.

“We don’t do this at any other project in the world, but it’s also a learning experience,” he said.

The scorecard let attendees respond whether Rio Tinto exceeds, meets or falls below expectations, or whether they needed more information on the following five areas: environmental performance, safety, local hiring, transparency/communication and “leaving more wood on the woodpile” – or leaving more jobs in the area outside the mining industry to combat the boom and bust that often comes with mining, according to Lessard.

The vote on environmental performance was, with 19 votes: 32 percent exceeds expectations, 11 percent meets expectations, 42 percent below expectations and 16 percent needing more information.

On safety, Lessard recapped the report of three injuries on site, none of them happening underground, during the six-month reporting period.

The vote was 40 percent exceeds, 35 percent meets, 15 percent falls below and 10 percent needing more information.

On local hiring, Rio Tinto reported 70 percent of direct hires and contractors coming from one of three local tiers – first being Marquette/Baraga counties, second the rest of the U.P. and a few northern Wisconsin counties and third downstate – with 86 percent of Rio Tinto employees from Tier 1. Lessard presented statistics on the numbers of employees as well, which decreased during the slower winter construction months.

The vote on local hire was 30 percent exceeds, 55 percent meets, 15 percent falls below and 0 percent needing more information.

On transparency/communication, Rio Tinto reported that 294 people had attended forums, 118 people had toured the site and 1,647 had been to the information center. They also detailed advertisements across different media.

The vote was 39, 17, 33 and 11 percent across the four categories.

Leaving more wood on the woodpile results were 39, 17, 28 and 17 percent after Lessard described the Accelerate U.P. initiative, which is described in detail at