Huron Mountain Club loses legal bid to stop Eagle Mine project

MARQUETTE – In a ruling issued Wednesday, a federal appeals court in Ohio decided against the Huron Mountain Club in its bid to get a court injunction to stop construction and operation of the Eagle Mine.

Club attorneys also sought to compel the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “administer” federal permitting programs under the Rivers and Harbors Act and the Clean Water Act.

The club wanted mine work stopped until the operation submitted to the permitting procedures dictated under those two federal laws.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld a ruling issued against the club in July 2012 by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Holmes Bell in Grand Rapids.

The case was originally filed in May 2012 against several federal agencies and was the first lawsuit brought against the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company’s nickel and copper mining project in federal court.

Several previous challenges to the mine had been brought in state venues.

The private Huron Mountain Club – citing concerns over potential irreparable damage to the value of club lands and the Salmon Trout River – alleged the mine was being constructed illegally because proper permits were not obtained by former owner Kennecott, nor were they required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Additional federal agencies named in the lawsuit included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Club representatives wanted mine construction stopped to compel the federal agencies to “fulfill their Congressionally-mandated procedural responsibilities.”

“Kennecott’s conduct is illegal in the absence of permits issued pursuant to the Rivers and Harbors Appropriations Act and federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), as well as pre-permit evaluations the federal defendants must conduct pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and National Historic Preservation Act,” attorneys for the club said in their lower court pleadings. “Kennecott has never applied for the required permits. In turn, the federal defendants have failed to demand Kennecott apply for the permits, and they consequently never have engaged in the mandatory pre-permit evaluations Kennecott’s conduct compels.”

The case for a preliminary injunction was originally argued before Bell in June 2012 in an expedited hearing. Bell previously ruled against granting a temporary restraining order.

Bell then issued his order denying the preliminary injunction the club sought in July 2012. In August this year, the appeal was argued before the three-judge Ohio panel.

In the opinion issued Wednesday, the appellate court said the district court did not err in its finding that the club was not likely to prevail on the merits of its case against the Army Corps, nor did the lower court err in its declining to grant preliminary relief against Kennecott.

The appeals court also found the lower court was correct in considering the club waited six years after a state court challenge to file its claim in federal court as a factor weighing against issuing an injunction.

“Accordingly, the district court did not err in determining that HMC will not suffer irreparable harm from the federal defendants’ lack of action,” the appellate opinion stated.

The appellate judges also said the lower court did not abuse its discretion by determining the balance of harms weighed against granting a preliminary injunction.

The Huron Mountain Club is a private, not-for-profit corporation formed as a retreat and wildlife preserve. The club owns about 19,000 acres in northern Marquette County, including property along an 11-mile section of the Salmon Trout River.

Construction of the Eagle Mine, located in Michigamme Township, began in 2010. Production at the underground mine and associated Humboldt Mill in Humboldt Township is slated to begin late next year.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.