Work progress noted at Eagle Mine forum

HUMBOLDT – Officials from Lundin’s Eagle Mine discussed the progress of the work being done to get the mine and its mill in Humboldt up and running, and presented its “scorecard” of performance over the past six months at a community forum in Humboldt Township Thursday night.

Dan Blondeau, the Eagle Mine’s senior adviser for communications and media relations, spoke to more than 30 people, many of whom were mine employees or workers contracted for jobs at the mine or mill, about the mining process from start to finish, and addressed some of the concerns that have been raised by the public during previous Eagle Mine community forums and meetings with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

One such concern was the tailings pond at the mill. Blondeau said that there is a treatment plant at the mill as well as the mine, and discussed the process by which 75 feet of tailings will be stored beneath 120 feet of water – saying that an aquaeous storage method was safest for the sulfides the tailings will contain.

He also spoke about requirements that the mine continue to treat water at both sites for five years after operations cease, and monitor the water quality for 20 years. He talked about continuing to work with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community to maintain access to Eagle Rock – a sacred site for the KBIC which lies next to the mine portal – and the process by which members of the community can file a complaint with the company.

During the scorecard portion of the meeting, Chantae Lessard, Lundin’s manager for communities and social performance, said that the scorecard was a method developed through local focus groups to be able to hear and address the thoughts and concerns of the community.

“We have really liked this process, in that it solicits your feedback,” she said, adding that the content of the scorecards evolves the more Eagle officials learn from the community and that the entire system tends to equalize the loud and soft voices on both sides of the issue.

The scorecard includes data from the past six months, divided into five categories: environmental protection, local hire, safety, transparency and communication, and legacy/economic development outreach efforts. Lessard went through each category, then asked the audience – employees and contractors excluded – to vote on how well Lundin had met their expectations in that area.

On environmental performance over the last six months, for example, of the 13 in attendance who gave their input, 31 percent felt that Lundin had exceeded expectations, 54 percent felt they had met expectations and 15 percent had expectations that Lundin had not met.

Lundin reported that it had had seven exceedances of its groundwater discharge permits in the past half-year, but said that six of those were caused by naturally occurring conditions at the mine site that were higher than expected. The company made similar statements about a few dozen past exceedances, which it said occurred in several test wells when natural levels were higher than originally thought. MDEQ has since revised the groundwater discharge permit to reflect the naturally occurring conditions.

The seventh exceedance was in the water treatment plant at the mine. Kristen Mariuzza, an environmental and permitting manager at Eagle, explained that when the pH level of the water in the plant begins to exceed the permit limit, a valve automatically shuts down, rerouting the water back into the basins inside the plant, keeping it in the system instead of discharging it.

“So what happened was, we did some reprogramming in the plant. It slowed that valve down, so when the pH went and it was approaching its current limit, that valve began to close, but before it fully closed, water was discharged,” she said. “So we ended up discharged 1,500 gallons that was outside of our limits. And that’s 1,500 gallons out of 400,000 gallons that we’ve discharged total.”

Mariuzza said that since then they’ve increased the speed of the shutoff valve and have begun to use an extremely effective process for controlling the pH of the water using carbon dioxide.

On the safety, local hire and transparency and communication portions of the scorecard, those in attendance rated Lundin very well. With only four minor injuries among all of Eagle’s workers and contracted workers – a much lower accident rate than the mining industry overall, and even private industry and local and state governments – 92 percent of the 13 respondents said Lundin exceeded expectation.

In the local hire category, 54 percent said Lundin met expectations and 38 percent said it exceeded them. Lundin has committed to hiring 75 percent of its workers from the local area, and is currently at exactly 75 percent.

“One of the things that people said in the focus groups, and we heard them loud and clear, is ‘We want you to hire our people,'” Lessard said. She said that the percentage of workers hired locally is also likely to increase, as current numbers include experts who have been brought in specifically to train locals to take permanent positions in the mine and mill.

Officials also discussed its community development efforts, creating the organizations Accelerate UP and the Eagle Emerging Entrepreneurs Fund with the goal of creating more jobs outside of the mining industry than inside in order to try and “break the boom-and-bust cycle of mining.”

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401. His email address is zjay@miningjournal.net.