Arguments heard in Eagle Mine appeals

MARQUETTE – Oral arguments were presented before the Michigan Court of Appeals this week in Lansing with the judges set to rule on contested permit issues surrounding the Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township dating back to 2007.

The panel of three judges – Mark J. Cavanagh, Donald S. Owens and Cynthia Diane Stephens – will decide on appeals challenging the mining and groundwater discharge permits for the mine.

Those appealing Ingham County Circuit Court decisions in 2011 and 2012 to affirm the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s decisions to issue the permits for the mine include the National Wildlife Federation, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Huron Mountain Club and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

About 500 KBIC members gathered at the courthouse in Lansing before attorneys argued the merits of the case before the panel.

“This is the first time in our generation that the community as a whole came together to fight for true sovereignty and engage in spontaneous government participation,” said Donald Shalifoe Sr., KBIC’s Ogimaa (Chief). “The goal of the new moving-forward tribal council is to bring transparency and involvement to the Anishinaabeg (the people).”

In a news release, KBIC officials said tribal leaders and elders observed the hearing from within the courtroom, while hundreds watched and listened to the proceedings in an overflow video conferencing room. Traditional drumming and singing resounded outside the building following the hearing.

The Anishinaabeg band has opposed the Eagle Mine – which is located on land ceded in the Treaty of 1842 – since permits were first granted for the project by the DEQ in 2006.

The KBIC said unsettled concerns involve the mining regulatory process, improper permitting and inadequate assessment of impacts to the areas environment, cultural resources and water quality, including groundwater contamination and the potential for perpetual acid mine drainage upstream from Lake Superior.

Tribal members are keenly concerned about Eagle Rock. The portal of the mine is dug under the rock. According to the KBIC, spiritually significant high places like Eagle Rock are used in solitude by the Anishinaabeg for multi-day fasting, vision quest and ceremony.

Tribal officials said problems with the mine’s location at the rock include non-stop noise and activity and hindered traditional access and use.

“It is a shame that the United States of America, proudly founded upon values of religious freedom, has trouble guaranteeing this right to all of its nation’s first people,” said tribal member Jessica Koski, who is also a mining technical assistant for the KBIC’s Natural Resources Department.

The KBIC anticipates a decision from the appellate court within six months. The Eagle Mine’s timeframe for production start-up is the end of this year.

Eagle Mine officials said they are confident of their position and are optimistic about the court’s decision.

“Eagle Mine appreciates the opportunity to argue the merits of the case in support of the permits granted by (the) MDEQ and the agency’s extensive review process that has withstood previous challenges over the past eight years,” Eagle Mine general manager Mike Welch said in a statement. “This is a testament to our team’s expertise, experience and professionalism in terms of its environmental protectiveness, safety culture and commitment to the community in which we operate. We are confident the project complies with all state and federal laws and regulations for safeguarding the environment. Even more, we are extremely proud of the nearly 800 men and women that have built Eagle.”

When the appeals were originally filed,Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. owned the mine. The project was sold to Lundin Mining Corp. of Toronto in summer 2013.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net.