Judge to consider argument on mine near Marquette, Michigan

By John Flesher
Traverse City, Michigan (AP) 4-09

A judge has agreed to consider another argument from activists suing to void the lease of 120 acres of state land for a nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.

Ingham County Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield in March upheld the Department of Natural Resources’ decision to lease the property to Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. The company wants to place its surface buildings and other facilities on the land near the underground mine, in the Yellow Dog Plains region of western Marquette County.

But during mid-April, Manderfield acknowledged she had erred by failing to consider separately the opponents’ contention that the DNR had not met its responsibility to manage natural resources for the public good. She scheduled a hearing for June 10 in Lansing.

“This case exemplifies the state’s breach of its public trust responsibilities, and now we have an opportunity to set that right,” Michelle Halley, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, said.

Other groups joining the lawsuit against the lease include the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the Huron Mountain Club, an exclusive hunting and fishing retreat near the proposed mine site.


“The Michigan Constitution encourages development of natural resources in a proper and environmentally protective way,” Kennecott spokeswoman Deb Muchmore said. “The DNR’s actions regarding the land lease are consistent with this.”

Manderfield did not rescind her previous approval of the lease, which was based on her findings that the DNR had acted within its authority and did not violate state environmental protection law.

But opponents also raised the new argument that DNR violated its public trust responsibility to protect resources such as the rare coaster brook trout, recreation lands and Eagle Rock, a site of cultural importance to the tribe.

Manderfield said she should have dealt with that matter separately instead of dismissing it with the opponents’ other arguments.

The DNR and Kennecott contend Manderfield doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the public trust matter. That issue will be debated at the June 10 hearing.

Kennecott is targeting a deposit is expected to yield 300 million pounds of nickel, 250 million pounds of copper and trace amounts of other minerals.

Because the metals are within sulfide ore bodies, critics fear the mine will generate sulfuric acid and contaminate rivers and groundwater in the area, which is within the Lake Superior watershed. Kennecott says it can build, operate and eventually close the mine while safeguarding the waters.

The company must clear other hurdles before starting construction, which its parent company, Rio Tinto Group, has put on hold because of poor market conditions.

A state administrative judge has yet to rule on opponents’ challenge of mining permits issued by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Also pending is an application for an underground water discharge permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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