Groups Appeal Decision Allowing Dangerous Mine to Move Forward

Mine poses unacceptable risks to water and air quality

12-12-2011 // Jordan Lubetkin

A coalition of groups is appealing a court decision that has allowed a dangerous mine to proceed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—despite the threat the mine poses to water quality, the Great Lakes and one of the region’s last spawning grounds for the coaster brook trout. 

The Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, National Wildlife Federation and Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve filed the motion with the Michigan Court of Appeals today. The groups are opposing the mine on the grounds that it poses unacceptable risks to water and air quality—and that it could collapse, endangering workers and the river it is underneath.

“This mine is the first to be permitted under Michigan's new mining law, and we must ensure that the law’s protections of human health and the environment are honored and applied,” said Michelle Halley, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. “So far, they have not been and that is why we are seeking leave to appeal. Many more mines are in the queue and this is a precedent-setting case.”

The groups are appealing a decision by the Ingham County Circuit Court that allowed international mining company Rio Tinto to start mining activities on Eagle Rock—a site considered sacred to Native Americans.

“It is very important to the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community to protect Eagle Rock as a sacred place,” said Chris Swartz, President, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, “and we are hopeful that this appeal will result in the Court of Appeals reversing the decisions of the circuit court.”

The type of mine being proposed—in which nickel and copper deposits are extracted from sulfide ores—poses severe risks to the environment. One byproduct of so-called “hard rock” or “sulfide ore” mining is sulfuric acid, which has proven deadly to rivers, streams and wildlife in other parts of the country. Rio Tinto, the company overseeing the project, has broken Clean Water Act laws dozens of times in mines they have controlled in other states.

Now, the Michigan Court of Appeals will decide whether to take the case. There is no date by which the court must make its decision.

“We will continue to put forth our concentrated efforts to ensure that this area remains unharmed and protected for everyone's enjoyment, not just for special interests,” said Emily Whittaker, executive director of Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.

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