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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: November 30, 2016

Lessons Learned

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

I follow from a distance the discussions about a mine that is in the permitting process for the Upper Peninsula. I do not have a full understanding of the project, but I'd offer two suggestions for those concerned about the mine to follow up on, to try to minimize the future negative impact should mining begin. I offer them from my observations of what I have seen happen in Oklahoma.

1. Typically a permit for such a mine would require a detailed plan of what the company will do when the mine is exhausted or no longer financially beneficial. (This is the kind of thing the Environmental Protection Agency does for us taxpayers. Environmental regulations are a GOOD thing.) I would want to be sure that the money to pay for the final closure and remediation of the mine including any damage done to the environment is put aside in an escrow account BEFORE the mine opens. I base my recommendation on two unfortunate examples from my Oklahoma home. One is the community of Pitcher, once the site of active lead and zinc mining. (This area is known as the "Tar Creek Superfund.") When the mining companies closed up shop and left, the land was riddled with mine shafts and tunnels. These had started to collapse, leaving homes and businesses unsafe for occupancy. There were also large piles of mining waste, exposed to the air, blowing contaminants all over the land. When this contamination was found to be harmful to people, especially children, the mining company was long gone and out of business with no assets to fix the problems.

As a result the EPA, our advocate for such problems, spent millions of our tax dollars to try and remediate the problems. Unfortunately, in the end, the citizens of the area had to accept buyouts for their property and move, since it was going to be totally impossible to make the land or water safe for human occupancy again. WE paid for that Superfund. If we know now that the plan for final closure and remediation of the mine will cost $5 million, I'd want that money put aside now. You do not know when the company could suddenly go out of business, or legally shield themselves somehow, leaving the cleanup to the taxpayers - "us."

My other example is thousands of abandoned oil well sites in Oklahoma, the original well owners or companies long gone. The oil industry does provide a free service to landowners impacted by these abandoned sites, but the service merely removes tanks, pumps, pipes and roadways " it does not clean up the soil. Once the visible scar of the installation is gone, the job is considered complete " regardless of how contaminated the water or soil at the site is. While the "cosmetics" of this service are nice, the toxic impact of the oil well remains.

I do not see any mention in the official website of this company's environmental violation history " but that is information that is public record, and I recommend that information be pursued to ensure this company is a good neighbor.

2. I do understand the promise of jobs is an attraction. But mining is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States with more than 760 fatalities in 2014, according to the Occupational Safety and Health website official statistics. There are many fewer mining jobs than there used to be, so the number of fatalities is very significant and a serious concern. And that doesn't include the number of occupational injuries, or illnesses caused by working in a mining environment. In the official website for the company that wants to start mining, there is a "frequently asked questions" document that states they will create full time jobs, but not how many (an important consideration, are 10 jobs worth it? Are 15? ) nor is there any mention of employee safety. Data on their safety history should be researched " this is information I would certainly want to have before anyone I cared about pursued a job at the mine. And I would ask if the company itself employs the workers, or if they are somehow subcontracted to a separate company.

I do not know if the mine is a good thing for the area. Perhaps the risks are worth "the reward." There are many complex considerations. But NOW is the time to be sure you pursue the information to have a full understanding of how you, your land, your water and the people who might work there that you care about would be protected " not just now, but 20 years from now, or even further into the future.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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