From Our ReadersIssue Date: August 16, 2017
Re: A mine next to a river is a bad choice
While it is true that Michigan's Upper Peninsula has a long history of mining, few of those mines have been located next to a river. We have examples in other states where mines have been close to a river with tragic results: one in Wisconsin and one in Colorado.
The Flambeau deposit located at Ladysmith next to the Flambeau River was discovered in 1969. The Flambeau mine, during its years of operation 91993-1997), produced 181,000 tons of copper, 334,000 ounces of gold and 3.3 million ounces of silver. The mine also produced 4.5 million tons of high sulfur waste and four million tons of low sulfur waste. The hole produced by the mine at its lowest point is 220 feet, and is a half mile long covering 32 acres of Rusk County.
Company engineers and DNR officials optimistically assumed that a limestone barrier wall would keep the polluted waste water from flowing into the nearby Flambeau River. A certificate recognizing the company's reclamation efforts was given, acknowledging the creation of a small lake in the former open pit mine, with a four mile hiking trail on landscaped land around the former mine pit. The May, 2011 certificate expressed concern over the continued seepage of polluted waste water into the newly created lake. When more limestone was added to the barrier, the polluted former mine water began seeping into the ground water.
In January, 2011, the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council filed a civil lawsuit against the Flambeau Mining Company in the US District Court, citing the Federal Clean Water Act, and accusing the company of discharging copper, zinc and other harmful pollutants in a nearby stream. In fact, at one point, the stream had 10 times the amount of copper allowed in a stream. In July, 2012, the judge ruled that the mine was the source of pollution, and the company had violated the Clean Water Act. The company then removed the filter from the water containment reservoir which resulted in waste water seeping into the ground water. For more information, see The 2009 Report on Groundwater Surface Water Contamination at the Flambeau Mine by D.M. Chambers and K. Zanzow.
In spite of the good intentions of present day environmentalists, irresponsible mining practices in the past can create disasters decades later. In August 2015, the La Plata County's Sheriff's Office was forced to close Colorado's San Juan River after a crew working for the EPA accidentally released three million gallons of mine waste into Cement Creek which flows into the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River. The crew accidentally removed a plug while looking for a leak int he abandoned Gold King Mine which was last in operation during the 1920s. The mine's leak was causing 50 to 250 gallons of toxic water to leak from the mine a year. Removal of the plug drained toxic metals including arsenic and lead into the river. The San Juan River, a popular fishing stream turned orange. The Associated Press reported in February, 2016 that the spill had dumped an estimated 880,000 pounds of metal into the Animas River (a tributary of the San Juan) with much of the metals settling into the river bed.
Public officials dislike sharing bad news. EPA Regional Director, Shaun McGrall said at a public meeting at Durango, Colo., a few days later that "Our initial assessment...was inappropriate...we did not know what we were dealing with here. Our earlier comment may have sounded cavalier about the impact to public health and wildlife."
The Mineral Policy Center has reported that mineral effluents have already polluted 12,000 miles of US waterways. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) 40% of all streams in the west are polluted. Colorado ranks third behind Arizona and Nevada in the number of polluted streams. Cleaning up such streams is difficult because many of the owners are either dead or unknown.
Sources include: the August 10, 2016, Los Angeles Times; the Aug. 7, 2016 New York Times and the Aug. 10, 2015 Denver Post; CNN reported Mariano Castille on Aug. 10, 2015 reported that the pollution of the San Juan was greater than the EPA admitted.
Writing in the early 10th century in an age of slow moving sailing ships, the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge lamented: "Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink." Coleridge was describing the ocean, not Kentucky's coal producing Martin County. The Aug. 7, 2017 Christian Science Monitor titled its article (p.12) "Where you can't drink the water". The heading had a subtitle, "In a Kentucky county the tap water regularly fails EPA tests." Modern coal mining operations often require disturbing drainage patterns to remove the coal. The results: "according to the Kentucky Division of Water records, (is) Martin County's water system has exceeded EPA limits for certain chemicals in its drinking water multiple times every year since 2005." On the other hand, the highest elected official in Martin County Judge Executive Kelly Callaham said, "Could cause cancer and will cause cancer is a whole different deal.' Not wishing to try to find out the correct answer, some residents of Kentucky's Martin County continue to buy bottled water.
Re: Stop the Back Forty Mine
I wish Michigan had the "Prove It First" law that Wisconsin has. The world also wishes that, because we hear from various places that are also fighting mines on rivers but they don't have that law either. Wisconsin, please don't let Senator Tiffany get away with abolishing that law just because he and others want money. We all want clean water, not the money that will help investors, but will cause mines to contaminate our pure Michigan water. We don't oppose all mines, only mines that want to be located near water. Water is life and once it is contaminated, it can't be cleaned up again. NO MINE HAS LEFT CEAN WATER and most are not even next to water.
We have a major company, Cabella, who is sponsoring a walleye fishing event in our area because of our clean water's many walleyes. It is expected to benefit our area with thousands of dollars. Once the mine pollutes our water it will never happen again and the economic benefits of this type of sport will be lost.
Pollute the Menominee River = Pollute our Green Bay, Pollute our Green Bay = Pollute Lake Michigan, Pollute Lake Michigan = Pollute the rest of the Great Lakes? The Great Lakes are 25% of ALL THE WORLD'S fresh water. Do we want to allow this possibility? NO!
In Dale Anderson's letter to the editor he states that there will be a brief period of prosperity when the mine is running. The miners that Aquila will hire will not be from this area, they will be laid off miners from the Marquette area. When you look at the statistics from towns that had mines, you'll see that no benefits were proven in any area. Nothing was changed financially.
It's your job to help stop the mine. Contact your elected officials: State Senator Tom Casperson, P.O. Box 30036, Lansing, MI 48909, phone 517-373-7840 Rep. Beau Lafave, S-1487 House Office Bldg., P.O. Box 30014, Lansing, MI 49809 or beauLafave@house.mi.gov, and Gov. Rick Snyder, Lansing,MI 48909.
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