Eagle Mine ops a delicate balance of enviro vs. economics

Mining has, for some time now, been considered by many a contentious issue, and a delicate balancing act between a means of providing desirable economic benefits and a process that potentially leads to avoidable long-lasting environmental concerns.

Precisely that situation, where opposing viewpoints and contrary opinions are voiced, played out at a recent public forum held by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The DEQ meeting was about a permit request made earlier this year by Eagle Mine, which has its nickel and copper operation in northern Michigamme Township and its processing unit at the Humboldt Mill in Humboldt Township.

Eagle Mine, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Lundin Mining Corp., wants to expand its operation by extracting a high-grade nickel and copper deposit known as Eagle East. The ore body is a bit deeper than the company’s current mining operation, and is situated about 1.5 miles eastward.

Eagle already began digging an access tunnel toward the new deposit, but now needs a permit amendment to allow it to finish the tunnel and begin mining.

The community meeting took place on Thursday at the Westwood High School auditorium, where a relatively small crowd was in attendance — a small crowd relative to the number of people mining in the Upper Peninsula has impacted over the past several years.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: mining has had a tremendous influence on our region. For better or worse, the industry has shaped the culture, affected numerous families and businesses, and altered the very ground and environment many of us call home.

Regardless of the number of folks at Thursday’s meeting, it appeared to be a good healthy debate, with a strong showing of support from those who favor allowing the amendment to go through, as well as those who’ve long opposed the mine, since before it began operations several years back.

Certainly, gathering public input is the reason why the DEQ hosts meetings such as these, and the topic is no small matter.

Interesting points were raised by environmental advocates, including asking the DEQ to have the mining company prepare and provide additional monitoring and tests for things like groundwater effects and air emissions, noise and light pollution, as well as potential impacts to nearby watersheds and the possibility of increased truck traffic.

The mine is close to the Salmon Trout and Yellow Dog rivers. Both are obviously valued by environmentalists, and with this expanded operation Eagle has proposed, it may not be unreasonable for the DEQ to consider some of these requests.

Eagle Mine, on the other side, seems to have been a fairly well-run and responsible operation over the past couple years. The company has generated taxes and jobs that have benefitted local residents and governments alike, and it’s also provided other financial incentives, including millions of dollars to repair the roads its trucks use to haul ore from the mine to the mill, and grant money to organizations throughout the region. Company officials figure the investment in the Eagle East deposit is somewhere around $100 million.

Whatever your position, we encourage you to get involved and voice your opinion. The DEQ will continue to accept written comments on Eagle’s request until 5 p.m. July 6.

Mailed comments can be addressed to DEQ Eagle East Permit Amendment, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, MI 49855.

Emailed comments can be sent to DEQ-Mining-Comments@michigan.gov, including “Eagle East Permit Amendment” as the subject.

Both sides seem to have merit, and it’s easy to see how complex the balance between economics and environment really is.

—  The Mining Journal, Marquette