The Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC), taking advantage of a new law that requires the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to extend a permit processing period at the request of the applicant, has set a decision deadline for October 1 of this year. If desired, the Road Commission may extend the time frame for review of the CR 595/haul road proposal to a year from the date the DEQ deemed the application to be administratively complete, which would be mid-January, 2013.
Although Engineer-Manager Jim Iwanicki of the MCRC has said there is no agreement with Rio Tinto for funding construction of CR 595, Eagle Mine president Adam Burley stated in an April 2011 letter that they wished to amend their agreement with the Road Commission by committing to pay for 595, adding that they would reconsider if construction had not commenced prior to May 2013. Since there are no other identified funding sources, lack of support from Rio Tinto would leave the County with a $60-$80 million dollar tab that they couldn’t pay, effectively tabling the project.
CR 595 would provide a direct route between the Eagle Mine and Kennecott’s processing facility, approximately 25 miles to the south. Interestingly, mining expert Jack Parker, who has dedicated six years of his career to study of Kennecott’s Eagle Project, has long been saying that Rio Tinto’s purchase of the Humboldt Mill was and is a costly mistake.
“Kennecott says it will mine only Massive and Semi-Massive ores,” Parker stated. “Those grades are normally considered to merit direct shipping to smelter, as in the Application.”
The original transportation plan for the Eagle Mine specified that Kennecott would use existing roads to truck ore to a railhead north of the city of Marquette. A subsequent “clarification” extended the trucking route through the city to the vicinity of the Humboldt Mill.
Rio Tinto says they expect to be mining at Eagle for a period of only 5-7 years. Why, then, have they spent more than $8 million to date, pursuing construction of a haul road? Why invest $100 million to clean up and refurbish the Humboldt Mill? Why spend $8 million to extend a powerline to the Yellow Dog Plains? Their actions suggest they have more to gain than they are letting on.
In the meantime, citizens remain largely opposed to construction of CR 595 and local officials are increasingly suspicious in their dealings with Rio Tinto, most recently regarding the introduction of a legislative proposal to substitute a severance tax for the traditional ad valorum tax on nonferrous metallic mining. The company has responded by stepping up their public relations efforts–running ads in the local newspaper, holding additional focus groups in conjunction with Northern Michigan University, and taking mine opponents on tours.
According to today’s issue of the Marquette Mining Journal, EPA’s original objection to the 595 application still stands, and consequently, DEQ Water Resources Chief William Creal has asked the EPA to schedule a public hearing to address this. Steve Casey, district supervisor for the DEQ’s U.P. Water Resources Division, said the state’s request will delay the EPA’s 90-day deadline indefinitely.
If the State were to issue a permit without approval from the EPA, the applicant would then have to seek a federal permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, a scenario they most likely want to avoid, in light of the Corps’ strong objections.
Creal expects that a public hearing will demonstrate to EPA that the project has strong local support, but if the February DEQ hearing is any indication, this will not be the case. According to coverage by Headwaters News, 34 of 61 speakers “criticized the road project…with most support for the project coming from area politicians and industry representatives.”
The general consensus was: “This is a haul road for Kennecott. We do not need this road. Negative impacts to the environment from construction of CR 595 are unacceptable, and avoidable.”
Let’s hope EPA gets the message.