Mining in the Ceded Territories

 

     A primary focus of the Section has been to evaluate the environmental threats from mine projects and mineral exploration from a tribal perspective. Environmental Section staff participate in the environmental review of proposed mines by interacting with federal and state regulatory agencies and advocating for thorough analyses of the environmental impacts of the proposed mines. The Section also conducts independent data gathering and analysis to identify and describe possible mine related impacts to the environment. Impacts of existing mines and past mining activity on the environment are also investigated and the section keeps member tribes informed on all issues that may affect the health and availability of treaty resources and the ecosystems on which they depend. (See map below or visit http://www.lic.wisc.edu/glifwc/web/mining/) Notable projects we have worked on include the Proposed Crandon mine and the Flambeau mine in Wisconsin, the proposed Polymet mine and the Minntac mine in Minnesota, and the Proposed Eagle mine and the White Pine mine in Michigan.

 

Mining map

Mine Projects

 

     Staff continue to monitor developments at Kennecott Eagle Mine. In 2011, Kennecott Minerals began blasting a tunnel into Eagle Rock at its mine site in the Yellog Dog Plains are of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Staff continued to work with Keweenaw Bay Indian Community's tribal staff and others to collect water samples at springs down gradient of the Eagle mine to establish baseline water quality and to detect impacts from waste water discharge. Kennecott's Humboldt Mill site where ore from the Eagle Mine would be processed, is currently under investigation by USEPA because of existing contamination.

 

tunnel

Development of the access tunnel into Eagle Rock at the Kennecott Eagle Mine, Michigan.

 

runoff

The Black River at the Humboldt Mill site, impacted by previous mining activities, Michigan.

 

     Orvana Minerals submitted a permit application to the State of Michigan for their Copperwood Mine porject in 2011. Staff reviewed and commented on the initial draft, particularly focusing on the large footprint of the mine waste piles and the filling of streams and wetlands with mine waste. The proximity of the underground mine to Lake Superior (200 feet) raises questions about water discharges from the mine into Lake Superior during operations and post-closure.

 

     A continuing concern at the Kennecott Flambeau Mine site has been the "Industrial Outlet", which has been producing runoff contaminated metals since at least 1999. Three remediation plans for the site have been previously implemented. In 2011, a fourth plan was implemented and implemented in 2012.

 

flow measure

Flow measurements and continuous stream gauge check in the Tyler Forks Stream near the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine, Wisconsin.

 

     Staff continued to assist the Fond du Lac Band in the review and evaluation of proposed mining projects in the Minnesota 1854 ceded territory, in particular, the PolyMet project in St. Louis County, Minnesota. The PolyMet mine proposal seeks to build an open pit mine sulfide mine in the Superior National Forest. As part of the State/Federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the Fond du Lac Band joined the process as a cooperating agency.

 

tailings

US Steel Minntac Mine tailings basin with the taconite plant in the background, Minnesota.

 

     Staff also participated in many EIS technical workgroup meetings such as those on wetland impacts, surface water budgets, geochemistry of mine wastes, surface and groundwater water quality, and groundwater flows. In mid-2010, the EIS lead agencies decided to write a supplemental draft EIS (dEIS). GLIFWC staff cooperated in identifying data and analysis needs for the supplemental dEIS, which is currently scheduled to be released in late 2012.

 

testing

Checking water quality samples in the Presque Isles River, Michigan.

 

instruments

Water quality sensor and GPS in a small stream near the proposed Orvana Copperwood mine, Michigan.

 

Exploration and Speculation

     In 2010, the Cline Group, primarily investors in coal mining, developed an interest in the iron ore deposits in the Penokee Range just south of the Bad River reservation in Wisconsin. After establishing a subsidiary called Gogebic Taconite (GTac), the mining company met with local officials and some tribal governments to discuss their hope for a 4 mile by 1 mile open-pit iron mine. GTac also applied for and was granted a state permit for exploration drilling but chose to halt all field activities until the state modified the permitting process. GLIFWC developed an informational flyer about open-pit iron mining in the Ceded Territories.

 

logger

Water quality data logger at the St. Louis River, Michigan

 

     Other exploration has been for sulfide minerals, primarily copper and other precious metals. Tamerlane Ventures, Aqulia Resources, and Josephine Mining are pursuing permission from Oneida County officials to further explore the Lynne Deposit near the Willow Flowage in Wisconsin.

 

flow

Flow measurements and data loggers check in the Tyler Forks, near the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine, Wisconsin

 

     In 2011, Aquila Resources obtained permits for exploratory drilling in sulfide ore bodies east Wausau and in the southern district of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest at the Bend Deposit. Aquila Resources is also looking for precious metal deposits to supplement their "Back 40" project on the Michigan side of the Menominee River. In 2011, GLIFWC staff visited two of the exploration sites.

 

Exploration of sulfide deposits in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota continues at a high rate. The primary foci of exploration are several sulfide metal deposits just south of the Mesabi Iron Range.

 

Mining Related Materials

     GLIFWC develops materials to help illustrate the distribution, methods, and impacts of mining in the Ceded Territories. Maps, publications, and other materials are available at GLIFWC's Madison office's website.

 

frog

A leopard frog enjoying some winter sun in the relatively undisturbed upper Saint Louis River watershed, Minnesota.