Sulfide Mining in the U.P. – A Fight for Our Waters

Sulfide Mining in the U.P. – A Fight for Our Waters

By Cynthia Pryor, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Inc.

In the summer, our little community of 540 registered voters swells to almost a thousand folks who are here to enjoy one thing – the waters and lands of the north country of the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan. Located in the heart of the Huron Mountains, even in the depths of winter, people here know how to have fun. The innocent joy of the “fun” of this land has diminished to a dull ache of fear and dismay, due to one thing – the prospect of a sulfide mine in the middle of our most cherished areas – the Yellow Dog Plains.

Many companies are looking for massive sulfide deposits containing nickel, copper, uranium, gold, platinum products, and even diamonds in the wild lands of the Upper Peninsula. One company wants a mine NOW to remove an ore body mostly owned by the State of Michigan and valued in the billions. This ore body is sitting directly under a pristine trout stream called the Salmon Trout River, the last habitat for the native Coaster Brook Trout on the south shore of Lake Superior.The proposed mine is in the middle of one of the state’s Escanaba River State Forests. It is also in the middle of a huge aquifer recharge area that feeds at least five watersheds that are part of the high quality waters of the Lake Superior basin.

Why is Sulfide Mining a battle ground for the Lake Superior basin? One reason: Sulfuric Acid. The western U.P. has been targeted by the United States Geologic Survey as having the greatest potential for undiscovered massive sulfide ore deposits. When sulfide rock, ore, or dust comes into contact with two basic earth elements: water and air, it starts creating SULFURIC ACID or battery acid immediately. Any back filling or reclamation activity to close a mine must be monitored for decades to ensure that the mining company has used the right technology, the right mix of neutralizers, the right methodologies to have actually stopped the creation of Sulfuric Acid or Acid Mine Drainage (AMD). Nowhere has anyone stopped AMD from happening.

Who is going to fight the battle for the lands,waters, wildlife…and the rights of the people of the State of Michigan to enjoy our natural resources on state and public lands? It often falls to environmental grassroots groups like the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Inc. The resources we would normally use for water monitoring, public outreach, student education programs, landowner interface and education all are now being targeted to pay scientists to perform environmental baseline studies, to develop public outreach material and hold public forums to educate the public, to work within state agencies to promote a fair legislative process, to work with township, county and state officials, and to take calls from people who are asking “What can we do to help to fight this mine?”

The streams, rivers, springs and lakes of this region feed into Lake Superior, our Lake Superior. It is worth more than gold, silver, nickel or any other precious metal. It is Our Water, Our Legacy and Our Responsibility, and it is also our fight. The people of the State of Michigan must understand the issues of Sulfide Mining. This is not a benign mining process that may only inconvenience a few who do not want a mine in their backyard – this is an issue that will affect many, now, and for future generations.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.