Monitoring Mines in the Great Lakes

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Metals Demand Spurs Mining Development in Northern Great Lakes

Demand for metals needed for technology and electric car batteries is behind a resurgence in copper, nickel, and palladium mines surrounding Lake Superior in both the U.S. and Canada. Mining operations are regulated at the state and provincial levels. Unfortunately, the majority of the regulations that monitor mining development are outdated and do not have adequate provisions to protect water resources from negative impacts. In fact, there has yet to be a mine in sulfide-bearing rock that has not resulted in water pollution. Below are updates on several of the active mining developments and proposals in the Great Lakes region.

Federal Funds for Nickel Mine Projects in Michigan and Minnesota

In 2023, the Department of Defense granted $20.6 million to developers for prospecting nickel mines in Michigan and Minnesota. This investment supported the mining company’s acquisition of mineral leases on approximately 400,000 acres in Michigan near the existing Eagle mine. However, environmental permits for these mines have not yet been issued by state agencies. At the expense of drinking water quality, natural resources, and Indigenous treaty rights, the federal government is investing more in projects and developers that have not been properly vetted. These funds for mining development seem to be in stark contrast to other administration policies and Freshwater Future believes they should be stopped in order to protect our vital drinking water resources.

Michigan State Funds for Metallic Sulfide Mine Near Lake Superior

A proposed copper mine near Lake Superior and adjacent to the Porcupine Mountains State Park is seeking a $50 million grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund. The Michigan Strategic Fund deferred a decision on the grant at the January meeting, with board members stating concerns about the size of the investment and a lack of other investors. Freshwater Future has prepared a simple form for you to submit comments to the Michigan Strategic Fund board and leadership to share concerns about threats of acid-mine pollution from the proposed mine. The deadline for comments is noon on February 26th (before their next meeting on Tuesday, February 27th at 10 am).

Open-pit Mines Smothering Wetlands in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 

A pair of mines near Ishpeming, Michigan and operated by an Ohio-based steelmaking company have long brought concerns over mercury, selenium, and sulfur dioxide emissions. Already existing ponds full of pulverized waste rock from the mines are bright red with acid mine waste and visible from space. Now, one of these operations is seeking a permit to fill wetlands to expand the footprint of the mine. The expansion would impact nearly 80 acres of crucial wetlands, as well as cause potential harm to inland lakes, coldwater streams, and historic beaver habitats. 

Exploratory Copper and Nickel Drilling near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has granted permits to conduct exploratory drilling for copper and nickel near the Boundary Waters, despite a federal moratorium and environmental concerns. This decision allows the mining company to explore on private property near Birch Lake – creating potential water pollution and habitat degradation concerns. The DNR, citing special conditions for environmental protection, approved the exploration, contending that it poses minimal risk. The advocates at Save the Boundary Waters plan to challenge the decision, emphasizing the need for stronger safeguards against potential mining impacts.

Exploratory Drilling in Wisconsin’s Chequamegon National Forest

A Canadian company plans exploratory drilling for copper and gold in Wisconsin’s Taylor and Marathon Counties. The proposed Bend Copper-Gold Deposit, within the Chequamegon National Forest, contains sizable ore reserves. The company’s Wisconsin subsidiary obtained exploration licenses, aiming for up to 8 boreholes across private mineral estates and U.S. Forest Service land. Learn more about the history of sulfide mining and exploratory drilling in Wisconsin in this interview with River Alliance of Wisconsin. 

Open-pit Palladium Mine Proposed on Lake Superior in Marathon, Ontario 

Over the past year, we have reported in our Weekly News on plans for a $1.1-billion open-pit palladium and copper mine on the northern coast of Lake Superior. In December 2023, the Toronto-based mining company reached a key milestone with the approval of its closure plan and permits for endangered species, air, and noise emissions. However, Freshwater Future is particularly concerned with the ore’s sulfide-bearing rock, known to generate toxic acid mine drainage when exposed to air and water. Past instances, like the Creighton mine in Sudbury, Ontario, underscore the persistent water pollution and waste disposal challenges associated with sulfide rock mining. 

Freshwater Future is grateful to all the organizations working to track and monitor existing mines and mining proposals and push for modifications to protect water resources, including:

  • Coalition to Save the Menominee River
  • Honor the Earth
  • Protect the Porkies
  • Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition
  • WaterLegacy
  • River Alliance of Wisconsin
  • Save the Boundary Waters
  • And more!

We will continue to keep you updated and provide opportunities to take actions on these projects!