BIG BAY - A dispute has erupted over an ongoing Alger Delta Electric Cooperative project to run power lines to the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company mine site in Michigamme Township.
Under a permit from the Marquette County Road Commission, Alger Delta recently began burying electric lines, running roughly 13 miles from Marquette County Road 550 to the mine site.
Citing a July 2008 letter from then Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Deputy Director Jim Sygo to the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Kennecott opponents said the project cannot be done without a permit amendment, under provisions of the state's non-ferrous mining law.
Crews working for the Alger Delta Electric Cooperative stage Tuesday in front of the gate to the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company mine site along Marquette County Road AAA in Michigamme Township. (Photo by EagleEyeImages)
"Without the required amendment, extension of the electrical to the mine site is illegal, period," said Catherine Parker of Keepers of the Water.
The letter from Sygo stated, "DEQ district staff has also informed KEMC that it would have to apply for an amendment to its Part 632 mining permit before beginning activities to extend electrical service from CR 550 to the Eagle Project mine site."
In a Sept. 3 letter to Sygo from attorney Eric Eggan on behalf of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, National Wildlife Federation, Huron Mountain Club and the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Eggan said no information on a pending or requested amendment was found in his search of the DNRE website and other sources.
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"We trust you will ensure full compliance with Part 632 and will require Kennecott to postpone the planned installation and submit materials necessary to begin the amendment process, including public participation, as required by Part 632," Eggan wrote.
Hal Fitch, chief of the DNRE's Office for Geologic Survey, said the Kennecott line extension is being done with the DNRE's knowledge and does not violate the mining permit law.
Fitch said Kennecott will indeed need an amendment to its permit to extend electric lines to the mining operation itself, but that has not yet occurred.
"What they're doing now is running this back to their core facility, (where boring cores are stored), and that is not a mining operation," Fitch said.
Fitch also refuted claims the project violates Kennecott's mining permit.
He said Kennecott knows it must file an amendment once it is ready to pull the wires to the operational components of the mine.
Fitch said once an amendment is filed, it will be evaluated by the DNRE to determine whether it constitutes a significant modification to the permit.
Kennecott Spokesman Matt Johnson said, "At this time, we're considering our power generation options at the mine site."
Alger Delta General Manager Tom Harrell said the line extension project along the county roads is planned to be finished, and the lines energized, by the end of the year, depending on weather conditions and any unforeseen obstacles crews find underground while burying the cable.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.