HUMBOLDT - The Humboldt Township Hall was full Tuesday evening, with area residents arriving to hear an update on the Kennecott Eagle Minerals mine project.
"This is the first in a series of community forums," said Matt Johnson, Kennecott manager of external affairs. "We were pleased with the variety of comments and questions."
Although the mining project, which began construction almost exactly a year ago, has been the subject of controversy, at Tuesday's forum the audience's attitude toward the project seemed positive.
The forum opened with a presentation from Johnson and other Kennecott officials, updating the public on progress that has been made in the past year on the project. Using aerial photographs of both the mine site in northern Michigamme Township and of the former Humboldt Mill, which will be used as the project's processing facility, Johnson took audience members through how the mine is being constructed, how the ore will be removed from the ore body and then transported to the processing facility.
"Even the supporters and those who are opposed or are neutral to this mining operation, there's one concern that we all share and that is our water quality," Johnson said, going over the mine site's water treatment operation.
Construction on the mine site buildings is under way, with construction of the portal into the mine is expected to begin later this year. Building the portal, which gives access to the ore body, will take about a year, Johnson said.
As for the transportation route to bring the ore from the mine to the processing facility, Johnson said Kennecott is supporting the Marquette County Road Commission, through sharing of surveying and other developmental materials, in the development of County Road 595.
"We don't know the transportation route yet. We are supporting the county's application for the 595, but we are still evaluating alternatives and haven't determined yet which alternative will support the project," said Rick Thomas, managing director of the Eagle development.
A primary point of interest Tuesday was job creation. Johnson said with a $470 million capital investment in the development and construction of the project, Kennecott expected around 220 jobs to be created for the operation of the mine, about half at the mine itself and half at the Humboldt Mill site, with an annual payroll of $21 million. The construction of the facilities and the mine is estimated to bring in 500 jobs.
Community questions centered around the creation of jobs, what would happen to the land after the mining project is finished, the project's impact on taxes, water quality and other issues.
Those who spoke, however, seemed encouraged by the work that has already been done.
"It's amazing how much they're concerned," said county mine inspector John Carlson said. One person who spoke did voice concerns over the safety of the mine and the impact it would have on those living in the area.
"I might be the only person in here this concerned," said western Marquette County resident Margaret Comfort, who said she grew up in a downstate area that had been harmed by industrial activities. "That neck of the woods has been confirmed to have cancer clusters and that's why I'm here ... I'm not saying these people are out to screw our water.
"When someone tells you they're going to clean up the water to drinking quality standards, that isn't good enough for me."
Three more public forums are scheduled to allow people to get answers to questions about the Kennecott project: today at the Country Village Banquet and Conference Center in Ishpeming, Thursday at the Powell Township School Gymnasium in Big Bay and Tuesday at the Ramada Inn in Marquette. All the forums run from 6-8 p.m.
Those who are unable to attend the forums can submit a question online at kennecotteagleminerals.com/community-forums.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.