MARQUETTE, MI — A new independent program is being set up to monitor the potential environmental impacts of the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine. The Marquette County Community Foundation (MCCF) and the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) are teaming up to coordinate independent environmental monitoring, public outreach and community input concerning mining activities.
The program will monitor the Eagle mine site, the Humboldt mill and transportation routes. Monitoring will include but not be limited to; air quality, groundwater quality, surface water quality, wildlife and plant life. “In addition, the program will include numerous opportunities for the public to provide input and suggest additional monitoring needs” said Bob Cowell, a board member with the MCCF.
“We believe there’s a role our organizations can play to help the community stay informed and hold Rio Tinto accountable for keeping our environment, citizens and wildlife healthy and safe.” Cowell said. The cooperative initiative is called the Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP).
“We believe we can move forward to make a positive, unique and ground breaking program that can be replicated by other communities facing this polarizing issue,” Cowell said, adding that SWP has the expertise, data, and staff necessary to coordinate monitoring and make independent, science-based determinations about the mine’s environmental impact.
The MCCF, one of the Upper Peninsula’s most respected community based philanthropic organizations, will establish an independent oversight board to allocate funding while the SWP will coordinate and implement the actual science-based monitoring program working with universities, contractors and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved laboratories.
Carl Lindquist, executive director of the SWP, echoed Cowell’s support for the new independent initiative. “Since 1999 the SWP has been working to protect the Salmon Trout River and its watershed. This includes inventory work, monitoring and completing dozens of restoration projects. In 2007, SWP developed an EPA approved management plan for the Salmon Trout that recommended against sulfide based mining but the mine has received their permits and is moving forward. Everyone I’ve heard from, regardless of whether they are pro or con regarding the mine, feels that independent environmental monitoring is a good thing for the community”. Lindquist noted that the Lake Superior watershed is one of the most active mining exploration areas in the world right now and that other communities could benefit from this independent monitoring model. “All parties agree that what we’re doing is unprecedented. A global corporation has agreed to independent environmental monitoring by community-based organizations to scrutinize their operations” said Lindquist.
Monitoring data obtained from the program will be reported online through the SWP’s website at: http://www.superiorwatersheds.org, and through newsletters and community forums. The public can also provide monitoring suggestions online or at upcoming community forums.
Rio Tinto will provide the MCCF with $300,000 annually to fund the CEMP. In addition the MCCF will accept funding from other parties as well. Rio Tinto will deposit funds into an account managed by the MCCF independent oversight board. The MCCF will select the members of that board; the MCCF will be looking for a person with broad community experience, someone with environmental experience and someone with mining experience. The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community will also be invited to participate on the oversight board, provide program input and assist with monitoring. Rio Tinto and the SWP will have no say in selecting the board. Any disputes between Rio Tinto and SWP will be resolved by the oversight board, with the board’s decision being final.
Construction of the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine is well underway and will begin producing nickel and copper in 2014 according to Simon Nish, Director, Communities, Communications and External Relations for Rio Tinto Eagle Mine. “Rio Tinto already has a comprehensive environmental monitoring program in place but some people in the community will have more trust in monitoring if it is done independently. Therefore, we’re working with two well-known and trusted community organizations to deliver independent monitoring. Superior Watershed Partnership brings their scientific expertise and proven track record to monitor our environmental performance. The MCCF ensures that our funding, as well as any additional third party funding, is at arm’s length, reinforcing the independence of the community environmental monitoring”, said Nish. “With this model, the UP is setting a new benchmark for community oversight of modern mining”.
In addition to coordinating the monitoring program the SWP will also coordinate community outreach including community forums to report on monitoring results and invite public input regarding additional monitoring needs. Monitoring data, meetings notices and options for providing public input will also be posted on the SWP’s website: http://www.superiorwatersheds.org