PALMER — The decision by Cliffs Natural Resources to indefinitely idle the Empire Mine has created economic worries for many in Marquette County, but from a regulatory perspective, not much is changing with the mine moving to an idle state.
Cliffs has a five-year agreement with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality – the regulatory agency which issued the mine’s permit and oversees compliance with environmental regulations – to keep the mine in a condition allowing it to be reopened if market conditions are favorable.
“After five years, the company will reevaluate the economics of the project,” said U.P. District Geologist and Mining Specialist for the State of Michigan, Joe Maki. “At that time, then, if it’s not economical, then they will be required to do what’s called a final reclamation.”
DEQ reclamation rules require a mine operator to plant vegetation on rock stockpiles and tailings basins to control soil erosion, sediment, and dust issues. Maki estimates around ninety percent of that work has already been undertaken at the Empire, as Cliffs has been concurrently reclaiming these areas.
Until the decision to fully close the mine comes, Cliffs must continue to maintain environmental permitting requirements.
“We’ll continue with our normal regulatory inspections out there,” Maki added. “The mining part of it doesn’t change our inspection process.”
The DEQ evaluates what additional requirements need to be fulfilled on a site-by-site basis at the time of a mine’s full closure.