The city of Marquette wants Rio Tinto to amend one of its permits for the Eagle Mine. Last week, the Marquette City Commission voted to send a letter to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, requesting that Rio Tinto amends its Environmental Impact Assessment. As both sides wait for the DEQ to respond, Rio Tinto officials maintain that no changes are necessary.
It's the environmental and safety impacts of Eagle Mine truck traffic that have Marquette city officials concerned, according to Mayor Pro-tem Robert Niemi.
"Heretofore, it hasn't been adequately addressed, if addressed at all," said Niemi.
Rio Tinto's mining permit said when mine production begins in late 2014, 50 trucks a day will make round trips through the city on County Road 550, Sugarloaf Avenue and Wright Street. That takes the trucks past the fishing area over the Dead River, the Kaufman Sports Complex, the city's Tourist Park, the NMU campus, and residential areas. Rio Tinto spokesman Dan Blondeau said the permit doesn't need to discuss anything about the route.
"The mining permit just requires that you identify a transportation route," said Blondeau. "That would be the entire route from the mine to the mill, which includes going through the city."
State policy states that the DEQ can require an amendment if they determine "the terms and conditions of the mining permit are not providing the intended reasonable protection of the environment, natural resources or public health and safety." The city believes that this is not ensured in the area where mine trucks will drive in the city.
State policy also states that a company can be found in violation if a part of their operation is "causing or resulting in an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health or safety, environment or natural resources." This is how the city framed their request to the DEQ.
"Our attorney has researched the issue, and it's his opinion, the city's opinion that yes, those issues have to be addressed," Niemi said.
Niemi said it is unknown when the DEQ will act on the city's letter.
"It's up to (the DEQ) to now respond to the letter, one way or another, to the issue or the mining company to respond to it in advance of the letter," he said. "Perhaps they'll want to address the issues without the Department of Environmental Quality getting involved."
Rio Tinto also wishes to see the city's transportation issues be discussed soon.
"We hope to have a positive dialogue and some real discussions about the future of transportation through the Marquette area along with them and other parties," Blondeau said.
In the meantime, Blondeau said Rio Tinto's current focus is on the upgrades underway outside the city.
"There's roughly $44 million going into AAA, 510 and 550, bringing those roads up to all-season status. Between now and the end of summer, people driving in that area will see the upgrades happening, and that's where our main focus is right now."
The city's letter stated that engineering estimates have the city spending $4.5 million in road work because of the additional truck traffic.
Also, Blondeau said the impending sale of the mine to Lundin Mining has no impact on this or any permit, because all of the permits are in the name of the Eagle Mine, a stand-alone legal entity.