An independent program is being set up to monitor the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine.
The Marquette County Community Foundation and the Superior Watershed Partnership will handle the independent environmental monitoring, public outreach and community input concerning the mine.
The monitoring will include 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, board member of 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 added.
The MCCF will establish an independent oversight board to allocate funding while the SWP will coordinate the monitoring program using universities, contractors and US Environmental Protection Agency approved laboratories.
"All parties agree that what we're doing is unprecedented," said Carl Lindquist of the Superior Watershed Partnership. "A global corporation has agreed to independent environmental monitoring by community-based organizations to scrutinize their operations."
The data obtained from reports will be shown online through the SWP's website. The public will also be able to provide monitoring suggestions online or at upcoming community forums.
Rio Tinto will provide the MCCF with $300,000 annually to fund the environmental monitoring. The MCCF will accept funding from other parties as well.
The MCCF will select the members of the board to oversee the monitoring. Among the selections will be 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 input and assist with the monitoring.
Any disputes between Rio Tinto and the SWP will be resolved by the oversight board, with the board's decision being final.
The Rio Tinto Eagle Mine plans to start producing nickel and copper in 2014, according to Rio Tinto representative Simon Nish.
"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," said Nish.
Nish went on to add that with this model the Upper Peninsula is setting a new benchmark for community oversight of mining.