Rio Tinto has announced that for the first time, the company will bring in an independent environmental group to survey its nickel and copper mining operations in Marquette County.
At a press conference in Marquette Thursday, Rio Tinto introduced what it calls an unprecedented agreement for comprehensive environmental monitoring.
While the company maintains it conducts its own comprehensive environmental screenings, the public demanded more.
"Community members have told us they would put more trust in independent monitoring," said Simon Nish, a spokesman for Rio Tinto.
Sitting at the table were representatives from the two groups responsible for that monitoring: the Marquette County Community Foundation and the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP).
The announcement comes on the heels of concerns surrounding the Eagle Mine and the Humboldt Mills' potential environmental impact in the area.
"An absolute crucial point from SWP's point of view was that the mine agree to fund the program in an amount sufficient to provide a rigorous and thorough and comprehensive monitoring program of all the operations of the Eagle Mine," said Jerry Maynard of SWP.
Rio Tinto has agreed to pay $300,000 for the Superior Watershed Partnership to study ground and water quality in Powell Township for three years. Following that period, Rio Tinto says it will continue to pay for monitoring throughout the mine's estimated seven year life and two years following its closure.
The Community Foundation will act as a trustee who appropriates the money as needed for the research.
"The Community Foundation will appoint a chair of this independent board to oversee this agreement, and we will invite the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community to appoint someone if they desire," said Mark Canale of the Marquette County Community Foundation. "Then there will be a community representative and an expert in mining and someone with environmental experience as well."
The Community Foundation will begin advertising for the board positions in the next couple of weeks. The Foundation says it will vet each candidate before seating the board as soon as possible.
The majority of the monitoring will begin mid-October, and results of the survey will be available on SWP's website.