No room for error on mine blasting

No room for error on mine blasting

Concerns that a proposed Upper Peninsula mine has not met strict state requirements must be fully addressed before a permit is issued to blast nickel-laden rock from beneath the headwaters of the Salmon-Trout River.

Damage to one of the finest trout streams in the state — and the only one to host coaster brook trout — could be irreparable if contaminants reach the water. Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. says it has addressed every water-related concern, but its plan will take flawless execution and strong oversight to pull off.

For the Marquette area, the mine promises 100-plus construction jobs over two years, and about 120 operating jobs over seven. A phased shutdown and monitoring period will follow, leaving virtually no visible traces in the end. Meantime, residents will witness 40 daily truck trips from the mine to a rail spur for transport to a Canada smelter.

The nickel deposit sits below a marsh-wetlands area that feeds the Salmon-Trout and Yellow Dog Rivers. Most of the mine’s impacts will occur in the Salmon-Trout watershed, including fluctuating water levels as underground spaces are opened for mining and groundwater trickles in. That water must be removed, treated to take out metals and other contaminants, then returned to the ground. Rain and snowmelt that contact rock brought to the surface also need treatment. Unexpected precipitation, leaks in pit liners or groundwater contamination could ruin the Salmon-Trout River for years — or forever.

Mining has been a valued Upper Peninsula occupation throughout Michigan history and should not be shunned. But it’s also foolish to proceed if highly valued rivers, sport fish and other fabulous recreational opportunities would suffer. This mine has to come with an ironclad guarantee that it can operate cleanly. It’s not clear that the guarantee is strong enough.

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