Tag Archives: public deliberation

A Letter to Karen Maidlow, Michigan DNR

Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst, Minerals Management
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
P.O. Box 30452
Lansing, MI 48909

Dear Karen Maidlow,

This letter is with regard to land owned by the State of Michigan on the Yellow Dog Plains and next to the Yellow Dog River in Michigamme Township, Marquette County (40 acres, NE1/4 SE1/4, Sec.13, T50N, R29W).

As you know, in a 2003 review, this 40-acre parcel was designated “non-development” by former Fisheries Chief Kelley Smith. Fisheries biologist George Madison, who works out of the Baraga office of the DNR, reversed Smith only this year. It is unclear why, and I urge you to look thoroughly into the matter as part of your review and clarify for the public whether and on what grounds the DNR thinks Fisheries’ reversal of its position on this parcel should stand.

Madison himself says that he was unable to tell why Smith had placed the non-development restriction on the parcel in the first place.

For some reason Kelley Smith (former Fisheries Chief) had placed a non-development restriction recommendation on this parcel during an 8-21-2003 review. Indeed while there is no water or aquatic resources on this parcel, with care and respect for the 2003 review I carried Mr.Smith’s recommendations forward in case there was an element of uniqueness to this parcel that we are not aware of.

For this 8-12-2014 review, I have changed Fisheries Division’s recommendation to “development” with no restrictions.

What reason did Kelley Smith have for restricting development on the parcel? Madison cannot say, and in May of this year Forestry Supervisor Jeff Stampfly admitted he, too, was “at a loss” when it came to accounting for Smith’s review. But then they both recommend its reversal.  Both Stampfly and Madison seem to suggest that Smith was simply mistaken, or at least they see his 2003 review as problematic. What exactly did Smith say? Isn’t it possible that Smith discerned some “element of uniqueness” here that Madison and Stampfly are unable to appreciate? The prudent thing would be to find out.

To that end, the DNR should publish Smith’s August 2003 review — undertaken before the mining boom had really gotten underway — and take what Smith says there under advisement. To help clarify things, Smith himself (now in retirement) should be interviewed about the parcel and what, if anything, makes it unique or deserving of non-development status, and his statement entered into the public record. If Smith and Madison still disagree on the status of this parcel, then that disagreement should be aired publicly and accounted for in whatever report you file. The public deserves this measure of transparency.

For his part, Madison could state more clearly why he reversed Smith in this 2014 review and did not do so previously. Why proceed with “care and respect” for Smith’s review, then suddenly change course after Lundin Mining shows interest in the parcel? Madison seems to be arguing in his comment that Fisheries should place no restrictions on the parcel because he can identify “no water or aquatic resources” directly on the parcel; this seems to be Stampfly’s position as well. But the Yellow Dog River is only a few hundred feet away from the boundary of the proposed site. Maybe, for Smith, that proximity was enough.

As Smith may have known, there are a number of ways in which industrial development on this parcel might seriously compromise the Yellow Dog River. Groundwater flow in the glacial aquifer underlying the Yellow Dog Plains would make it difficult to limit water contamination from drilling to the parcel itself. Even a well-run drilling operation will see lapses: Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve has “photo documentation of ripped sump pit liners, drill bit wash basins that are overflowing, and broken fences” from the exploratory drilling done for the Eagle Mine. Exploratory drilling is also bound to require some roadwork and other infrastructure build-up on the Yellow Dog Plains, and it will increase traffic to and from the parcel. That, too, puts the Yellow Dog River at risk.

YellowDogRupture

Roadside mitigation efforts in October of this year. The Eagle Mine haul route has already put the Yellow Dog watershed at risk and contaminated the Salmon Trout River.

As you are no doubt aware, just this past summer, a road crew working on the Eagle Mine haul route ruptured a perched groundwater seep, dumping sediment and releasing turbid water into the Salmon Trout River, in violation of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. Mining’s risks never end at the mine’s gate.

In closing, I urge you to take your time looking into the confusion over Smith’s 2003 review and all other questions and comments you receive regarding this parcel. One newspaper account I read has you saying that you intend to finish your analysis by January, having received written comments from the public only a month before that. Wouldn’t it be better to allow time for follow-up interviews or requests for further information? I trust that you and the DNR do not want to give the impression that this request for public comment is merely pro forma, and want to do the right thing by the public you serve.

Sincerely,

Louis V. Galdieri

Why A Lake Superior Mining Indaba Is A Good Idea

Twice this week, first in reply to a comment on another post, and then in an email exchange, I half-jokingly suggested that we need to call a Lake Superior Mining Indaba – a big gathering of all stakeholders around the Lake Superior Basin to deliberate, listen and be heard on the future the new mining boom is already ushering in. I’d been following the African Mining Indaba underway this week in Capetown; and while that buttoned-up event — a forum focused primarily on private sector investment in Africa — isn’t exactly a model for the public gathering I picture, the Zulu word indaba and the images it conjures of people coming from all around the lake have stayed with me, and the promise of the idea keeps growing.

First, don’t let the Zulu word put you off. That’s just what got me started down this path. The concept it conveys is definitely not foreign to the Lake Superior region. Gatherings like these have a long history there. “The Sault,” writes Warren in his History of the Ojibway, “was a major summer gathering place for many native people in the seventeenth century,” well before the establishment of a trading post there in 1750; at La Pointe, where “a continual fire burned,” there was “a yearly national gathering” and initiation into the rites of the Midewiwin. In the 18th century big regional events like the Montreal trade fairs were as essential as more formal diplomatic forums in establishing and renewing the French-Algonquin alliance (though, as White shows, the regular accommodations necessitated by daily life were most important of all in perpetuating it).

A Lake Superior Mining Indaba, as I envision it, could combine elements of a Future Search conference, a bonfire celebration (like the Juhannuskokko at Misery Bay) a Pow Wow (like the Manoomin festivals in Ontario and Bad River), and a music or cultural festival.

Let’s say for the sake of discussion that the Indaba runs Wednesday to Friday, to be followed by a festival weekend. The conference brings together a few hundred people from around the lake to share stories and ideas and plan for the future. From more formal discussions and interactions to serendipitous, informal conversations, the conference would help people make meaningful connections, and build the kind of diverse, resilient network that’s needed to accelerate learning as the boom begins.

As I like to remind people, one of the busiest mining operations in the world is about to be staged around one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. That calls for some concerted thinking about the future, as well as concerted planning and action.

The 90-day public comment periods like those we’ve seen in Minnesota for the Polymet project or the dysfunctional “community forums” Rio Tinto staged in Michigan – which I’ve written about before, and which have seen a falloff in attendance – are no substitute for genuine public deliberation. Nor do they allow for big-picture thinking or the kind of networked learning that a lake-wide Indaba like this could initiate.

Many environmental leaders in the region now sense the need for a cumulative environmental assessment – a scientific assessment of the effects all this mining on the US and Canadian sides of the lake is going to have on the waters and on the region as a whole. We also need a broad, cumulative assessment of where all this activity leaves people living around the lake, what direction things ought to take, and an actionable plan for how to get there.