Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Model Independent Monitoring Project For Rio Tinto Eagle Mine

Sep 25: A new independent program is being set up to monitor the potential environmental impacts of the controversial Rio Tinto Eagle Mine, northwest of City of Marquette, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The innovative arrangement could prove to be a model for other high profile, controversial projects. The Marquette County Community Foundation (MCCF) and the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) are teaming up to coordinate environmental monitoring, public outreach and community input concerning mining activities. The program will monitor the Eagle mine site, the Humboldt mill and transportation routes. Monitoring will include but not be limited to; air quality, groundwater, surface water, 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, a board member with the community foundation.   

    Rio Tinto will provide the MCCF with $300,000 annually to fund the Community Environmental Monitoring Program. In addition the MCFF will accept funding from other parties as well. Rio Tinto will deposit funds into an account managed by the Community Foundation independent oversight board. The Community Foundation will select the members of that board; the Community Foundation will be looking for 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 program input and assist with monitoring. Rio Tinto and the Superior Watershed Partnership will have no say in selecting the board. Any differences between Rio Tinto and Superior Watershed Partnership will be resolved by the oversight board, with the board's decision being final.

    Cowell said, "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." The cooperative initiative is called the Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP). He said, "We believe we can move forward to make a positive, unique and ground breaking program that can be replicated by other communities facing this polarizing issue." He indicated that Superior Watershed Partnership has the expertise, data, and staff necessary to coordinate monitoring and make independent, science-based determinations about the mine's environmental impact.

    The MCCF, which is regarded as one of the Upper Peninsula's most respected community based philanthropic organizations, will establish an independent oversight board to allocate funding while the SWP will coordinate and implement the actual monitoring program working with universities, contractors and EPA approved laboratories.

    Carl Lindquist, SWP executive director said, "Since 1999 the SWP has completed dozens of restoration projects in the Salmon Trout watershed. Early on we submitted a management plan to MDEQ and U.S. EPA that recommended against sulfide based mining but the mine has received their permits and is moving forward. Everyone I've heard from, regardless of whether they are pro or con regarding the mine, feels that independent environmental monitoring will offer the community a trusted way to know what the impacts are. This is a good thing for the community." Lindquist noted that the Lake Superior watershed is one of the most active mining exploration areas in the world right now and that other communities could benefit from this independent monitoring model. He said, "All parties agree that what we're doing is unprecedented. A global corporation has agreed to independent environmental monitoring by community-based organizations to scrutinize their operations."

    All monitoring data obtained from the program will be reported online through the SWP website. The public can also provide monitoring suggestions online or at upcoming community forums. In addition to coordinating the monitoring program the SWP will also coordinate community outreach including community forums to report on monitoring results and invite public input regarding additional monitoring needs. Monitoring data, meetings notices and options for providing public input will also be posted on the website.

    Construction of the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine is well underway and will begin producing nickel and copper in 2014 according to Simon Nish, Director, Communities, Communications and External Relations for Rio Tinto Eagle Mine. He said, "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. Therefore, we're working with two well-known and trusted community organizations to deliver independent monitoring. Superior Watershed Partnership brings their scientific expertise and proven track record to monitor our environmental performance. The Marquette County Community Foundation ensures that our funding, as well as any additional third party funding, is at arm's length, reinforcing the independence of the community environmental monitoring. With this model, the UP is setting a new benchmark for community oversight of modern mining".

    Access a release on the innovative program with links to the Monitoring Agreement, Funding Agreement Q&A sheet and program diagram  (click here). Access the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine website for more information (click here). Access the SWP website (click here). Access a Google map of the mining project area (click here). Access a recent Marquette Mining Journal article on the company's mine development progress and future plans (click here). [#All]

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