Work at the Eagle Mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has started, following a 12-year struggle about the $800 million nickel and copper project owned by Toronto-based Lundin Mining Corp.
The company announced that mining began on Sept. 23 and that it is ramping up production of nickel and copper concentrates. The mine employs more than 300 people for production and is the only U.S. mine where nickel is the primary targeted mineral, The Associated Press reported.
"We will continue to work to the highest standards of safety, environmental protection, and community engagement — just as we always have at Eagle," Eagle Mine general manager Mike Welch said in a statement.
The start of operations comes despite opposition from environmental groups, one Native American tribe and a private hunting and fishing club that fought the mine ever since Kennecott Minerals Co. conducted exploratory drilling in 2002. Lundin Mining now owns the project.
Ore from the Eagle Mine, located in Marquette County, is being shipped to Humboldt Mill and processed into nickel and copper concentrates. The concentrates will be shipped by rail starting mid-October. The mine is expected to reach full production rates next year.
Opponents contend the mine poses a serious risk to ground water and the Salmon Trout River, saying that if sulfide mineral ores are exposed to air and water, a chemical reaction generates acid that can pollute waters. The state, however, declared the mine structurally sound.
In August, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a decision by state regulators to allow construction of the mine. A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the Department of Environmental Quality was within the law to approve mining and ground water discharge permits.
During the mine's projected 8-year life, Lundin expects that 360 million pounds of nickel will be extracted. Officials also estimate that the mine will yield 295 million pounds of copper, and small amounts of other metals.