The permit to build a 21-mile road to Rio Tinto’s Eagle nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was denied by the Michigan Department of Environmental Equality (DEQ) officials because of federal regulators’ concerns about damage to wetlands and wildlife habitat, the Associated Press reported.
Rio Tinto spokesperson Dan Blondeau said the DEQ’s decision would not delay development of the mine. Construction is scheduled for completion this year and production of nickel and copper should begin in early 2014, he said.
The decision on the road was disappointing, he said. “It was our preferred route, but we're pleased to have certainty and clarity going forward.”
The Marquette County Road Commission wanted to build the 21-mile-long linkup between a rural road near the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine and U.S. 41. Rio Tinto originally sought the project, which would provide a convenient route for trucks hauling ore from the mine to a processing mill in Humboldt Township.
The project would affect nearly 26 acres of wetlands and require building 22 stream crossings, according to an application filed with the Michigan DEQ, which issues permits to fill wetlands under the federal Clean Water Act, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can object — and did so in this case.
EPA said the Marquette commission should consider less harmful alternatives and that the local agency's plan to compensate for ecological damage was not adequate.
Construction of the road “would have significant direct and indirect impacts on high quality wetland and stream resources, as well as on wildlife,” Susan Hedman, administrator for EPA’s regional office in Chicago, said in a Dec. 4 letter to DEQ Director Dan Wyant that affirmed the opposition it initially raised last April.
Under the law, DEQ had 30 days after receiving the letter to satisfy the EPA. Wyant said the time frame was too short and the issues too complex to resolve them by the deadline, so his agency couldn't issue the permit.
The road commission could ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue the permit, “but all indications are that (the road) will not be built,” Wyant said.
Rio Tinto will likely transport its ores on an existing roadway network that runs along the northern end of Marquette before reaching southward to U.S. 41 west of town, he said.