Judge allows construction of nickel mine to continue

July 27, 2012

A federal judge refused to issue an order that would halt construction at Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula while a lawsuit filed by a private outdoor sporting club worked its way through the judicial system.

The Huron Mountain Club is suing to block the nickel and copper mine, claiming the company didn’t get federal permits that should have been required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, however, Judge Robert Holmes Bell said the group failed to convince him that its lawsuit challenging the mine would be successful.

The exclusive club, which owns about 19,000 acres of forestland in Marquette County near Lake Superior, including an 11-mile stretch of the Salmon Trout River, claims the mine will damage the river and nearby wetlands, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Bell said the lawsuit hasn’t shown that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was legally obligated to require the permits, and he rejected the club’s request to stop construction before trial. Bell said such a stop-work order would be appropriate only if the lawsuit had a high likelihood of succeeding.

State regulators and company officials have said the mine can be operated safely. Drilling has begun and mineral production is expected to begin in 2014.

The mine, whose name was recently changed from Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co., is owned by London-based Rio Tinto PLC.

The company has won a series of legal victories since the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved its mining permit application in 2007. Rio Tinto Eagle is targeting about 230 million pounds of nickel and a similar volume of copper, according to court documents. The mine would be located in the isolated Yellow Dog Plains region of Marquette County.

The company has finished building surface structures including an administrative building, wastewater treatment plant and rock storage area. About 300 people work there.

The Huron Mountain Club and other groups unsuccessfully challenged the DEQ permit before an administrative law judge and in circuit court.
In its latest suit, the club said the mine will reach beneath the Salmon Trout River, causing its water levels to drop and its temperature to change. It says the Army Corps should have ordered the company to apply for permits under the Clean Water Act and another federal law dealing with rivers and harbors.



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