HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - An environmental group in Upper Michigan says it's outraged over exploratory drilling in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition is upset over the DNR's decision to issue a permit authorizing Highland Copper to begin drilling.
The group says the agency did not provide public notice or public comment before issuing a permit.
DNR spokesman John Pepin told TV6, the state does not own the mineral rights and it is not a discretionary decision.
He did say Highland Copper notified all local government officials and tribes before exploratory drilling began on Sunday.
Pepin said if Highland Copper decides to mine, there would be a separate regulatory process where public meetings would be held.
The DNR says several provisions have been put in place to minimize the impact to the land during the exploratory drilling.
The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's full statement is below:
Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) members and supporters are expressing outrage and frustration following news that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a surface use permit authorizing Orvana Resources – a subsidiary of Highland Copper – to begin exploratory drilling in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. According to the DNR, drilling began Sunday, before the agency’s press release had even been published.
The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is well known for its hiking trails, rugged terrain, old growth forests, miles of wild and scenic Lake Superior shoreline, wilderness campsites, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. The Porkies are an all-season tourism draw for the entire region, and have been featured as a premier hiking destination by Backpacker Magazine, USA Today, and other national media.
“The sulfide mining industry is leading the State of Michigan around by a leash. Environmental regulators are completely out of touch with public sentiment on this issue. Michigan residents and visitors from around the country *love* the Porkies, and are angered by this announcement,” said Kathleen Heideman, a UPEC Board member.
According to DNR spokesman John Pepin, the agency did not provide public notice or a public comment period before issuing a permit for exploratory drilling on January 31. Whether this is a violation of Michigan’s open meeting law (Act 267 of 1976) is an open question, but it seems clear that the state has little interest in the public’s opinion concerning exploratory hardrock mineral drilling in Michigan’s premier state park.
The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is widely considered the crown jewel of Michigan’s state park system and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the midwest. The park is prominently featured in the PURE MICHIGAN tourism campaign: “Undisturbed on the edge of Michigan is an untamed world of uncharted woods and unseen stars, a magical place overflowing with waterfalls, where the Porcupine Mountains still whisper ancient tales and legends, and the rivers seem to flow into forever – a place known as the Wilds of Michigan, found in the Westernmost corner of the Upper Peninsula. Here we can get back in touch with nature, and back in touch with ourselves.” Visitors are urged to “come to the Porcupine Mountains (...) and see nature in its purest form." (Source: “Pure Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains: Call of the Wild”).
“Considering the exceptional natural and recreational features threatened by this decision, why wasn’t there an opportunity for public input?” asked Steve Garske, botanist and Board member of UPEC.
The mining of sulfide ore invariably leads to acid mine drainage, which threatens groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes, including Lake Superior.
"The 'public' in public land seems to have no clout. In our name, public lands can be sold, traded, and drilled, often with little or no public input. Shouldn't there be tighter restrictions on what can be done in a wilderness state park like the Porkies? Why are we stuck in a legal mindset from the 1880s that allows "reasonable" mining exploration in areas where such activity, from a 21st century perspective, is entirely unreasonable?" asked historian Jon Saari, a UPEC Board member.
“The DNR’s actions – allowing a mining company to conduct exploration drilling in the Porkies – will outrage a lot of people. And the public *should* be outraged,” said Alexandra Maxwell, another UPEC board member. “Once again, we see there isn’t a single square inch of Michigan safe from the threat of sulfide mining and exploration – they’re mining under our rivers, drilling in fragile wetlands, drilling on state and national forest lands, and now drilling in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.”
In allowing exploratory drilling in the Porkies, DNR has failed to protect Michigan’s natural resources, and demonstrated a stunning disregard for the health of the land and the wishes of its citizens. “It’s up to those who care about Michigan’s future to remind state representatives and agencies (in this case the Michigan DNR) that they serve the public, not multinational mining companies intent on short-term profits at the state’s expense. This is no way to treat our unique Wilderness park,” notes Garske.