The non-profit organization Stand UP is declaring another reason they’re upset with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to block the completion of County Road 595 (CR-595) through Marquette County as they continue to support the Marquette County Road Commission.
The road will connect Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill in Humboldt to their mine in Big Bay. The road is already partially built, and the road commission was halted on the project three years ago by the EPA because of concerns to protect watersheds in Ishpeming, Powell, Champion, Negaunee and Marquette townships.
There are not a lot of villains in this story, but the characters and their motivations are vast and complicated. You always hear ‘there’s more than one side to a story’. Well, this one, as we count it, has eight sides to it. So, just to see where everyone is coming from, we’ll point out all the arguments involved so you can get a sense of who’s fighting for whom.
Members of the Road Commission represent a facet of the Marquette County Board of Commissioners, whom are elected officials. It’s important to note that not all commissioners think the road is a good idea, and the MCRC was getting no where fighting the EPA to build the road. So, a few selected members of the appointed commission branched out to raise funds by organizing a non-profit group called ‘Stand UP’ to file a lawsuit against the EPA.
The MCRC wants the road built. They argue that it’s partially done anyway and they have experience building roads. They say roads go through watersheds safely all the time. It’s called development, and there is no threat to wildlife. They’re a group that likes building things, wants development and hopes safer roads will help mining trucks get off city-paved streets and off US 41.
“The EPA’s behavior is unacceptable. As a mother, we teach our children to be honest and conduct themselves with integrity. We teach them to play by the rules and the EPA is teaching them a different lesson right now,” said Deb Pellow, a member of Stand UP.
Stand UP is viewed by some as the Road Commission’s sister organization, but according to the Stand UP website, they are an independent group supporting the MCRC’s effort to build the road. This was a way for elected officials to raise the correct amount of money for legal expenses to fight what they refer to as “overreaching federal government.” Their donors are private. How much does it cost to sue the EPA? That’s unknown, but it’s enough that the commission didn’t want to get it done with taxpayer money.
Is it legal for a commission to branch off and get things done privately? Sure. Does it have precedent? We’ve never heard of it. It’s certainly interesting. The tactic was to collect private donations from ‘concerned citizens’ to help fight the fight. The donors are not public.
What is public is that Stand UP is a 501 (c)(4), which is typically a non-profit based on “social welfare“. It is also headed by some big names in the Marquette area, as former Marquette Mayor Stu Bradley, former Marquette County Commissioner Deb Pellow and former hopeful for the 109th State Representative seat Tony Retaskie are members of Stand UP’s Board of Directors. All three are still connected to other boards in Marquette County.
Here, you have to ask, ‘What private citizen cares so much about the road that they’re willing to fund a lawsuit against the EPA?’ The commissioners themselves, Eagle Mine, the lumber industry, or really vigilant private citizens? Are there rich road-building enthusiasts or construction philanthropists? Some say it’s the timber industry, some say it’s road building aggregate companies or PAC donations. We’ll get to all of that later… but a non-profit does not have to reveal donors. So, truth is, no one but the donors and MCRC know where the money came from and no one is talking about it. Did you donate? Was there a Go Fund Me page we missed?
Bradley says, “I can just say that the mines have had almost nothing to do with donations that are being given. It’s a variety of workers and people that’s concerned about the EPA stepping in making decisions.”
Let’s break that down a little bit. “Almost nothing” and by “workers”. Workers from? Where? The mine, the timber industry. And it requires a lot of money. The amount of which, MCRC does not reveal. The parties that donated, also, not revealed.
Save the Wild U.P. has called Stand UP a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, accusing elected officials and the mine essentially of teaming up and using backdoor tactics to fight the federal government. The mine denies influence and involvement. Again, we’ll get to that later. It’s unknown, but possible, and some argue likely, that members of Lundin Mining are funding the organization. The lumber industry is also suspected of financing the group.
This group is your basic environmental activist group. They are funded through small donors and pride themselves as a grassroots group of reluctant activists. They were created specifically — and exclusively — to fight the Eagle project by Lundin Mining. They not only oppose this road, they oppose the entire mining activity of Lundin. They’ll side with the EPA on this as long as the EPA protects the watershed.
SWUP is happy about the EPA’s decision. They are weary of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), because in the past the DEQ has loosened regulations to allow the Eagle Mine’s mill processing plant, Humboldt Mill, to release water of questionable quality into the Escanaba River. Eagle Mine will say the water is “better than drinkable quality water”, but the point is SWUP believes the DEQ would likely roll over and permit the road to be built if the EPA lets it happen. So, SWUP is hanging tough with the EPA on this decision.
They question the effectiveness of suing the EPA in the first place and are disappointed that they believe elected officials are using a coy and questionably-funded non-profit group, ‘Stand UP’, to fight something MCRC couldn’t get done within the limit of powers from their board.
Many environmentalists in SWUP, believe that there are, a good body of laws that regulate the building of the roads and specify water quality for mining in the U.P., but believe these aren’t adequately enforced and lack oversight. SWUP claims the laws seem to be frequently changed to conveniently serve the mine’s needs. SWUP worries that the DEQ in Michigan is at the whim of loopholes, like a lawsuit against the EPA, to move forward with the road project.
SWUP wants outdoor recreation, pristine wilderness and protected wetlands. They are against anything having to do with sulfide based mining.
SWUP and Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) are different. Extremely different. SWUP, SWP, I know it’s confusing. You could call one Save the Wild and the other Watershed Partnership but then that gets confused with another group called Yellowdog Watershed Preserve which works with SWUP. Just remember, what you need to know here: ‘Save the Wild’ is grassroots. Superior Watershed isn’t. The Superior Watershed Partnership gets paid a lot of money to work with Eagle Mine testing their water independently. SWP and SWUP are friendly with each other, they’re cordial, but there are fundamental differences. SWP is more scientific, and research-based, but they’re loaded with Eagle Mine funding and SWUP are activists that wouldn’t be caught dead with that type of donation.
Right now, the DEQ is abiding by the EPA’s decision on building the road. This group works pretty close with all parties on each side and seem to be the most pragmatic of them all. What they say goes, basically. SWUP, Eagle Mine and MCRC privately praise and condemn the DEQ depending on which stance the state board takes on certain issues. But everyone listens to and talks with the DEQ. They aren’t really on anyone’s side, but they are influenced by everyone; the mine and mill, the Road Commission, environmentalists, the EPA and the courts.
The DEQ isn’t necessarily opposed to the road, but they are responsible for how its regulated environmentally. So, as long as the EPA says “no”, the DEQ says “no”, and they’ll claim their hands are tied.
The DEQ has permitted most of the road to be built in the past and will presumably do it again if Stand UP and the MCRC can overturn the EPA’s blockade.
All parties involved have referenced the DEQ for being on their side… and against them. They are powerful in Michigan. They have lowered the amount of water Humboldt Mill is allowed to dump into the Escanaba River, but have also lowered the quality standard of that water. The DEQ listens to the mine and environmental consultants like Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) and Tri-Media Consultants (TMC). SWP and TMC work close with Eagle Mine. Eagle Mine pays Superior Watershed Partnership to independently test water quality of the watersheds around the mine.
It’s partially why environmental activist groups like ‘Save the Wild UP’ are weary of the DEQ on the topic. They fear the DEQ is being fed information by organizations that are consultants of Eagle Mine, which is a whole other can of worms.
So far, the EPA has talked with only one media outlet, ABC 10, but they didn’t say much. This is as much as we can quote: “We can’t comment on the story. We haven’t reviewed the lawsuit.”
Ha! Well, hmph.
It’s hard to know where to begin describing their role, but what you need to know here is, they’re powerful. It’s nearly impossible to fight them. The MCRC will call them an overreaching federal government institution that arbitrarily and prematurely makes decisions against the will of the people to protect things they don’t understand.
The EPA will say, “Hey, if we understand anything, it’s the environment. That’s our job.” It’s argued that the EPA unnecessarily obstructs development with bureaucratic red tape to protect watersheds they haven’t effectively studied. Many people in the Upper Peninsula think that’s compelling argument regarding federal institutions in general.
The EPA is full of funding problems and bureaucratic disorganization but their primary institutional mission is protection, protection, protection. Which, is what they’re doing here with a blockade. SWUP wants the EPA to get involved not only preventing the MCRC’s completion of proposed CR 595, but the entire Eagle Mine itself. Most recently, SWUP is asking for more stringent water quality standards around the mine in the Yellowdog Watershed.
But that’s hard to do. For the EPA to even step in locally on this issue it must’ve been a hard sell. When they blocked the completion of CR 595, it was considered a huge victory for environmentalists.
With the lawsuit, local commissioners’ outcries and a lot of frustration from Stand UP, the EPA is holding their ground on the road. No road — it’s why Stand UP and the MCRC get a lot of criticism. ‘You’re going to sue the EPA? Sounds expensive and ineffective. Good luck with that.’
We won’t really get into where each township board member stands. In Marquette, Ishpeming and Negaunee, everyone is split on the road issue. There are 19 townships in Marquette. Ten are not on board with the MCRC. So, some want the road, others don’t. Those who want it, want it to get the trucks off city streets. Those who don’t want it don’t want an industrial highway going through their constituent’s campgrounds.
Their objective is the quality of life of residents. Humboldt, Republic, and Michigamme townships board members are generally upset with the DEQ for allowing the mine to dump millions of gallons of treated waste water per day in the Escanaba River. But, the CR 595 road issue doesn’t directly concern that area. Township opinions are important but no one agrees within each board and it seems they can do little but petition against rulings anyway.
Eagle Mine is a subsidiary of Lundin Mining. Lundin Mining is part of a gigantic international group called the Lundin Group of Companies (LGC) that are responsible for mining, oil drilling, diamond mining, uranium extraction, natural gas exploitation…. everything from everywhere on the globe. LGC collectively profits about $12 billion a year and Eagle is the Lundin family’s first project in over 40 years in the U.S.
Historically and internationally, the LGC has a traceable record of teaming up with groups like Stand UP to advance exploiting natural resources. The code of conduct from Lundin Mining states that no donations can be given to political organizers in the form of kickbacks or bribes, but donations to local non-profits like this can happen with the consent from the Lundin Board of Directors. It doesn’t prevent it, but it does need to be approved. LGC is a private entity, so there’s no minutes or anything like that available to see if they made that approval to finance at least some of Stand UP.
Officially, the mine says this: “We are reliant on current infrastructure.” Publicly, they have no opinion on the road. It’s hard for people to swallow. The entire fight is for a road Eagle Mine would use almost exclusively with the lumberers.
So, why the apathy? Well, it’s a fight Eagle doesn’t have to fight. It’s bad PR to admit that their trucks on city streets are a problem and the right course is their own road. Who pays for the rest of it to be built? Not Eagle Mine, those funds are gone and reallocated. You’ll pay for it, the tax payer, so that’s a project Eagle Mine can no longer endorse.
Furthermore, it’s bad PR for them to pick a fight with the EPA, which would bring to light other questionable practices for which environmentalists condemn them. They can sit back on this one, maybe (we said maybe) work things behind the scenes, and let others battle it out for them.
Eagle will make about a $1.5 billion to $2 billion over the next six years of this mining project, and more deposits have been found next door, so the project could be expanded. They’ve spent about $750 million on their own expenses, and millions of dollars are donated to road projects and PR green-washing donations.
Whether they’re for or against the project, all of it revolves around them. People support the mine for employment contributions to the county. They claim they’re the tenth-highest employer in Marquette County, but that’s debatable when they count contractors as part of their hired workers. Real economic impact numbers are bloated and foggy, but the company’s profit margin on the project is better than expected.
Initially, Lundin Mining felt welcomed in the Upper Peninsula because of “a manageable political environment”. That is, until the SWUP and the EPA butted in. Since then, there has been a lot of criticism about the public relations strategy of Eagle Mine and has been accused of plenty of publicity mishaps. Generally speaking, the overall strategy is to donate their way out of controversy and boast about employment and development, using the U.P.’s historical mining heritage as justification for risky sulfide mining.
Regarding the completion of CR-595, a project in the past they’ve supported, partially funded and relied upon, they are choosing to sit this battle out, at least for now, at least publicly. As far as internal opinions go, many people say it’s hard to believe the mine has none. After all, it’s their road.
The mine knows that their trucks are an unwelcome traffic burden to county commuters. Over the past year, three trucks have been involved in very serious accidents. One of which, was nearly fatal for a teen. Trucks have broken down, rerouted traffic, and even flipped and spilled loads.
A recent public opinion poll surveyed by ABC 10 suggests that 51% of people want the road to be built and support the lawsuit filed against the EPA, and 49% do not want the road to be built and do not support the lawsuit. So, that’s right down the middle, but the poll does not specify peoples’ reasoning.
Getting mining trucks off city paved streets is ideal for everyone. How it’s done, why they’re there, and where they’ll go is the argument. Some want mining trucks safely removed from US 41 while others want mining trucks to not exist. Some think the road will open the area up for development and other business. Others think it’ll be abandoned when the mine leaves.
What do the people’s representatives think? Despite that two city boards are split, a majority of the townships in Marquette County still can’t agree. Two elected representatives had the audacity to claim the U.P. has “overwhelming support” of the lawsuit that would allow for a completion of road to Eagle Mine. Overwhelming support? Not exactly. Who says?
State Representative John Kivela and State Senator Tom Casperson introduced bills in February to support of the MCRC’s appeal of the EPA’s decision to deny approval for the building of County Road 595.
John Kivela claims County Road 595 is supported by groups of interests, individuals, stakeholders and elected leaders, including “all the U.P. legislators, U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and retired U.S. Senator Carl Levin.” Ed McBroom also has backed the lawsuit.
However, locally, not everyone agrees. Not everyone agrees by a long shot. The Ishpeming City Council debated this topic, but the council was split on how to move forward.
Everyone is split. Nearly a dozen different point of views that people are passionately clinging to. Everyone wants you to believe their version of the argument. The truth usually lies somewhere in between the extremes.
Now that you know everyone’s role, and who’s fighting for whom, what do you think? Join the discussion and comment below.