Drilling produces outrage

Photo by Steve Garske A drill rig on the site of recent exploratory drilling by in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

HOUGHTON — Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) members expressed outrage and frustration about mineral exploration in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park.

“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,” board member Alexandra Maxwell said. “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.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a surface use permit Jan. 31 authorizing Highland Copper subsidiary Orvana Resources to begin exploratory drilling in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, which it did on Feb. 5.

As a popular tourist destination, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park boasts hiking trails, rugged terrain, old growth forests, miles of Lake Superior shoreline, wilderness campsites, rivers, lakes and waterfalls.

“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.

DNR spokesman John Pepin told UPEC the DNR did not provide public notice or establish a public comment period before issuing the permit.

“That’s true the DNR didn’t notify people, but Highland Copper did,” Pepin said in response, noting the company disclosed its plans to stakeholders, including state lawmakers, local municipalities and area tribes.

“It seems clear that the state has little interest in the public’s opinion concerning exploratory hard-rock mineral drilling in Michigan’s premier state park,” said Steve Garske, a botanist and UPEC board member. “Considering the exceptional natural and recreational features threatened by this decision, why wasn’t there an opportunity for public input?”

UPEC said 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, another board member.

In allowing exploratory drilling in the Porkies, UPEC alleges the DNR failed to protect Michigan’s natural resources, and disregarded 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,” Garske said. “This is no way to treat our unique wilderness park.”