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Concerned Citizens Take Over Kennecott’s “Citizen Advisory Group” Meeting; Mining Approval and Plans Viewed as Not Transparent


Forty-six citizens packed the chairs in a small room at the Ramada Inn, in Marquette, February 22, for a Kennecott-sponsored “Citizen Advisory Group” (CAG) meeting. Many citizens attended the meeting to express disappointment that Kennecott has kept many of its mining plans secret until after State approvals of its project.

Kennecott’s previous CAG meetings have required the public to sit, quietly, as Kennecott would give a well-rehearsed presentation with other members of the CAG board. CAG members were hand-picked by Kennecott and are not viewed by the public as representing citizens. The public was only allowed to introduce questions or concerns during bathroom breaks to CAG board members, who would then choose whether or not the question would be presented. The meetings are held during normal business hours when many people in the community have prior work obligations. Today, prior to the meeting, Bill Rustem, group facilitator and Kennecott consultant, confirmed that there would not be public comment at the meeting.

During CAG introductions, Michelle Halley, attorney with the National Wildlife Federation and CAG board member, expressed her opposition to the lack of citizen involvement in the CAG process, the State’s failure to deny a faulty mine application and Kennecott’s own lack of transparency in divulging its mining plans to the public. Halley said that she was resigning from the CAG board, effective immediately, saying that Kennecott’s CAG is “a charade in which she will not participate” and walked away from the table to a round of audience applause.

CAG member, Jessica Mistak, from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Division, commented that parts of the process have been defined by a “lack of transparency,” including recent news of Kennecott’s plans to power the mine using Alger-Delta Electric Cooperative lines that will run to the Yellow Dog Plains. Mistak noted that she heard about the power plans, just this week, in the Marquette Mining Journal, and was never briefed on these plans during DNR discussions and negotiations with Kennecott. These negotiations involved DNR approval of Kennecott’s surface use lease application and mining reclamation plan for its Eagle Project.

Following a bathroom break, Teresa Bertossi approached the board and stated, “Excuse me, please. I am now going to address the committee. I encourage other citizens to line-up behind me. Take a stand and speak up. Ask questions. Kennecott, you said you would invite feedback in the Action Shopper and on the radio. This is your feedback. This action symbolizes that we will no longer stand for Kennecott’s unjust treatment of the local citizens. Kennecott, you may have received your government license to mine in our community but you have not received your social license. And, because of the inherent risks of sulfide mining to freshwater resources, and your corrupt and ignorant actions, thus far, you will not receive a social license. Sulfide mines cannot exist alongside precious freshwater resources. If my statements and those of other community members fall on deaf ears today, because they are heart-felt and emotional, all I can say is I tried the scientific approach. I tried writing and talking to government officials. I tried speaking at public hearings and none of those approaches have worked. Our strength lies in our local citizens and we will fight peacefully with all we have, to stop the Eagle Project.”

Citizens present at the meeting followed Bertossi’s example and stood in front of the board, taking turns speaking and asking questions as Rustem attempted to interrupt and shout over the comments. The majority of remaining CAG members left the Ramada immediately, while Rustem and Eagle Project manager, Jon Cherry, remained. Powell Township supervisor, Vince Bevins, and Central Lake Superior Watershed Partnership’s Dan Hornbogen returned to the meeting after several minutes.

Many citizens were dismayed that, while Kennecott intended to outline its plans, at the meeting, for building a road going from the Eagle Project, toward Humboldt, and plans to mill its product in Humboldt, that the company waited until DEQ and DNR approval to announce these initiatives. State agencies did not require information regarding transportation, power and processing in Kennecott’s application. Also, the public was never briefed on these new projects or given an opportunity to comment on them as they were being formulated. The State has allowed Kennecott to keep secret its plans for road construction, ore processing and power. This has afforded Kennecott the ability to minimize the public’s perceived impact of its proposed mining project.

Many citizen comments concerned the lack of transparency in the legislative statute and permit process. Many citizens believe the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has not acted as an unbiased arbiter in its handling of the Eagle Project application. In fact, for seven years prior to his appointment, in 2002, as DEQ Director, Steven Chester worked for Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, which represents Dow Chemical in lawsuits involving dioxin contamination of the Tittawbawasee and Saginaw Rivers, in lower Michigan—an issue on which Chester states the DEQ spends the majority of its time.

Other citizens expressed that Kennecott has not given citizens a platform to speak out against the mine. One citizen expressed that she did not care what the mine plans were because the majority of citizens do not want the mine here at all.

Alexis Raney commented, “This break in your established protocol is to remind you of the farce you created when naming this group the ‘Community Advisory Group’.”

Rustem referred to the group of citizens as a small group of “twelve people” that want the mine stopped. A couple of citizens responded that Kennecott holds its CAG meetings during work hours, excluding many people from attending. Rustem was asked to stop interrupting citizen comments. While Vince Bevins advocated in Kennecott’s defense, he was also told to stop interrupting in order to allow citizens to speak. Bevins has enjoyed ample opportunity to speak as a CAG member and during secret meetings with Kennecott.

Rustem also ignores the roughly 10,000 signatures, collected by local groups, from citizens staunchly opposed to the project, hundreds that have shown up at DEQ and DNR hearings, and over 80% of registered Powell Township voters that have opposed Kennecott’s project.

The citizen action was organized by Yellow Dog Summer, which intends to rally the massive regional citizen opposition to Kennecott’s Eagle Project through a series of events throughout the year. Our State agencies and Governor have abrogated a mandate to protect Michigan’s natural resources and the public trust. Yellow Dog Summer believes the decision now rests with the public. Yellow Dog Summer follows strict rules of non-violence developed by the Women’s Peace Camp at Seneca, New York, in 1983:

* Our attitude will be one of openness and respect toward anyone we encounter;
* We will not engage in physical or verbal violence toward anyone we encounter;
* We will not bring or use any drugs or alcohol other than for medical purposes;
* We will carry no weapons; and
* We will not run.

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For more information, or to schedule an interview, please call 906/226-6649 or e-mail Gabriel Caplett at [email protected]

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