Marquette County Adopts “Hazard Mitigation Plan”

The Marquette County Resource Management/Development Department completed a “Hazard Mitigation Plan” for the Marquette County Sheriff’s Department, Emergency Management Division. The plan, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), outlines areas of concern to local and regional law enforcement.

The plan was approved during a special Marquette County Board meeting on January 22.

The plan was written using input from many local and state agencies and businesses, including the FBI, the DEQ, Cleveland Cliffs Inc., the DNR and the Sierra Club.

The comprehensiveness of the plan is debatable as it lacks any published citations to support its numerous claims. Perhaps one of the more misplaced and wild claims is that “Terrorism and Sabotage…” represent a significant risk to the County. The plan also lacks consideration of metallic sulfide and uranium mining as potential risks to groundwater supplies and public health in the area.

The plan ignores, in its sections on “Public Health Emergencies” and “Hazardous Materials,” the possibility for public exposure to uranium contamination. With multiple mining companies, including Bitterroot Resources and Cameco Corporation, exploring for uranium in the region, consideration of the potential for this highly hazardous substance to impact public health should have been included in the plan.

The potential for uranium contamination is actually very real. On November 24, 2005, an RSB Logistics semi-truck wrecked on M-117, in Mackinaw County, Michigan. The truck was transporting low-level radioactive calcined mining materials for Cameco from Blind River, Ontario to Blanding, Utah. The driver drove into the ditch while choking on a piece of beef jerky. M-117 was closed to traffic between US-2 and M-28. A Cameco hazardous materials team unloaded the cargo.

As with uranium, the potential for impacts to public health with the rail transport of sulfide materials from Kennecott’s Eagle Project and other proposed sites is also very real, and ignored, in the plan. The plan notes that “over the years, the County has experienced a number of rail incidents, several of which were serious or had the potential to be serious.” Because Kennecott plans to transport its ore by rail, the Eagle Project should be outlined as a potential risk to public health.

The risks of Kennecott’s projects should have also been considered in the section, “Unstable Ground.” The plan notes the proven risk for ground subsidence to occur on the Yellow Dog Plains:

“In 1996, significant landslide occurred during a major spring snowmelt along the Yellow Dog River. At least one research paper has been written which identifies that area as geologically unstable. That paper predicts that as the Yellow Dog River and Salmon Trout River systems mature through the natural erosion process, the Salmon Trout River will steal the headwaters of the Yellow Dog River. In this incident, a steep sand slope encompassing approximately 40 acres failed and slid into the channel of the river. Past logging activity, poor road construction, and ditch maintenance may have contributed to this event. Occurring in a remote forested region, the event did not endanger human life or cause significant property damage. It did affect the trout habitat. This event is a good example of what could happen because of building on unstable slopes and improper construction of roads, ditches, and culverts.”

The plan also outlines the potential for water contamination in areas with sandy/porous soils, such as those found on the Yellow Dog Plains: "Porous soil has rapid permeability…the underlying aquifer is vulnerable to contamination. In addition, the loose soil makes excavation projects in this area difficult. The soils are vulnerable to wind and water erosion."

In the introduction, the plan notes that, in northwestern Marquette County, “Due to narrow channels and bedrock close to the surface, flash flooding can occur during periods of excessive rain, rapid snowmelt, or blockage by ice or debris.” This observation is especially relevant as problems associated with heavy rainfall in Rusk County, Wisconsin, in September 1994, caused a tailings pond at Kennecott’s Flambeau Mine to nearly overflow into the Flambeau River, a common occurrence at metallic sulfide mines. In that instance, the company used sulfide waste rock to give the protective berm an additional four feet and the river came within 3 ½ feet of flooding the mine site.

The Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) ranked the listed risks based upon five measures: 1) history of occurrence, 2) probability of occurrence, 3) potential affected area, 4) impact on county population and, 5) significance of impact. The LEPC ranked “Terrorism and Sabotage…” higher than industrial building fires, urban flooding,drought, residential structural fires and shoreline flooding/erosion.

The plan lists the “Kennecott Project Eagle Sites” as one of the sites with “terrorist potential.” The Plan includes a subsection on “Eco-Terrorism”:

“Since 1996, there have been over 600 eco-terrorist events in the United States, including the placement of a bomb at a forestry building at Michigan Technological University in the Upper Peninsula. Several area loggers have reported vandalism to their equipment. The assumption is that they were based upon differing viewpoints on use of the environment. Damage in the U. S. caused by a single eco-terrorist group has exceeded $10 million over a ten-year period. Larger organizations are believed to engage in intelligence gathering against potential targets. However, one of the major problems with eco-terrorism is the number of small cells without organizational structure.”

The eco-terrorist claims likely stem from FBI testimony at a February 12, 2002 House Ecoterror Hearing. The FBI alleged that the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) had “committed more than 600 criminal acts in the United States since 1996.” The FBI, which submitted information for use in the County’s Plan, has never substantiated that the Michigan Tech. incident or vandalism to logging equipment was linked to ELF or ALF. In recent years, the FBI, at Kennecott’s behest, has questioned three prominent citizens around the Big Bay area regarding their involvement in fighting Kennecott’s Eagle Project. While “eco-terrorism” activities have not caused a loss of life, the FBI continues to list “eco-terrorists” as the nation’s number one domestic terrorist threat, beating out violent extremist militia groups that adopt a Timothy McVeigh-style ethic.

Rather than highlighting assumed risks stemming from local citizen activity and tacitly branding opponents of mining projects as potential “eco-terrorists,” the County could have considered the high potential for groundwater contamination and rail disasters relating to uranium and metallic sulfide mining activity. These activities have a proven record of risk to public health and local economic systems, whereas allegations of terrorist threats and activity from disgruntled citizens are based upon hearsay and unsubstantiated claims.

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