Powell Township Officials Sponsor Kennecott Meeting to Outline Potential Economic Benefits to Big Bay

Powell Township Supervisor, Vince Bevins

BIG BAY –  Vince Bevins, Powell Township supervisor, and Jim Gauthier, from the Powell Township Planning Commission, sponsored an “Economic Business Meeting”, March 3, at the Powell Township Hall, in Big Bay. Their guest presenters were Jon Cherry, Kennecott Eagle Project manager; Bill Henry, a project planner for Kennecott; and Gregg Nominelli, from the Lake Superior Community Partnership. The meeting, intended to outline economic opportunities related to Kennecott’s potential mining activity, was attended by 64 citizens. Bevins said that he, and Gauthier, initiated the meeting because the Big Bay “economy is going down the toilet.”


Gene Champagne, Powell Twp. resident and founder of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, asked for clarification regarding who set up the meeting. “You need to be very clear with the people because there is some confusion…that the chairman of the Planning Commission and the supervisor of Powell Township are sitting up there saying this isn’t a government meeting.”


Jim Gauthier said the hall was not reserved under the Big Bay Visitor’s Association (BBVA). However, a hall rental/usage document shows that Gauthier did, indeed, reserve it for the BBVA and Bevins approved the use. Gauthier is not a member of the BBVA. Gauthier explained that he had asked Jon Cherry if he would “be more comfortable having this meeting at the Thunder Bay Inn.”


Kennecott’s Jon Cherry Speaks During Presentation; photo by Gabriel Caplett

Bevins noted that the local Thunder Bay Inn had closed several times, during the meeting, and cited the closing as an impetus for the meeting and a reason to discuss economic benefits from Kennecott’s mine. The Inn closed its doors on Sunday, March 2, without giving its 14 employees prior notice. The owners are reportedly selling the hotel and moving to Kentucky.

Cherry outlined Kennecott’s theories as to how the Eagle Mine would benefit the Big Bay economy. Ideas included selling tires, gasoline and snacks, as well as offering lodging and catering services to mine workers. Cherry advised, “I wouldn’t leave any rock unturned as far as opportunities go.” Later, Bill Henry clarified that fuel sales would not be directly related to mine activity; rather that fuel for the mine would be “trucked in” from elsewhere.

One citizen commented that, if Kennecott is building its private “South Road,” going from the mine site to Humboldt, mine workers would not be traveling roughly 40 miles, round-trip, to eat, buy gas and sleep in Big Bay. Instead, “they would be going to Ishpeming and Humboldt.”

Local business owner, Kristi Mills, said her own customer surveys show that “half of our tourism visitors are against the mine” and that a designated “recreation area”, in the township, is needed so that visitors can avoid industrial traffic and enjoy outdoor activities. Mills commented, “Are we going to replace our tourism business with convenience stores, McDonald’s, maybe another gas station, a tire store – what is Big Bay going to look like?”

At least half a dozen attendees appeared to support the mining project, citing the potential for them to personally earn money if the mine was opened, including the possibility of renting rooms to mine workers and building a nursing home for the elderly. However, the majority of attendees, which included many members of the Big Bay business community, expressed a position that Kennecott’s mine would adversely affect the Big Bay economy, in the long-term.

One construction worker commented that he had helped bulldoze an area near Iron River for a mining company and that the mine caused extensive pollution afterwards. To applause, the man said, “If an opportunity came to work at this mine, I’d probably turn it down, regardless of how much money I could make, because I like it just the way it is.”

Cherry commented that Kennecott would hire 300 construction workers during the construction phase and 120 workers for actual mining. Cherry said that Kennecott is aiming for 70% local jobs but did not specify what the company considers “local”.

Bill Henry said that Kennecott is hiring contractors for the underground, “major civil”, and mechanical/electrical construction phases of the Eagle Project and that local contractors will be given hiring priority ‘even if their bid is a little higher.’

While initially saying that Kennecott did not have contractors lined up for construction, Henry did admit that the contractors are Bacco Construction Co., from Iron Mountain; Yalmer-Mattila Contracting Inc., from Houghton; and A. Lindberg & Sons, from Ishpeming. Contractors involved in underground construction are Cementation Canada Inc., from Ontario, and J.S. Redpath Limited, also from Ontario.

Following Kennecott’s presentation, Gregg Nominelli, from the Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP), informed attendees about the LSCP’s role in assisting individuals with formulating a business plan and seeking loan funding for opening a business. Nominelli stressed that the business does not have to be mine related but could be businesses intended to serve pre-existing needs.




Gregg Nominelli, LSCP; photo by Teresa Bertossi



One citizen commented that an individual might have trouble seeking funding for a business if the venture appeared viable for only a short “seven and one-half to eight-year window,” when the mine was operating. Another comment regarded the potential for an individual interested in long-term business operation to seek reclamation work at the mine site, as pollution, from the mine site, would last indefinitely.

Leave a comment