Update on UP mining at UPEDA event

ESCANABA — Members of the Upper Peninsula Economic Development Alliance converged Monday at Bay College, where they were updated on developments in mining and logging, as well as met with a Federal Reserve president.

Mining-related updates were presented by Joe Maki, the state mining coordinator for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; Matt Johnson, manager of external affairs at Eagle Mine in Marquette County; and Chantae Lessard, representative from Aquila Resources Back 40 Mine Project in Menominee County.

Maki presented a historical background on mining in Michigan, mentioning the White Pine Copper Mine in the western U.P. that closed in the 1990s. The mine was the last operating non-ferrous metallic mine in the state, he said.

Mining in the U.P. has experienced a resurgence since early 2002, Maki said, with Eagle and two other active mines in the region plus two potential mines, including the Back 40 Mine, where permits are under way pending lawsuits aimed at preventing mining activities.

In December 2004, legislation was passed to ensure the economic potential of mining in Michigan while being mindful of protecting the environment, Maki said, adding that stakeholders — citizens, legislators, industries and state agencies like the DNR and DEQ — are working together as well.

“Metal prices and companies’ ability to attract investors will dictate the future for pending (mining) projects,” Maki said.

Johnson spoke about how mining produces products for everyday living.

He talked about the history of Eagle Mine and how it took 12 years from the discovery of metals before operations began in 2014 amid some community protests.

Johnson explained mining has been controversial in large part because of past practices when the industry was unregulated, leading to environmental harm. Modern mining takes these negative factors into account with regulatory agencies monitoring operations, he said.

Lessard spoke about the economic impact of mines, noting Aquila Resources already has invested more than $90 million in the Back 40 Mine, which is expected to be in operation in 2021 producing zinc and gold.

She explained the mining will take place in two phases — open pit and potential underground mining. More than 250 workers are expected to be hired for construction, while about 240 will be employed to operate the mine.

In addition to the more than $90 million already sunk into the site, the Back 40 Mine will invest $265 million in construction, pay $20 million annually in taxes and more than $16 million in royalties, and have an annual payroll of $10 million, she said.

It’s important to stress the mine’s economic impact on the community as well as the industry’s social responsibilities, Lessard said.

“We promise to protect the environment and the Menominee River,” she said.

Forest products industry professionals had a panel discussion before the mining update. Speakers included economic perspectives from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan Technological University and representatives from J.M. Longyear and Weyerhaeuser, two private landholding companies.

The meeting concluded with UPEDA members talking with Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis about the local business climate and economic challenges and concerns.

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