The state's first regulations on underground nonferrous mining were signed into law in January. The regulations, said to be among the toughest in the country, stipulate that companies must have plans for developing and operating underground sulfide mines and restoring previous natural conditions when the mining project is over. The law is in direct response to a proposal by Kennecott Minerals Co. to mine a 12-acre area on the Yellow Dog Plains northwest of Marquette.
A task force representing environmentalists, the mining industry, local residents and state lawmakers and regulators helped shape the bill, and it's seen as a compromise between environmental and economic concerns. Kennecott hopes to begin mining nickel, copper, gold and zinc within the next few years. Company representatives are optimistic that the area will be developed into the only primary nickel mine in the United States.
Opponents to the mining project have been most concerned about sulfide leaks that could leach into surface or groundwater. The area to be mined, near the Yellow Dog and Salmon Trout rivers, is a popular recreation area, particularly for hunting and fishing.
The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community has threatened a lawsuit to voice its objections, as part of the land lies within the L'Anse Reservation. Among the tribe's concerns are that the regulations give the mining company too much leeway in conducting its own environmental impact study and that the timelines for permitting are too short for proper review.
But the final regulations have the support of groups such as Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation. Kennecott also supported the bill and points to the success of its reclamation project on the site of the Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin in the mid-1990s.