- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. (AP) - A judge has agreed to take another look at her decision to allow the lease of 120 acres of state land for a nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.

Ingham County Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield acknowledged last week she had not properly considered whether the Department of Natural Resources had met its responsibility to manage resources for the public good when it leased the property to Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co.

The company wants to place its surface buildings and other facilities on the land. The underground mine would be located in the Yellow Dog Plains region of western Marquette County.

Several groups sued to block the DNR lease. They included the National Wildlife Federation, the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the Huron Mountain Club, an exclusive hunting and fishing retreat near the proposed mine site.

Manderfield dismissed the suit in March, saying the DNR had acted within its authority. But opponents filed a brief arguing that the judge should have considered separately the question of whether the DNR had acted in the public interest.

Manderfield agreed and scheduled a hearing for June 10 in Lansing.

“This case exemplifies the state’s breach of its public trust responsibilities, and now we have an opportunity to set that right,” Michelle Halley, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, said Tuesday.

Kennecott spokeswoman Deb Muchmore said the public trust issue was one of several on which Manderfield had based her earlier ruling. The judge did not reverse her findings on the other issues, Muchmore said.

“We’re pretty confident the court will come back to the same conclusion, that the DNR has entered into this lease properly and with the spirit of the public trust intact,” she said. “The Michigan Constitution encourages development of natural resources in a proper and environmentally protective way.”

Kennecott is targeting a deposit that is expected to yield 300 million pounds of nickel, 250 million pounds of copper and trace amounts of other minerals.

Because the metals are within sulfide ore bodies, critics fear the mine will generate sulfuric acid and contaminate rivers and groundwater in the area, which is within the Lake Superior watershed. Kennecott says it can build, operate and eventually close the mine while safeguarding the waters.

The company must clear other hurdles before starting construction, which its parent company, Rio Tinto Group, has put on hold because of poor market conditions.

A state administrative judge has yet to rule on opponents’ challenge of mining permits issued by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Also pending is an application for an underground water discharge permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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