- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

ONTONAGON, Mich. (AP) - Environmental regulators in Michigan have cited a Canadian mining company for violating state laws after exploratory drilling in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park created rivers of mud.

Quebec-based Highland Copper Co. created soil erosion and damaged wetlands on Gogebic County Road Commission property, which runs through the park’s western end, according to Steve Casey, district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Water Resources Division.

The department issued the citations on April 20. Casey said an investigation is ongoing and decisions about possible fines haven’t been made. He noted that an ice and snow storm felled trees and closed some trails at the park last week.

“We will not be making a decision regarding fines until all of Highland’s drill sites have been assessed,” Casey said. “A number of those sites are not accessible now due to wet spring conditions making woods roads impassable.”

Department officials said Highland Copper must stabilize the site, restore disturbed wetlands, obtain permits for discharging stormwater and sedimentation, and investigate other drill sales to determine if more wetlands have been affected.

“Due to the severity of the noncompliance, the matter is being evaluated for escalated enforcement,” the department said in an April letter sent to Highland Copper Vice President Carlos Bertoni said.

The drilling was part of a study conducted before the company secures a mining permit to set up on adjacent land outside the park, where Highland can access copper through underground tunnels. Highland Copper hired Idea Drilling of Minnesota this winter to punch drill 21 exploratory holes in the area, 12 of them on park land, to see if a mineral deposit first discovered about 60 years ago might be feasibly mined.

The department will need to give permission for Highland to continue exploratory drilling. The company will also need to plug holes that are still open after drilling was suspended last month.

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