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Copper mining company reaches settlement with state over erosion in UP state park

Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Catch basin next to Gogebic County Road 517 in April, shortly after erosion occurred.

Copperwood Resources, a subsidiary of Highland Copper, has entered into a legal settlement with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality over part of its exploratory drilling operation at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

The agreement concerns environmental damage from the mining company's test drilling last spring along a county road right-of-way (233 feet on each side of the road) at the park.

"During spring melt, they continued to operate so that they caused soil erosion in the muddy soils and rutting in wetlands," said Steve Casey, Upper Peninsula district coordinator for the MDEQ's Water Resources Division in Marquette. 

According to Casey, the company went forward with the drilling during the thaw without first obtaining the necessary wetlands and soil erosion control permits.

Casey said the company had been cooperative about restoring the wetlands and stabilizing the site against further erosion, as the MDEQ had ordered, and has been fined $25,000.

Members of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's Mining Action Group reported the erosion and wetland damage to the MDEQ. 

Kathleen Heideman, a board member of the Coalition, said that although it's a good thing that the MDEQ took the problem seriously and that the mining company has tried to fix the erosion, the problem should never have occurred in the first place. 

Heideman said it's very concerning that this has happened already in the exploratory drilling stage.

"This is our most beloved wilderness park in the state of Michigan," said Heideman. "What will actually happen if they are allowed to mine?" 

According John Pepin, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, any future mining would be by underground methods from land Highland Copper owns outside the park. And Highland Copper would have to get approval from the MDEQ to amend an existing permit. 

Pepin said the MDNR is committed to an opportunity for public review and comment before mining would occur beneath the park.

"Our team has learned a great deal from this incident and future work will continue to be done under strict compliance with current environmental legislation and best practices," said Carlos Bertoni, vice-president of exploration at Highland Copper, in a written statement.