Rio Tinto reports at mine forum
L’ANSE – Rio Tinto representatives provided an update on the Eagle Mine, collected live electronic survey results through a community scorecard and fielded an array of questions and comments during a mining forum Wednesday night at the L’Anse American Legion Post 144.
Matt Johnson, manager of external relations at Rio Tinto Eagle, gave a brief historical recap of the mine, starting with explorations dating back to the 1950s, the discovery of the ore body in 2002, the permit application and finalization in 2008 and 2010, respectively, and the start of underground drilling in 2011.
“We do have a goal of being in production in 2014,” he said. “A few months ago we announced a moderated schedule, so we pushed our schedule back. (Work on the Humboldt Mill) has been postponed for the time being.”
Production was originally slated to start in early 2014; now it’ll likely be toward the end of that year, but that’s not the only reason the life of the mine will extend farther.
“Over the last six months to a year or so, we’ve been able to find more ore, so we’re very happy to announce that we’ve been able to add 20 percent to our resource, which extends the life of the mine probably about a year,” Johnson said.
That’ll push the life of the northwest Marquette County mine, which will produce copper and nickel concentrate, to about eight years.
Johnson also said:
there have been three injuries at the mine since the previous L’Anse forum on Sept. 26, two to hands, one to a thigh.
two vertical shafts, an emergency exit and a fresh air exhaust, have been drilled up from the ore body, which is otherwise accessed through a gradual decline tunnel.
about 75 people from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and other tribes have visited the fenced-in Eagle Rock area to perform cultural ceremonies in the last year.
the independent Community Environmental Monitoring program, which is a collaboration between the Marquette County Community Foundation and Superior Watershed Partnership, is fully operational. Its findings can be found at cempmonitoring.com.
Community scorecard, feedback
After fielding a few questions and before turning the floor over to Chantae Lessard, principal advisor for communities and social performance, Johnson said the community scorecard method of receiving feedback is a new concept for Rio Tinto.
“We don’t do this at any other project in the world, but it’s also a learning experience,” he said, noting the process should be completed in about 45 minutes.
Persistent questions and comments from the audience of about two dozen extended the scorecard segment just past an hour. The event as a whole lasted approximately two hours.
The scorecard let attendees respond whether Rio Tinto exceeds, meets or falls below expectations, or whether they needed more information on the following five areas: environmental performance, safety, local hire, transparency/communication and “leaving more wood on the woodpile” (leaving more jobs in the area outside the mining industry to combat the boom and bust that often comes with mining, according to Lessard). The scoring period was September 2012 through February.
On environmental performance, Rio Tinto first noted it had not had any permit violations, and that it had three events (“An unexpected occurrence that requires further investigation or analysis to determine whether there is a risk to people or the environment”) before turning it over to voting.
“Last time we were here we were only showing our permit violations what the community told us was, ‘that’s all well and good, yeah, we want to know when you violate your permits, but we need more information than that.’ What we’ve done is create another category we’re calling events,” Lessard said.
She acknowledged and described a release of bentonite into a wetland adjacent to the tailings pit near Humboldt Mill during construction of a cut-off wall (taken care of, no further issues, according to Lessard), detection of sulfate in the temporary development rock storage area leak detection sump (numbers trending down, monitoring continues) and detection of uranium in that leak detection sump at greater levels than drinking water quality.
Baraga County resident Jeffery Loman noted uranium reporting is not required under permitting and the “event” only surfaced because of the independent monitoring program.
“That alone seems to indicate there’s a failure in the regulatory process in place by which this mining operation is regulated,” he said.
Eagle Mine Environmental and Permitting Manager Kristen Mariuzza explained uranium is something that exists naturally in the ground at, on average nationally, three parts per million, and the “event” at the mine was less than that.
“Uranium really was not something that was considered a problem,” she said.
“So is this event a non-event?” Loman asked.
“I really think the level that we have, we have something that exceeds a drinking water standard in a sump that is there to contain water, which is then going through a water treatment plant,” Mariuzza responded. ” I do think we’re doing everything we should be doing on the mine site to contain things like that.”
L’Anse resident Jim Dougovito followed up by saying, “I applaud your honesty because it didn’t raise any concerns and yet you reported it, so thank you.”
The vote on environmental performance was, with 19 votes: 32 percent exceeds expectations, 11 percent meets expectations, 42 percent below expectations and 16 percent needing more information.
On safety, Lessard recapped the report of three injuries on site, none of them happening underground, during the six-month reporting period.
The vote was 40 percent exceeds, 35 percent meets, 15 percent falls below and 10 percent needing more information.
“You’ve had three injuries in a six-month period. There isn’t a company in this country that wouldn’t die to have that safety record,” Keweenaw Bay resident Paul Bonini said. “For somebody to say (below expectations), you’re just playing games with these things right now. You’re lucky to go six months around the house without a bruise.”
On local hire, Rio Tinto reported 70 percent of direct hires and contractors coming from one of three local tiers (first being Marquette/Baraga Counties; second the rest of the U.P. and a few northern Wisconsin counties; third downstate), with 86 percent of Rio Tinto employees from Tier 1. Lessard presented statistics on the numbers of employees as well, which decreased during the slower winter construction months.
The vote on local hire was 30 percent exceeds, 55 percent meets, 15 percent falls below and 0 percent needing more information.
On transparency/communication, Rio Tinto reported that 294 people had attended forums, 118 people had toured the site and 1,647 had been to the information center. They also detailed advertisements across different media.
The vote was 39, 17, 33 and 11 percent across the four categories.
Leaving more wood on the woodpile results were 39, 17, 28 and 17 percent after Lessard described the Accelerate U.P. initiative, which is described in detail at accelerateup.com.
Aggregate results from the six forums will be released in a little over a month on riotintoeagle.com, where more information can be found about the mine. Future forums in the current series will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Michigamme Town Hall and 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Powell Township School.