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E-M:/ NWF News Release: Groups Challenge Iron Ore Mine Expansion

Enviro-Mich message from "TONY DEFALCO" <DEFALCO@nwf.org>

People and Nature:  Our Future Is in the Balance

National Wildlife Federation News
October 30, 2000

Tony DeFalco, (734) 769-3351

NWF Opposes Destruction of Wetlands and Streams by Mining Company

Ann Arbor, MI  -  Working to save wetlands and streams, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) are challenging a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) permit that will allow the Empire Mining Partnership (Empire) to destroy 79 acres of wetlands and 4,700 lineal feet of stream near Marquette, Michigan.  Empire is an iron ore mining consortium that produces taconite pellets.

"The permit grants Empire permission to completely destroy wetlands and streams in violation of numerous state and federal laws," said Jane Reyer, an attorney for NWF.  "The permit should be immediately withdrawn," she added.  The wetlands and streams are in the headwaters of the Escanaba River. 

According to recent estimates, Michigan has lost 50% of its original wetlands, nearly 5.6 million acres.  "Wetlands provide innumerable benefits including flood prevention, water filtration and habitat for rare plants and animals," said Tim Eder, Center Director for NWF's Great Lakes Natural Resource Center.  "The loss of additional wetlands is a loss for flora, fauna and people there," he added.

The two groups also maintain that MDEQ's process of issuing the permit was illegal.  "MDEQ failed to identify alternatives which would minimize impacts, failed to make written, factual determinations regarding the short-term or long-term effects of the proposed activities and did not have sufficient information on hand to determine whether the proposed discharge would comply with federal guidelines," said Reyer.  "Most importantly, a survey for rare, threatened or endangered species was not conducted prior to MDEQ's issuance of the permit," she added.  MDEQ also failed to provide sufficient information to the public during the comment period, denying the public an opportunity to evaluate the likely impacts.

"Although we do not want to stop mining at Empire, we think MDEQ should take a hard look at several aspects of this case," said Chris Fries of UPEC.  "What are the alternatives to filling the wetlands, lakes or streams?  Does wetland mitigation in lowland areas really replace the unique upland habitats?  What threatened or endangered species use or occupy these areas?  We need these questions answered," Fries added.

"MDEQ now has an opportunity to remedy a bad situation.  We hope that MDEQ will take this opportunity to take a step back and consider how this project can be modified to minimize impacts," Eder concluded.

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