Environment & Science
3:57 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

Mining resurgence in Michigan's UP gains some national attention

The boom and bust nature of the mining industry is nothing new to residents of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And while recent decades have seen the region's once-prosperous iron and copper mines falling further and further into "bust" territory, the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest from companies hoping to pull valuable ore from this remote part of the state.

Michigan Radio has been covering examples of the UP's mining revival, examining what the state could gain by opening up more land for extraction, and looking at the reasons some groups, like the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, oppose new projects.

The New York Times recently reported on mining in the UP and found that many residents are excited about the prospect of a return to the industry's heyday.

From the Times:

Signs in some windows and on the highway into [Ironwood, MI] proclaim support for the new mining wave. Orvana [a company planning to reopen a mine near Ironwood] has yet to put a shovel in the ground, but it has received hundreds of résumés, many dropped off by people who had left town and were back visiting family...

“We desperately need good-paying jobs for this area,” said Keith Johnson, director for the western Upper Peninsula region at the Michigan Works agency. “It might be just 10 or 15 years, but it’s going to be 10 or 15 years that we can truly enjoy.”

But some warn that the reality might not live up to the excitement:

“I think people in fact have significantly exaggerated expectations in terms of what mining is likely to do for the local economy,” said Thomas M. Power, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montana, who spent summers as child in this region. He warned that mining towns never succeed in the long term and would be better off diversifying in other ways.

And environmental groups worry about negative impacts on the area's water resources. The Environment Report's Rebecca Williams explored some of these potential issues at the end of last year.

For some resident's, the Time's writes, weighing economic and environmental concerns can be a challenge:

“It’s great that it’ll cause jobs,” said David Hill, 29, an Ironwood resident who is out of work. “I’m just hoping they’ll do it safely. That’s No. 1. Sometimes it’s not about money, but what are you doing to the land that you live on.”

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom