A large Toronto-based mining company has started expanding one of its projects near Marquette. But it will need approval from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality if it wants to finish the tunnel it started building in July.
Lundin Mining is asking the state agency to change its current permit to allow for the completion of the tunnel, which would connect its Eagle Mine site to a mineral deposit nearby. The deposit has large amounts of nickel and copper ore, but Lundin is still unsure whether the area would be profitable to mine.
Meagan Morrison is a spokesperson for the Eagle Mine. She said efforts to gain state approval are purely logistical. "We're going ahead with the regulatory process now, so when the time comes, and if we do decide to mine that, everything will be in place and ready to go," Morrison said.
Some environmental groups say the company needs more than just an amendment to its current permit if it wants to finish construction on the tunnel.
Brad Garmon is the Director of Conservation for the Michigan Environmental Council, a large nonprofit devoted to environmental policy. He says that a new tunnel on the site should warrant a new permit entirely to ensure proper review and oversight.
"The DEQ treated it [the tunnel] as part of the existing operation, and to us, that doesn't make sense," he said. "The mine was permitted for a specific operation, to a specific depth, to a specific plan. This tunnel was not contemplated. This tunnel was not in the original permit."
Lundin said that if the deposit is found to be profitable and the operation receives state approval, the Eagle Mine will extend its operations until 2023.