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Federal judge refuses to halt UP mine construction

Rio TInto Eagle Mine, Oct. 2010
Rio Tinto Eagle Mine

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Holmes Bell has refused to halt construction of a nickel and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

In an order signed today, Bell rejected a request by the Huron Mountain Club, a private sportsmen's group, to stop work on the mine while the club's lawsuit works its way to trial.

The exclusive club owns about 19,000 acres of forest land in the Upper Peninsula's Marquette County, including an 11-mile stretch of the Salmon Trout River, according to the AP.

In May, the club filed a suit claiming the mine would damage that river and wetlands nearby.

For Michigan Radio, Peter Payette reported that,

The lawsuit says sulfuric acid produced by sulfide mining could pollute the [Salmon Trout River], and the club is "horror-struck" by the prospect of the watershed collapsing because part of the mine will be dug directly underneath it. The lawsuit also says the federal government needs to consider the potential for damage to Eagle Rock, a site near the entrance to the mine that is sacred to American Indians.

The Rio Tinto Eagle Mine website says, "we are confident that our potential impact on the environment will be minimized."

Earlier this month, a Rio Tinto press release reported a contained chemical spill in the mine's water treatment plant. Of the incident, Eagle Mine president Adam Burley said, “Our team responded promptly and our environmental safeguards worked properly to protect the environment.”

The company said the environment was not harmed as a result of the leak.

The mine's name recently was changed from Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. to Rio Tinto Eagle Mine. According to the mine's website, Eagle Mine will be the only primary nickel mine in the United States, and is expected to produce 300 million pounds of nickel, 250 million pounds of copper and small amounts of other metals.

State regulators and company officials say the mine, on which construction began in 2010, can be operated safely. Drilling has begun, and mineral production is expected to begin in 2014.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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