A Michigan environmental advocacy group is collecting signatures for a ballot measure to limit mining around the Great Lakes.
The group, the Michigan Save Our Water Committee, hopes to collect 400,000 signatures on a statewide petition by May so its question will make the 2010 general election ballot. The state election board approved the group’s petition form earlier this month.
The move follows a surge of interest in mining around the Upper Great Lakes region that promises hundreds of new jobs and millions of tax dollars for cash-strapped governments. It’s also raised fears of widespread water pollution and environmental degradation.
Mining companies are buying and leasing mineral rights around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to lay the groundwork for new nickel, copper and iron mines in a region that was known for its metal mining a century ago. One company, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co., has proposed a new nickel mine near Marquette and hopes to have the mine running by spring.
The efforts come also as the Great Lakes shipping industry faces a significant decline in waterborne cargo. According to the Lake Carrier’s Association, shipments on the lakes are down by 39 percent compared to a five-month average while iron ore transport is down by 57 percent.
Environmental groups like the Michigan Save Our Water Committee fear that the sulfide mining in the region will be devastating to the local environment because of the sulfuric acid and heavy metals that are produced.
Others, like Citizens for Responsible Mining, a non-profit group whose president is a former manager at Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company, support the new mines, arguing that they represent a return to the region’s heritage and can safely function under existing regulations.