MAC: Mines and Communities

From: Laura Furtado

Published by MAC on 2007-03-14

From: Laura Furtado
27426 County Road
Webster, WI 54893

To: Philip Fauble
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Bureau of Waste and Materials Management
101 South Webster Street
PO Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707-7921

14th March 2007

Subject: Application of Flambeau Mining Company (FMC) for Issuance of a Certificate of Completion of Reclamation Case No. IH-07-05

Dear Mr. Fauble,

I am an “interested person” in the above stated subject and hereby submit my written comments regarding issues that I believe need to be addressed at the contested case hearing. I have a number of concerns, as listed below:

1. The DNR approved FMC’s Notice of Completion (NOC) for the Flambeau Mine reclamation in November 2001, which thereby started a mandatory minimum 4-year monitoring period before the DNR could consider issuing a COC. However, since November 2001 the following significant reclamation activities have been initiated and carried out at the mine site: a. November 2003 – FMC removed 4,120 cubic yards (7,510 tons) of contaminated railroad ballast from the mine site. b. November 2005 – FMC submitted a plan to the DNR for removing an estimated 1,200 cubic yards of contaminated soils from a 10,500 square yard area surrounding the buildings in the industrial outlot area at the mine site. The plan was carried out in 2006.

Since the above actions clearly constitute significant reclamation activities, it appears that the NOC was issued prematurely and that it is therefore premature for the department to consider issuing a COC at this time. Indeed, the four-year clock needs to be restarted.

2. According to WDNR staff, the assumption is that the identified contamination in 1-b above came from spillage or tracking of high-sulfide material by trucks that traveled between the pit, the ore loading area and the mine operation buildings. There are other areas of the mine site that experienced similar truck traffic yet have not been tested for contaminated soils. In light of the truly significant contamination of both soil and surface water runoff in the industrial outlot area, additional testing of similar traffic areas at the mine site needs to be done before a COC is granted. 3. FMC’s annual reclamation reports contain extensive information about the number of plant, bird and butterfly species presently observed at the mine site. However, no discussion of baseline data is included. Surely, in order to establish the effectiveness of FMC’s reclamation activities, such a discussion must occur before a COC is awarded. In other words, we must compare the “before” conditions to the “after” conditions to see what we really have here. In addition, the annual reclamation reports make no mention of any sort of reestablishment of reptile and amphibian populations at the mine site. Since these types of species are considered to be markers of environmental degradation, surely their presence or absence at the mine site must be addressed before a COC is awarded.

4. Several endangered or threatened species were observed at the mine site prior to the commencement of mining (purple wartyback clam, bullhead mussel, pygmy snaketail dragonfly, extra-striped snaketail dragonfly, St. Croix snaketail dragonfly, gilt darter, river redhorse, greater redhorse, wood turtle). Yet, I see no mention of any of these species in the company’s annual reclamation reports. Surely the reclamation of the Flambeau Mine mine site cannot be considered complete until the continued presence of these species has been confirmed.

5. As part of its revised reclamation plan approved by the DNR in July 1998, FMC created two so-called “biofilters” at the mine site. Surface water and sediment have been tested in one of them (the 0.9-acre pond next to the rail spur area), and significant levels of contaminants have been measured in not only the “biofilter” but the small creek (Stream-C) that conveys surface water from the “biofilter” to the Flambeau River. However, only limited surface water testing and absolutely no testing of sediment has occurred in the other “biofilter” (the 1.7-acre pond between the backfilled mine pit and Flambeau River). Nor has the channel connecting the 1.7-acre pond to the Flambeau River been evaluated for contaminants. Since this “biofilter” was designed to help manage contaminated surface water runoff from the reclaimed site, surely data must be gathered as to the effectiveness of the “biofilter” before a COC can be issued.

I might add that when evaluating the effectiveness of the 0.9-acre “biofilter” in trapping contaminants, FMC picked a “control” site for the surface water monitoring program that, by any scientific standard, would not qualify as a true control. This brings the credibility of any conclusions drawn by FMC regarding the surface water runoff monitoring program into question.

6. Even though by their very nature “biofilters” may periodically need to be dredged, no provisions for long-term maintenance of the two “biofilters” at the Flambeau Mine site were incorporated into FMC’s reclamation permit. Surely money must be retained from the reclamation bond to insure proper maintenance of the “biofilters” so that taxpayers are not stuck with the cost in the future.

7. The following groundwater issues need to be addressed and resolved before a COC is granted:
a. The DNR never established an intervention boundary for the Flambeau Mine site, despite the fact that NR 182.075(1)(c)3 (as enacted in 1982) clearly required the department to do so. As a result, compliance with Preventive Action Limits (PALs) has not been established. Surely a COC cannot be issued until a boundary is drawn and appropriate water samples tested to insure the State that reclamation was successful.
b. FMC grossly underestimated the amount of groundwater pollution that would occur within the backfilled pit and the rate of groundwater flow to the Flambeau River. Take the example of manganese! Prior to mining, levels ranging from 30-290 mcg/l were measured in "deep Precambrian wells" at the mine site. Since the drinking water standard is 50 mcg/l, that meant some wells already exceeded the safety limit even before Kennecott crushed up the bedrock and pushed it into the unlined pit. Kennecott predicted at the time of the Master Hearing that levels would increase to 522 mcg/l within the backfilled pit. But in reality, levels of 42,000 mcg/l were measured in April 2005 in one of the wells (80 times higher than predicted) and will undoubtedly remain grossly elevated for centuries (levels bounced around in 2006, decreasing to 22,000 in January, increasing to 36,000 in July and decreasing to 23,000 in October 2006). This is not to be taken lightly. High manganese intake from drinking water can cause nerve problems similar to those seen in Parkinson's disease. Surely, a COC cannot be issued when acid mine drainage problems of this magnitude have already been observed and the contaminated groundwater is headed straight toward the Flambeau River. Worse yet, a thorough evaluation of the ramifications for the river and downgradient drinking water supplies is currently lacking, as elaborated upon in 7-c and 7-d below.
c. Most of the Flambeau River monitoring programs that were put in place (sediment, crayfish and walleye) have already been terminated, despite the fact that worrisome trends had started to emerge. Even surface water testing is only being performed twice a year on a voluntary basis. Since problems with acid mine drainage can take decades to fully manifest, a COC must not be issued until further testing can prove the effectiveness of FMC’s reclamation activities (affecting surface water runoff into the Flambeau River and seepage of contaminated groundwater from the backfilled pit into the Flambeau River).
d. To date, only one nest of monitoring wells has been drilled along the entire length of the compliance boundary for the Flambeau Mine (estimated at 19,500 feet in length and encompassing an area of about 535 acres, nearly a square mile), and that nest is not even directly downgradient from the backfilled mine pit. Surely a COC cannot be issued until groundwater impacts are more fully evaluated.

8. Kennecott’s reclamation activities have thus far failed to restore the integrity of Stream-C, classified as a navigable water of the State of Wisconsin prior to development of the Flambeau Mine. Surely a COC cannot be granted until the company demonstrates a returned viability of the stream. Right now, the stream is basically dead and the water contaminated beyond surface water quality standards, presumably due to contaminated surface water runoff from the mine site and a failure on the part of FMC to reestablish the stream’s headwaters.

9. Naturally-occurring Wetland-11 (as shown in Figure 3-11 in the EIS) lies directly between the backfilled mine pit and the Flambeau River. Yet, FMC has reported no surface water quality data from the wetland to prove that reclamation activities have protected the wetland from adverse impacts. Surely because of the critical nature of this wetland as a buffer between the backfilled pit and Flambeau River, impacts on Wetland-11 must be evaluated before a COC is issued.

10. Only limited surface water testing (one sample from one location per year) and absolutely no sediment testing has been performed on the so-called “mitigation” wetland at the Flambeau Mine site. Since surface water runoff from the mine site enters that wetland, surely the water quality of the wetland must be evaluated to confirm the effectiveness of reclamation.

As you can see, I find numerous problems with the DNR’s granting of a COC to FMC at this time. In order to protect the interests of the State of Wisconsin and its taxpayers, a more thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of FMC’s reclamation activities must be undertaken.


Laura Furtman


Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info