Mining Revival Spurs Tensions Over Environment in Upper Midwest – by Matthew Dolan (Wall Street Journal – March 18, 2015)

Remote rural community in Michigan divided over benefits of a proposed limestone project

REXTON, Mich.—In a small, sparsely populated community on Michigan’s remote northern peninsula, a crop of red-letter lawn signs have sprouted through the snow carrying a simple protest: “No mining.”

The placards in Rexton are the latest salvo in a battle among local residents that has been spurred by a nascent revival of mining in the upper Midwest. While some welcome the industry for the jobs it promises to bring, other members of the community fear it could harm the environment and spoil the area’s rural lifestyle.

On Thursday, the issue is expected to come to a head when Michigan’s director of national resources decides whether the state should sell a 10,000-acre parcel of publicly owned forest for a proposed limestone mine operated by Canadian company Graymont. It would be the largest chunk of state-held land ever sold by Michigan, with state documents putting the value of the deal in land sale and exchanges at about $4.5 million plus future mineral royalties.

Choosing sides in the debate over the sale of the parcel prized for its hunting and snowmobiling possibilities has divided the generations. Financially struggling younger workers with families have voiced support for the growing mining industry, while retirees who moved to the Upper Peninsula worry about protecting a quieter life.

“You have to go 60 miles to hit a regular traffic light and we like that,” said retiree Dorothy Mills, who lives in nearby Trout Lake and distributed many of the protest signs she made with her husband.

Approval of a new mine could fuel the resurgence of a once bedrock industry in the upper Midwest, which contains large deposits of iron, copper and nickel. The first Native American copper mining started on Michigan’s northern peninsula, according to the state, and by the 1880s Michigan supplied 95% of the nation’s copper.

But most large-scale facilities in the region had closed by the mid-1900s, a decline driven in part by the expansion of mining in the West, according to Theodore Bornhorst, professor of economic and engineering geology at Michigan Technological University and director of its A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum.

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