A few years ago Rio Tinto walked away from one of the most controversial mines in its recent history – the Flambeau copper project in Wisconsin, USA. A coalition of Native American and local people had taken up arms against one of the world’s biggest mining companies, but lost. The company has claimed it fulfilled all its obligations in rehabilitating the mined-out Flambeau site and sometimes quotes it as an example of best practice. This is all the more important, given that Rio Tinto is currently trying to secure a permit to operate a nickel mine in the adjacent state of Michigan.
Now, the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council – which is also fighting the Michigan proposal project – has announced it will launch a law suit against Rio Tinto for its failure to protect both surface and ground water quality at the Flambeau mine. A massive tome, recording the struggle to stop the Flambeau mine, published two years ago, was entitled “The Buzzards Have Landed: The real story of the Flambeau mine” (by Roscoe Churchill and Laura Furtman, published by Dear Tail Press, Wisconsin). The carrion bird may have flown since, but clearly Rio Tinto isn’t yet out of the firing line.
[Comment by Nostromo Research, 19 June 2009]
See http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9321
For background information, see http://www.wrpc.net/court/lawsuit.htm
Flambeau Mining Company is owned by Rio Tinto’s US subsidiary Kennecott. Kennecott is also planning to open a mine in neighbouring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Representatives of groups opposing that project attended Rio Tinto’s London AGM in April 2009. See the press release below for a Michigan response to the Wisconsin lawsuit.
Michigan Citizens Respond to Flambeau Mine Lawsuit, Question Kennecott’s Integrity to Operate Eagle Mine and Other Projects in Water-rich U.P

News Release June 18, 2009
Yellow Dog Summer
And Keepers of the Water
CONTACT: GabrielCaplett
Madison, Wisconsin—The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC) announced today at a press conference in the State Capitol Building that it intends to file a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and Kennecott’s Flambeau Mining Company (FMC). The lawsuit would be in response to ongoing water pollution that violates Wisconsin law and the Federal Clean Water Act at the Flambeau Mine, in Rusk County, unless the pollution and related issues are fully addressed within 30 days.
Kennecott, a wholly owned subsidiary of London-based Rio Tinto, is attempting to open a metallic sulfide mine, called the Eagle Project, in northern Marquette County. “Kennecott, and other mining companies, have misled the public and promoted the Flambeau Mine as an environmental success story to communities throughout the Lake Superior region.” says Gene Champagne, spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, the community closest to the proposed Eagle Project.
Kennecott’s proposed mine is staunchly opposed by local citizens as it would be located on 120 acres of public land and underneath the pristine Salmon Trout River, in an area called the Yellow Dog Plains. The company also plans to blast its mine portal through the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s sacred Eagle Rock.
According to Teresa Bertossi of Save the Wild UP, and Yellow Dog Summer, “Kennecott’s public relations image of “promises kept” and integrity at the Flambeau Mine is a fantasy, one that has been unveiled by the hard working citizens of Wisconsin.”
In August of 2008 Kennecott’s project manager, John Cherry, stated that the Flambeau Mine is “… an excellent example of our ability today to build, operate, close and reclaim a mine while meeting high standards set by regulators and the community . . . The facts show that Flambeau continues to demonstrate the environment is protected. . .”
But according to WRPC attorney Glenn M. Stoddard, the potential lawsuit is based on the mining company’s own monitoring data.
“The data shows that runoff from the Flambeau Mine is in violation of applicable surface water quality standards and is illegally polluting a nearby stream and the Flambeau River. The data also shows that groundwater at the mine site is polluted and, at a minimum, requires expanded monitoring. However, the DNR has failed to properly regulate FMC and has, instead, allowed the company to violate the law and portray the Flambeau Mine as an environmental success story when it is not.”
Citizens opposing other metallic sulfide mining activities in Minnesota and elsewhere in Michigan are concerned that Kennecott’s failure to protect water at the Flambeau Mine is indicative of any company’s ability to successfully operate a metallic sulfide mine in a water-rich area.
Aquila Resources is attempting to open a large metallic sulfide zinc and gold project adjacent to the Menominee River and Shakey Lakes Savannah in Menominee County. Ron Henriksen, Lake Township resident and member of the Front Forty citizen group opposing Aquila Resources’ Back Forty project says, that although Aquila promotes the Flambeau Mine there are differences, including Aquila’s onsite processing plans. “Aquila has frequently touted the Flambeau Mine as environmentally safe, even though there are still problems,” said Henriksen. “Ironically, they claim that this is an environmentally-friendly mine, said Henriksen. They showcase it in their office, they mention it in their presentations, and now they’re taking people to the Flambeau Mine site this Saturday.”
The potential lawsuit is a yet another chapter in the unprecedented grassroots citizen movement to protect the State of Wisconsin that led to the State’s claim to fame as having some of the strongest mining laws in the country. Citizens of Michigan continue to find inspiration in the courageous efforts of Wisconsin citizens such as Attorney Glenn Stoddard, Laura Furtman and Al Gedicks of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.
“I’m pleased that someone is taking the step to expose Kennecott’s deceptions at the Flambeau Mine and the Wisconsin DNR’s inability to regulate a rogue industry” said Bob Rivera of UPriver, a citizens group from Iron River, Michigan concerned with Kennecott’s exploration in the Ottawa National Forest.
“Our neighbors in Wisconsin are an inspiration to average citizens to remain strong and to continue to realize the value of clean water and maintain respect for the water that sustains all life,” said Barbara Bradley of Keepers of the Water and Yellow Dog Summer. “We thank them for this, for their protection of the water.”
For further information or to contact any individuals quoted in the above release, please contact Gabriel Caplett at gcaplett@gmail.com or (906) 942-7325