Upper Peninsula nickel, copper mine starts operations after 12-year legal, political struggle

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MARQUETTE, Michigan — Work has started at an underground nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula following a 12-year legal and political struggle over the $800 million project.

Toronto-based Lundin Mining Corp. announced mining began Tuesday and it is ramping up production of nickel and copper concentrates. The mine employs more than 300 people for production and is the only U.S. mine where nickel is the primary targeted mineral.

"We will continue to work to the highest standards of safety, environmental protection, and community engagement — just as we always have at Eagle," Eagle Mine general manager Mike Welch said in a statement.

Ore from the Eagle Mine, located in Marquette County, is being shipped to Humboldt Mill and processed into nickel and copper concentrates. The concentrates will be shipped by rail starting mid-October. The mine is expected to reach full production rates next year.

Environmental groups, a Native American tribe and a private hunting and fishing club fought to prevent the mine from being built since Kennecott Minerals Co. conducted exploratory drilling in 2002, saying it poses numerous ecological risks. Lundin now owns the mine.

Opponents contend the mine poses a serious risk to groundwater and the Salmon Trout River, saying that if sulfide mineral ores are exposed to air and water, a chemical reaction generates acid that can pollute waters. The state, however, declared the mine structurally sound.

In August, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a decision by state regulators to allow construction of the mine. A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the Department of Environmental Quality was within the law to approve mining and groundwater discharge permits.

During the mine's projected 8-year life, Lundin expects that 360 million pounds of nickel will be extracted. Officials also estimate that the mine will yield 295 million pounds of copper, and small amounts of other metals.

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