SB 872 is not the answer to stamp sands

June 3, 2014
Jessica Koski , The Daily Mining Gazette

Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula is embraced by one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. It entails forested hills, picturesque views, northern lights, summer thimbleberries, fall colors, record snow-falls, unique historical sites, rich Scandinavian and multi-cultural heritage, year- round community festivals and endless outdoor recreational activities.

Ancient volcanic eruptions formed our beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula and brought the world’s largest masses of pure copper to the surface. Our present-day Copper Country legacy is attributed to industrial copper mining that boomed in the area from the1890’s to the late 1960s.

While much of the copper mining money went east decades ago and into the pockets of companies no longer in existence, it left behind ghost towns and approximately 500 million tons of waste mine tailings called stamp sands. These stamp sands were carelessly discarded across the Keweenaw Peninsula and directly into our inland lakes, streams and Lake Superior.

Stamp sands contain trace metals, and some were reprocessed with toxic chemicals to reclaim additional copper before returned to land and waterways. The historical copper mining era also left behind smelter slag and coal byproducts from energy production.

Torch Lake was the primary dump site. It was declared a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1980s after fish deformities were reported. Decades of Superfund restoration helped to stabilize, vegetate and delist some stamp sand areas.

Much more work needs to be done though according to Michigan Tech researchers. No efforts were taken to really understand and address stamp sands and cancer-causing toxins like PCBs within the lake itself.

Being such a massive environmental problem, government agencies chose to assume the lake would naturally recover in 850 years, or about 34 generations. Torch Lake remains one of the most problematic Great Lakes Areas of Concern designated under the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement due to ongoing degradation and fish consumption advisories.

While contamination levels vary and each stamp sand pile is unique, there is significant documentation regarding the toxicity of stamp sands including the leaching of arsenic, lead, copper and mercury. The health effects of arsenic usually include pigmentation changes and skin cancer (and possibly bladder and lung cancers), and it is more harmful when exposed through drinking water.

Lead inhaled or ingested is particularly harmful to children and can lead to permanent adverse effects to brain and nervous system development. Young children are especially vulnerable due to their innate hand-to-mouth curiosity, and they absorb lead 4-5 times more than adults. Adults exposed to elevated lead levels are at higher risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage.

Copper is an essential element, but excess levels due to mining degrades ecosystems and can cause gastrointestinal upset and liver failure in severe cases. Research by Michigan Tech professor Charles Kerfoot found a high correlation between increased copper and a loss of microbes that break down mercury. Mercury, primarily exposed to humans through fish consumption, can cause irreversible neurological damage to a developing fetus.

The Michigan Department of Community Health has concluded it is difficult to determine how harmful airborne stamp sands are to our health, including those used for winter road traction. It was found, however, that Calumet’s Point Mills stamp sands may cause short or long term harm.

There is not enough site-specific data or resources to evaluate each stamp sand pile individually. Children are at higher risk of exposure during outdoor play, and kids with asthma are especially vulnerable.

Where stamp sands dominate, the land is unable to support vegetation and lake areas are devoid of benthos. Benthos is bottom dwelling aquatic organisms critical to our ecosystem as a food source for fish and filter for water quality.

Stamp sands are hazardous to our fisheries regardless of toxicity due to their large amount of fine material that fills in small rock openings used to shelter eggs and young fish. Buffalo Reef in Grand Traverse Bay is an important Lake Superior whitefish and lake trout spawning area threatened by encroaching stamp sands.

If natural reproduction is lost at Buffalo Reef, it is projected to cost $380,000 annually to replace lake trout through stocking efforts. The community as a whole depends on local fisheries for recreational values and economic well-being. Tribal fish harvesters have federal treaty rights to fisheries and depend on them for subsistence and cultural identity.

So how do we solve the stamp sand problem?

State Senator Tom Casperson’s proposal is to legislate away concerns by reclassifying stamp sands as non-hazardous. Senate Bill 872 was introduced this spring and awaits a full Senate vote to deregulate stamp sands under Michigan’s Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act.

SB 872 exempts stamp sands as a hazardous substance alongside harmless fruits, vegetables and things used for agricultural purposes.

SB 872 is not the solution. It may hinder environmental management objectives and confuse public perception. If stamp sands were safe, there would be no reason for writing an exemption into law.

What we need is more robust public health assessments and policy guided by evidence and science, not special interests anxious to develop Torch Lake waterfront property. We owe it to future generations to responsibly restore our beloved Keweenaw Peninsula degraded in areas by legacy mining activities.

Jessica Koski is mining technical assistant with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

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Highland Copper Co./Keweenaw Copper Co. to hold community information meetings

Highland Copper Co./Keweenaw Copper Co. to hold community information meetings


[Editor’s Update: The session to be held at Gogebic Community College has been postponed. Please see below.]

CALUMET — Highland Copper Company Inc. and its subsidiary Keweenaw Copper Co. invite community members to the first of a series of community information sessions.

All sessions will be held from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

The purpose of these sessions will be to update the community on Highland Copper’s proposal to purchase the White Pine Mine as well as other current projects in the western Upper Peninsula.

After the presentation, community members will be encouraged to ask questions and complete a brief survey.

Here is the schedule of meetings:

  • Ontonagon High School – Cafeteria – Wednesday, Dec. 11
  • Gogebic Community College (Ironwood) – Solin Center, Room B21 – Thursday, Jan. 9 [Note new date.]
  • Calumet High School – Commons Area – Wednesday, Jan. 15
  • Houghton High School – Multipurpose Room – Thursday, Jan. 16

All information presented, in addition to schedules for future information sessions, will be available at Keweenaw Copper’s website, See also

Editor’s Notes: See also Keweenaw Now‘s Nov. 27, 2013, article, “Highland Copper Co. to acquire White Pine from Copper Range and continue Keweenaw mining exploration.” 

Highland Copper has also updated their corporate presentation. Click here for the December 2013 presentation with more details, maps, etc.

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Lake Effect Snow Warning for Houghton County
Posted: 12.05.2013 at 11:22 AM


The National Weather Service has issued a Lake Effect Snow Warning for Houghton County effective until 10 p.m. EST tonight. A very heavy band of lake effect snow will continue in the Houghton and Hancock areas this afternoon. Expect snow showers to become more widespread this evening as winds shift towards the northwest.

Strong winds reaching 45 MPH will create blowing and drifting snow which will create significant visibility and travel restrictions. Travel conditions within the warning area are expected to become very difficult, if not impossible, as snow rapidly accumulates over previously plowed roadways. Snowfall rates will exceed on inch per hour within the heavier snow bands. Total snow accumulations in near the Portage Canal area through Thursday could exceed 8”.

Elsewhere in the Keweenaw Peninsula, an additional 2-5” of new snow is possible. Travel will become difficult as a result of patchy blowing snow. However, road conditions will still be drivable.  Moderate lake effect snow will continue in the Keweenaw Peninsula through early Sunday. Total snowfall amounts could exceed two feet through the weekend.

Lows falling into the low teens along with winds to 35-45 MPH means wind chill readings will fall to near -15° through the overnight hours.

*A Lake Effect Snow Advisory remains in effect for Keweenaw County until 7 a.m. EST Sunday.

*A Lake Effect Snow Advisory will become effective for Houghton County from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. Sunday.

Weather spotter network wind reports for December 5, 2013:
Keweenaw Point, 59 MPH
Eagle Harbor, 49 MPH
Trowbridge Park 49 MPH
Laurium, 47 MPH

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North Woods Conservancy’s Save Keweenaw Beaches fundraiser underway now through Jan. 9

North Woods Conservancy’s Save Keweenaw Beaches fundraiser underway now through Jan. 9


North Woods Conservancy’s beach at Seven-Mile Point, on Lake Superior’s Keweenaw shoreline, is one of several properties the conservancy has purchased for public access and preservation. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

CALUMET — The North Woods Conservancy (NWC) is participating in the CrowdRise Holiday Challenge fundraiser in order to help save several Keweenaw beaches and natural areas NWC is hoping to protect for conservation and public access. It started at noon TODAY, Nov. 18, and runs through Jan. 9, 2014.

NWC is protecting $10 million worth of Lake Superior shoreline in the Keweenaw Peninsula — nearly two miles of bedrock, cobble, and sand beaches fronting about 1,000 acres. They need to raise $500,000 to complete the last purchase.  Help keep these incredibly scenic, biologically diverse, and ecologically significant areas open for public access and wildlife — including some of the best agate-picking in the state.

At the August 2013 Houghton County Fair, North Woods Conservancy’s Kate Griffith hosts the NWC information booth with photos of some of the Keweenaw natural areas the conservancy hopes to protect and keep open for public access in perpetuity. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

The goal of the fundraiser is to get 50,000 people to donate $10 each and raise $500,000.

This sounds like a lot, but here’s how it can work: 250 people will donate $10, each of those 250 then get 10 of their friends and family to donate $10, then each of those 10 people get 5 of their friends and family to donate, and finally each of those 5 people get 4 more to donate. So, 250x10x5x4 = 50,000 $10 donors = $500,000.

Clearly, it’s possible, but it requires 1) YOU to donate $10 and 2) YOU to get (at least) 10 of your friends to donate, and so on.

“The reason I think this can be successful is that it’s an easy ask — anybody can donate $10, one time,” says John Griffith, NWC president. “Plus with social media, everybody has an email/FB/Twitter list to easily contact to get the ‘next 10.'”

Click HERE to donate $10, and then get 10 of your family and friends to donate too by forwarding this link or pasting it on your social media page:

Donors can make their own CrowdRise page to forward to their contact list. It is not necessary to make your own page. You can just donate $10 and then forward the link to your family and friends, but it would be better if you did because then you can keep track and make sure that at least 10 of your contacts donate.

To create your own fundraising page, simply go to and click the FUNDRAISE FOR THIS CAMPAIGN button and you’ll instantly have your own fundraising page as a part of the Team. (Or click JOIN THE TEAM).

“It would be great if the first 250 folks to donate through the NWC fundraising page would each make their own fundraising page and get 10 friends to donate $10 each,” said NWC Board Member and Volunteer Treasurer Jane Griffith. “Alternatively, you don’t actually have to donate to make your own fundraising page, so you can do the fundraising without any money from your own pocket — just Join The Team  and create the page.”

There are prizes! The top team wins $100,000, 2nd place gets $40,000, and 3rd $20,000.  If NWC meets its goal, you have a good chance to win one of theses prizes. And the NWC is giving prizes too:  the top page gets an “In the Moment” print, 2nd place gets a week at the Conglomerate Falls cabin and 3rd place gets a weekend at the CF cabin.*

For more information visit or email

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Record November Snow in the Keweenaw: Nov 12, 1982

Record November Snow in the Keweenaw: Nov 12, 1982
Posted: 11.12.2013 at 4:35 PM
Karl Bohnak

Chief Meteorologist

Low pressure in eastern Colorado on Veteran’s Day 1982 moved northeastward into eastern Upper Michigan the next day.
Photo: 1 of 3

Track of the Low is All-important

The track of a low-pressure or storm system is critical in determining what type of precipitation will fall, especially in early season storms.  A perfect example of this fact is found in the system that moved into Upper Michigan November 12, 1982.  Low pressure moved through eastern Upper Michigan putting that area in the “warm sector” of the system. 

Low pressure developed in a familiar place for significant winter storms—Colorado—on November 11, 1982.  It then swung northeastward, passing over the eastern U.P. the next day (Images 1 above). Heavy precipitation occurred, with daily-record amounts at Ontonagon, Ironwood, Houghton, Iron Mountain and Munising.  Warm air brought up ahead of the low made for all rain in Munising (1.65”) and mostly rain in Iron Mountain (1.03”).  Farther west in the cold sector, heavy, wet snow fell to the tune of 10 inches at Ironwood and Ontonagon.  The snow had a water-equivalent of 1.50 inches in Ontonagon—a very wet snow.  The Houghton-Hancock area hit the jackpot with a daily-record 17-inch fall.  This mark was by far the heaviest calendar-day snowfall in the month of November.  The National Weather Service near Negaunee was right on the dividing line between rain and snow receiving 1.24 inches of water equivalent with an undoubtedly sloppy 7.2 inches of snow. 

We have the potential for a system similar to this late in the weekend into the first of next week.  This is a long way off in the weather world, but the European forecast model, a usually reliable model in the 4 to 7 day forecast period, has been advertising it for a couple of days.  Now, the American GFS model has jumped on board.  The European model has been bringing a low up from the southern Plains with a variable track.  A couple of runs have brought it up to the south and east of us (which would mean snow or rain changing to snow) while today’s run brings it right over the Upper Peninsula (Image 2).  The GFS drives a low in this same time frame from Colorado and Kansas northeastward into southern Wisconsin and then the northern Lower Peninsula (Image 3).  This track would support a rain changing to snow scenario over at least the western and central Upper Peninsula. 

It does appear that a low will head up from the southwest, but track and intensity are certainly up in the air at this time frame.  One thing I will say is that if it turns out to be a strong system, then it will likely wind up and take the left hand turn toward the cold air to our west.  This scenario would bring a snowstorm to Minnesota and a cold fall rain to Upper Michigan.

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Ancient Copper Spear Point in Special Exhibit at A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum

Ancient Copper Spear Point in Special Exhibit at A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum

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Last Modified 4:12 PM, November 12, 2013


By Dennis Walikainen

spear point

Found by chance, this is a 4,000- to 6,000-year-old Native American artifact.

November 12, 2013—

Two years ago, while wading in Portage Lake, Bobbie Dalquist found an ancient copper spear point partially buried in shallow water. As it turned out, Michigan Tech’s manager of accounting information systems had stumbled upon a 4,000- to 6,000-year-old native artifact that was well preserved and in nearly useable condition.

It will be displayed at the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum, on the campus of Michigan Technological University, through summer 2014, except between Dec. 12 and 16, adjacent to the museum’s exhibit on the history of copper.

Native Americans who lived on the Keweenaw Peninsula long before the arrival of Europeans used the unique native copper of the region to fashion tools, weapons and jewelry.

“Because of its direct connection with the history of human use of the Keweenaw’s greatest treasure—native copper—the spear point is worthy of exhibit in the museum,” says Chris Stefano, associate curator. “This special exhibit is also consistent with the museum’s status as a Keweenaw Heritage Site of the Keweenaw National Historical Park. The museum is grateful that Bobbie Dalquist is willing to share her find with the general public.”

The spear point was also featured on Michigan’s Archaeology Day 2013 poster and exhibited in East Lansing by the State Historic Preservation Office.

The A. E. Seaman Museum’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., until Dec. 21. The museum is closed for the holidays and reopens Jan. 13. For more information, or 487-2572.

Michigan Technological University ( is a leading public research university developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.

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State lawmakers defend U.P. parks

State lawmakers defend U.P. parks

Oklahoma senator singles out Isle Royale, Keweenaw Historical parks as examples of ‘wasteful spending’

November 3, 2013
By JOHN PEPIN – Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE – Michigan lawmakers are defending the state’s national parks in the wake of a report released by an Oklahoma senator criticizing Isle Royale National Park and the Keweenaw National Historical Park among places where spending is misplaced and costly.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, recently issued his 208-page report, “Parked! How Congress’ Misplaced Priorities Are Trashing Our National Treasures.”

In a news release, Coburn said the report “documents how members of Congress have used the park service to advance parochial interests while ignoring billions in maintenance backlog at our nation’s most prized national parks, and outlines areas of low priority and wasteful spending by the park service.”

Article Photos

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