MDNR issues use permit to Copperwood for drilling

WAKEFIELD TOWNSHIP —  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has issued a use permit to Copperwood Resources Inc., a subsidiary of Highland Copper, to resume winter exploration of a one-mile section of the westernmost portion of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The Gogebic County work will determine if the eastern extension of a mineral deposit first explored in the 1950s might feasibly be mined, enlarging the mining company’s Copperwood Project beyond its currently permitted boundaries. Drilling and testing will determine hydrologic and geologic composition of the bedrock beneath the surface. Work on the sites is scheduled to be completed over the next month and a half. “This use permit will allow Copperwood Resources to resume work begun last winter at the park,” said Doug Rich, western U.P. district supervisor for the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division, “however this winter’s exploration will be scaled back from the mining company’s original plans.” The mining company is expected to drill three test holes on DNR-managed state park land west of Gogebic County Road 519 in Wakefield Township. Copperwood Resources will be required to obtain wetlands permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality before work on two of the sites on park land can begin. Steve Casey, Upper Peninsula district coordinator for the DEQ’s Water Resources Division, said, “DEQ staff is processing the application and will monitor all aspects of compliance with environmental laws if this project proceeds, including working with Gogebic County to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to control soil erosion.” The three drill sites were among 12 expected to be explored last winter, however, after completing four test holes, work was interrupted with the arrival of unseasonably warm February weather. DNR permit provisions dictated work could only be done when the ground was frozen, preferably with at least a foot of snow cover. “Conditions of the DNR use permit will again require several important provisions be followed to prevent or reduce surface disturbance to park lands,” said John Pepin, MDNR deputy public information officer. “This exploration effort will not be occurring in the wilderness section of the park, but in an area where several historic impacts have occurred, including logging and a narrow-gauge railroad.” Other protective provisions include using existing roads to access sites when possible, using tracked vehicles and removing all drilling mud from work sites. The DNR will receive daily updates on the project. Once the three sites are completed within the park, Copperwood Resources does not plan to drill the remaining five sites from its initial Section 5 exploration plan. Additional activity Outside DNR-managed park lands, some additional drilling work is scheduled to be completed this winter. Two test holes will be drilled from Copperwood Resources lands located west of the park. The Gogebic County Road Commission recently issued a permit to allow Copperwood to finish work at three sites begun last winter. The exploration is occurring within a strip of road commission property — a 466-foot right-of-way — along either side of CR 519, which bisects Section 5. Last spring, some erosion damage occurred in the right-of-way when the mining company used a former snowmobile trail that parallels CR 519 to access sites. “This winter, we will be reaching sites directly from CR 519 to help protect sensitive areas,” said Justin van der Toorn, exploration manager of Copperwood Resources Inc. “We are taking other measures, including drilling smaller diameter test holes, that will speed the exploration process.”