Into the Mines

Fellows check out the inside of a reclamation chamber at the Eagle Mine in Marquette Mich., where miners go in case of safety hazards.

Staring into a white-hot, 1,000-degree furnace gave me a moment of recognition.

I was peering into an enormous kiln at the Tilden plant in Marquette, Mich., a huge rotating machine that’s just a small part of the 20,000-acre mine, watching as iron ore became steel. It was just weeks ago on an assignment for Door County Living that I saw the same process take place in a carport in Southern Door, in a handmade clay kiln.

I’m currently a fellow on the Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources’s Mining Country Institute, on a bus with almost 20 journalists traveling around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin. Yesterday, we donned hard hats and steel-toed boots to travel below the earth in Eagle Mine, and again to look over the mile-long, mile-wide, 1,200-foot deep Empire mine.

I know Door County isn’t mining country. We don’t have the huge pits dug in the earth or the jobs that come with the industry. We don’t even sit on Lake Superior, the body of water potentially affected by the resurgence of the industry.

But we have other natural resources. The more time I spend following environmental news stories of every kind, the more it becomes clear that the discussion is often the same. How do you fairly weigh the economic benefits of industry against the environmental scars it leaves?

Lundin, the company that owns Eagle Mine, may have found a way. It partners with Superior Watershed Partnership, a regional environmental nonprofit, and pays them to be third-party monitors and make sure the mine isn’t hurting the environment. And so far SWP has remained a true watchdog – in October 2012 they went public when they found uranium near the mine exploration site.

The partnership was born out of community concern. People wanted a guarantee Eagle Mine wouldn’t hurt the environment, and they trust SWP to be the watchdog.

That kind of partnership between industry and environmental watchdogs, however contentious, has potential. It could be a model used by more third-party scientists, concerned communities and industries.

Learn more about the partnership at