UPPER PENINSULA, Mich. (WJMN) — Opposition was heard at a public hearing held by the DNR for what could be the first step toward a new nickel mine in the Upper Peninsula.

The hearing concerned Talon Metals’ application for mineral leases on over 23,000 acres within Baraga, Houghton, Iron, and Marquette counties. Like the eagle mine, mining company Talon Metals hopes to find enough nickel here to justify setting up shop.

Talon Michigan, connected both to Talon Metals in Minnesota and global mining giant Rio Tinto, has applied to lease exclusive mineral rights for over 23,000 acres in four counties. If granted, that lease would add to its existing 400,000 acres of land it owns between L’anse and Marquette.

The leader of the DNR’s Mineral Management Division Matt Fry explains the current situation:

“With a direct lease like this one is you have a company that’s interested in entering into a mineral lease, they’ve decided that through whatever research they’ve done that there’s potential for mineral mineral extraction in an area. So as we’ve gone through, we’ve had the classification process.”

Fry continues, “now we’re on to the next part where we, maybe we missed something. I mean, [DNR field employees] are experts, but everybody can overlook something. So that’s the intent behind the public review process that we’re going through right now, with the public hearing as a component of that. The current request, at least the minerals, we’ve said this time and time again, it does not include authorization to do any exploration activity, or to develop a mine.”

Fry said earnings from mineral leases go into an endowment for the state parks. While it isn’t clear how much money could be brought in from the potential deal with Talon Metals, the statewide practice brought in about $37,000,000 in 2022.

As for the public, both local residents and people who live near Talon Metals’ current operation in Minnesota expressed strong opposition to opening the door to more mining.

Shanai Matteson is one of those Minnesota residents. She says she lives about 20 miles from where talon has proposed a nickel mine in Tamarack. Matteson organizes for Honor the Earth, and is a member of the Tamarack Water Alliance—both of which advocate for the environment. She says though environmental studies and public hearings are happening, the federal government has given tens of millions of dollars to Talon before the studies have been completed.

“We don’t even know if the mine in Tamarack, Minnesota is going to be safe enough to receive the permits. And yet the federal administration is giving the money to build the processing facility for that mind. And so you know what, what that looks like to me and to others on the ground is that this is a sort of sham process. Like we are being told that there’s a public process that will review whether this is a safe mine in our community and yet we have them being funded ahead of that process,” Matteson said.

Kathleen Heideman is a Michigan resident living near Marquette who is also opposed to the mine. Heideman is a long-time advocate with the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition. She says while mining provides some jobs, residents of the U.P. may also be left with the true cost of the operation. “The people who are going to benefit are not here in the U.P., they may not even be in the U.S., but the people who will bear the consequences of any environmental degradation are here.”

Heideman added, “we have what other places used to have and lost… and that’s what the U.P. is going to be known for, it already is. I think it’s short sighted to get rid of all those potential high values which are long lasting negative consequences for short term profit.”

Right now both Eagle Mine and Humboldt Mill are in compliance with environmental regulations but have several anomalies being tracked, according to the Community Environmental Monitoring Program. “Over time [mining companies] have gotten better, more efficient and more environmentally conscious. If we look at Eagle Mine, there are a lot of strides from—you think back in the heyday, when the mining boom was in the U.P., previously,” Fry said. “Eagle Mine is a very well run outward operation, and I think that represents what could happen in the case of a Talon mine in the U.P.”

Another concern at the forefront of opposition was the importance of consulting with local Native American communities about potential encroachment onto culturally significant land. On that point Fry said the DNR plans to communicate with local tribes, and that an archeological survey is required before land can be broken.

The DNR expects to make a preliminary decision on Talon Metals’ mineral lease application as early as Nov. 7, and a final decision could come by Jan. 1 of 2024. Talon Metals must also secure a permit from EGLE before any exploratory drilling could begin. An augmented version of the public hearing is expected to be posted soon at michigan.gov/minerals.