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Mining boom in Michigan: economic boost or environmental nuisance?

Demand for metals on the world market is prompting a mining boom in Michigan's rural Upper Peninsula, where jobs are scarce. But possible environmental damage to forests, lakes, and rivers alarms some locals.

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A December 2011 photo from the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. shows the entrance (large metal tube) to the nickel and copper mine the company began drilling in Michigan in September.

Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co./AP/File

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Jeff TenEyck was glad to come home last year. He had left Michigan for a small trucking business in South Carolina but returned to work at a new mine just outside Big Bay, the little mill town where he grew up.

"This is the biggest shot in the arm for the economy here since Henry Ford was here," says Mr. TenEyck, whose grandfather worked in a lumber mill that Ford bought in 1943.

Driven by a worldwide surge in demand for metals, mining is on the rebound in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, bringing the hope of jobs to remote and economically depressed rural communities. A dozen miles south of Big Bay, London-based mining giant Rio Tinto PLC and its subsidiary, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co., are digging a shaft beneath a pine-covered flat called the Yellow Dog Plains. They plan to begin extracting nickel and copper early next year. Rio Tinto says the Eagle Mine will be the largest nickel mine in the country and will create as many as 700 new jobs.

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