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Mining boom in Michigan: economic boost or environmental nuisance?

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Meanwhile, Orvana Minerals Corp., a Canadian mining company based in Toronto, is close to final approval for a copper mine expected to create hundreds of jobs in the sparsely populated western Upper Peninsula. Next in line, Aquila Resources Inc. and HudBay Minerals Inc. plan to apply for a permit later this year to mine zinc, gold, and silver at a small, open-pit mine along the Menominee River called the Back Forty Project.

There could be more. Mining companies have been busy prospecting for new deposits, crisscrossing the Upper Peninsula by plane and helicopter, drilling exploratory holes, leasing land, and buying up mineral rights. They've revisited old mines to see if new technology might make it profitable to reopen them.

"It's like flies to honey," says Theodore Bornhorst, professor of economic and engineering geology at Michigan Technological University in Houghton. "It's got a lot of people interested."

The prospect of jobs has also excited the hopes of residents. "It's a no-brainer for most people," says Amy Clickner, head of the Lake Superior Community Partnership, an economic development corporation in Marquette, Mich. "We do have a culture used to mining here. And the people who live up here do have to have jobs."

At the same time, many residents worry that new mining could damage the environment and threaten the natural abundance that they enjoy as hunters and anglers.

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