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Essay by Eric Hansen
June 12, 2005 edition of
Sunday Chicago Tribune

Sulfide Mining and Sulfuric Acid Mine Drainage
in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

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This page contains basic information about the proposed Kennecott sulfide mine in the U.P. News on this changes daily, and we urge readers to visit the Save the Wild UP website for the latest in government decisions and what you can still do to make your voice heard and make a difference.

The DEQ is holding public hearings on the Kennecott Permit Application, and time is of the essence! For more information, including hearing dates and locations, or details on how to submit a written comment, please see

The mining application admits that it will discharge polluted water to aquifers; the mine will emit at least 20 tons of pollution into the air each year, which will end up in surface and ground water. According to National Wildlife Federation, our "new mining law and regulations require that the DEQ reject any sulfide mining request unless the mining applicant demonstrates clearly that it will not 'pollute, impair or destroy' land, air, water, or groundwater." Identified risks include:

  • collapse of the roof of the mine, which lies directly beneath the Salmon Trout River.
  • acid mine drainage (see information on Sulfuric Acid Mine Drainage below)
  • air pollution from a 50-foot tall stack (annually "at least 20 tons of dust containing sulfides and metals")
  • loud noise levels from mining and rock crushing at the site
  • 80 ore truck trips a day impacting the region's roads (including spreading acid dust on roadsides)

Public hearings are scheduled Sept. 10-19 (in Marquette, the old K.I. Sawyer AFB, and Lansing -- please check the above link for details. Written comments are accepted until October 17. Please let your voice be heard -- NOW IS THE TIME!

Information Previously Posted on This Page:

January 9, 2007

Information on the MDEQ's PROPOSED DECISION on the Kennecott Permit Application

WHAT HAPPENED: The MDEQ issued a proposed approval of Kennecott's Part 632 Mining Permit Application.
The MDEQ also announced the date for the public hearings in Marquette [now cancelled]. They are scheduled for:

Northern Michigan University
in the Michigan and Huron Rooms of the University Center
March 6, 7 and 8th, 2007
from 1pm-10pm each day

These public hearings will cover ALL of the following:

1) DEQ Air Use Permit,
2) DEQ draft Groundwater Discharge Permit and
3) DEQ proposed decision to grant the Mining Permit,
4) DNR draft Surface Lease and
5) DNR draft Reclamation Plan.

Written Comments on this PROPOSED decision will be accepted from TODAY through April 5, 2007. [cancelled]


For full details click on links below:


As the MDEQ Director, Steven E. Chester stated in the press release: "As our decision today is itself a proposal, and not a final decision, we are again asking the public to provide their comments..."

The public has the opportunity to make their voice heard and influence the DEQ in their final decision on this PROPOSED project.

The hearings will cover five seperate permits that are required by the state for Kennecott's proposed project. Save The Wild UP will make every effort to have information on all these permits available on our website, If you have any specific questions, please contact us at


  • VOICE your disappointment with the MDEQ PROPOSED decision to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
  • SPEAK directly to the DEQ at the March meetings.
  • WRITE down your concerns and send them to the DEQ and the Governor by April 5, 2007.
  • TELL anyone you know who might be affected by this PROPOSED project, or future projects like it in Michigan in get involved.
  • DONATE your time, efforts or money to Save The Wild UP or any other coalition member organization.

Contact information:

Director Steven E. Wilson
MDEQ, Geological Survey
Minerals & Mapping Unit Supervisor
525 W. Allegan, P. O. Box 30256 Lansing, MI 48909-7756

Governor Jennifer M. Granholm
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909
PHONE: (517) 373-3400
PHONE: (517) 335-7858 - Constituent Services
FAX:(517) 335-6863

Our Coalition's Reaction to the PROPOSED Decision

DEQ disappoints with proposed mine approval
For Immediate Release
January 9, 2007


  • Cynthia Pryor, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, 906-360-2414
  • Michelle Halley, National Wildlife Federation, 906-361-0520
  • Dick Huey, Save the Wild UP, 906-249-9999

Failures in permit application overlooked by Governor's regulators

Despite a seriously flawed permit application and the wishes of thousands of residents, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality granted preliminary approval today to the Kennecott Minerals Co. plan to drill into sulfide rock below the Yellow Dog Plains in northwestern Marquette County.

The DEQ will now continue its technical review and, by law, will make a final decision following another public hearing and comment period. The issuance or final denial of the permit will determine whether the project moves forward.

A host of local groups, including the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Save the Wild UP, Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, and others who have been joined in recent months by statewide environmental groups in advocating for a proposed denial, say this proposed decision is wrong for Michigan.

Concerns about the economic stability of the area, the impact on tourism and recreation, human health risks, threat to water quality and environmental impact have united these organizations in their opposition to a type of mining that has a lengthy history of contamination. Since the project, if approved, would generate a small number of temporary jobs, many concerned citizens have said it's not worth the risk. They express concerns that, once the jobs are long gone, the people of Michigan will be left with the unfortunate legacy of sulfide mining.

In addition, concerns persist about the mining application itself, especially considering the fact that the DEQ itself pointed out 91 information gaps in the document and Kennecott failed to address nearly half of those items. Areas that have been of concern to local residents, like what will happen along transportation routes, have not been addressed by the company or regulators.

"The permit application is filled with ambiguous responses," said Michelle Halley, attorney for NWF. "Kennecott is expecting the people of Michigan to trust that they can operate a sulfide mine that will not contaminate the surrounding areas, but the track record of both Kennecott and sulfide mining is filled with contamination and inaccurate predictions," she added. The attorney referenced a recent study that found that faulty water quality predictions and regulatory failures result in the approval of mines that create significant water pollution problems at more than three quarters of mines studied.

"The DEQ and Governor Granholm have made a grave error in judgment with this proposed decision," added Halley. "This application is deficient and the operation would undeniably cause pollution. DEQ must step up their technical review and see this project for what it is: a sure polluter. Even the company has admitted that it will exceed Drinking Water standards."

Cynthia Pryor, executive director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and outspoken advocate on behalf of the region, voiced disagreement with the proposed decision. "It is astonishing that, with so many areas of Kennecott's permit application deficient, vague or downright absent, the Michigan DEQ has granted preliminary approval. Utilizing untested technology and with a spotty track record at best, Kennecott has sold the Michigan DEQ a bill of goods and the Michigan DEQ is apparently buying," said Pryor.

A series of public hearings are expected in coming months, when citizens will once again have an opportunity to address their concerns about the project and its impact on the U.P.'s economy, environmental and quality of life.

"People who care about Marquette County cannot sit on the fence any longer. The time to stop this mine and preserve the uniqueness of this area for future generations is now," said Pryor.

Paul Townsend, member and immediate past president of the Huron Mountain Club, also disagreed with the proposed decision. "Michigan's new law requires that the applicant for a mining permit has the burden of establishing that the mining operation will not pollute, impair or destroy the air, water or other natural resources. MDEQ's proposed decision cannot withstand scrutiny under that test."

Susan LaFernier, President of Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, also made a statement in response to the decision. "Our Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is very saddened by these actions. The Tribal Council has declared that the proposed mine deeply offends the traditional and cultural values of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. Water is a gift of life and is sacred. We do not feel that the environment (air, land, water) is being respected or honored as we have been taught."

Statements by these organizational leaders mirror public sentiments here in the Upper Peninsula, where hundred have attended public hearings and voiced concerns about the region's future.

An organized petition drive last fall garnered more than 10,000 signatures in opposition to the mine. Those petitions have since been presented to Governor Jennifer Granholm. Organizers are hoping that those who eagerly signed petitions will attend and express their opposition at the upcoming hearings.

Dick Huey, co-founder of a local grassroots group called Save the Wild UP, echoed those sentiments. "While we are frustrated by the MDEQ's inability to recognize the incredible risk represented by the proposed mine, we remind everyone that this is only a proposed acceptance. Together we must continue to send a message to Lansing that a few short-lived jobs aren't worth the risk to human health, our beautiful recreation areas, and the tourism industry so many have worked hard to build," he said.

Angela Nebel
Summit Public Relations Strategies

Sulfide Mining and Sulfuric Acid Mine Drainage
in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

New mining ventures in Michigan's Upper Peninsula could drastically alter the character and environmental health of this area. A Vancouver, Canada, company has bought mineral rights in Michigan U.P. counties and is exploring for Nickel/Copper/Gold/Zinc and other minerals. These minerals are imbedded in sulfide ores, and so a significant byproduct of this mining technology is sulfur, which forms sulfuric acid when it comes in contact with water. This sulfuric acid is also called Acid Mine Drainage, or AMD.

On its website (, the Environmental Mining Council of British Columbia quotes Bill Price and John Errington: "AMD is the mining industry's greatest environmental problem and its greatest liability, especially to our waterways. An acid-generating mine has the potential for long-term, devastating impacts on rivers, streams and aquatic life, becoming in effect a 'perpetual pollution machine.'"

Also from the Environmental Mining Council of British Columbia's website:

"The sulphide sulphur in the ore continually reacts with air and water to form sulphuric acid, which leaches out the heavy metals, especially copper."

"When the mining industry argues that new mining development is 'essential' to our way of life, it tends to understate the fact that we could and should achieve many of our metals needs through better re-use and recycling of existing metal products. When it comes to 'precious metals' such as gold and diamonds, the end use poses even more questions about justifications for the ecological costs exacted. Some 83 per cent of the 3,200 tonnes of gold refined throughout the world in 1996 was used for jewelry."

"Once it starts, AMD can effectively sterilize an entire water system for generations to come - turning it into a biological wasteland and a huge economic burden."

"While Acid Mine Drainage is not the only threat to waterways from mining, it is the biggest threat, because -- as one mining consultant explained -- 'the present state-of-the-art does not provide any universal solutions' for AMD."

Quote from Save the Wild UP Editorial:

"When exposed to air and water a chemical reaction starts that cannot be stopped and its product is often acid mine drainage: sulphuric acid, more familiar to most of us as battery acid. This is not a short-term problem. The ancient Romans had metallic sulfide mines that still leach sulphuric acid.

Once such a reaction starts it is difficult to keep this acid drainage out of the water. Acid mine drainage has already polluted more than 12,000 miles of rivers and streams in the U.S. When water becomes acidic it leaches out and disperses heavy metals into lakes and streams. Heavy metals are dangerous to health, wildlife, and the environment. There is more to be worried about here than "just" the coaster brook trout: when the insects and microscopic life in streams are affected it starts a chain of events that leads in unexpected and unpredictable directions affecting the fish, the birds, the predators -- and us."

Sulfide Mining Information from the Eagle Alliance


Many organizations and concerned citizens have voiced their opposition to sulfide mining in the Yellow Dog Plains area of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The Eagle Alliance (, a broad-based coalition, has kindly given their permission to quote from this literature.

All of the following information is quoted from Eagle Alliance's brochures and newsletters.


(Also called Hardrock Mining)

Sulfide mining is very different from the Iron Mining that occurs in the Negaunee/Ishpeming Tilden and Empire mines and in the Keweenaw Copper Mines. The mining that is proposed on the Yellow Dog Plains and in other areas in the western U.P., deals with minerals that are imbedded in sulfide ores. When these ores are extracted from hundreds of feet below the surface, they come in contact with air and water. This contact with air and water immediately starts a chemical reaction creating Sulfuric Acid or Acid Mine Drainage, also called Acid Rock Drainage (ARD). Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) pollutes and will kill fisheries and their habitat.

All waters dewatered from a mining operation must be treated in large holding ponds before re-introducing the water back into the environment. Millions of gallons of water must be treated and discharged somewhere. If these ponds flood and overflow -- Acid Mine Drainage is then introduced into the aquifer (the large porous substrate containing our ground waters).

Acid Mine Drainage effects are immediate and continue on long after a mining operation is over. Kennecott is #1 on the EPA's list for Highest Toxic Release in the United States ( [Scroll down this page for more information about Kennecott.]

A Kennecott mine in current operation called Green's Creek is located just outside of Juneau, Alaska. Green's Creek is the second biggest polluter in Alaska and is releasing heavy metals and acids that are contaminating the waters of Alaska's Inside Passage and polluting Admiralty Island National Monument which hosts the densest population of brown bear and nesting Bald Eagle in the world. (

Current levels of Sulfate, Manganese and Iron at the Flambeau Mine site [Kennecott's now closed Wisconsin mine] far exceed Wisconsin Ground Water Standards. (FMC Report, 2003). Acid Mine Drainage cannot be controlled with existing technology. Period.

For more information on Acid Mine Drainage:

Environmental Areas of Concern

The areas where there is the most intense exploration is located along our rivers and waterways.

On the Yellow Dog Plains, Kennecott is exploring to within 116 feet of the head waters of the Salmon Trout River. The Salmon Trout River is a pristine trout stream that hosts the last native coaster brook trout population on the south shore of Lake Superior. Sulfide mining on this waterway could prove disastrous due to the sensitive habitat requirements of the Coaster Brook Trout. Additionally, the exploration is taking place in one of the Midwest's most active aquifers. This aquifer supports the Salmon Trout, Yellow Dog, Huron, Dead and Mulligan river watersheds. Any Acid Mine Drainage impact to this aquifer directly affects all downstream fisheries and waters -- including Lake Independence by Big Bay and ultimately our cleanest and largest Great Lake -- Lake Superior.

“I think nothing short of an atomic bomb could change that area more than a mine.”
Fred Rydholm -- Author, Former Mayor of Marquette, Born and Raised in the U.P.


What does this mean to us?

It could mean that the U.P. may be entering into the biggest boom and bust period since the White Pine era. This would mean an infrastructure change that could change what the U.P. is forever. If these exploration ventures turn into mines they will need:

-- Developed paved roads where now we have undeveloped seasonal gravel roads
-- Massive power grids where now there is no power available
-- Railways for transporting ore -- where there is only our open wild country
-- Water taken from our lakes and streams
-- Waste/Tailing dumps in our woods and forests

Of the $17M the State of WI received at the Flambeau Mine, how many millions would it take to build and support this infrastructure in our remote wild areas of the U.P.?


What about Jobs and our Economy

These mines will not bring high paying jobs to the Upper Peninsula. These mining companies are not here to build a sustainable industry and are not here for the long haul.

Kennecott has stated that a mine on the Yellow Dog Plains would operate for 7-10 years and they would extract their high grade ores and be gone. The Flambeau Mine hired 40 local people in basic laborer jobs. All well-paid jobs were filled by bringing people in from other mining operations and from other states. Kennecott does not hire union workers and will not allow a union to operate at their mines. The only union force Kennecott has is at their Bingham Canyon Utah mine and that union is fighting Kennecott for their rights even as we speak. Talk to a United Steelworker union member.

If these mines are allowed to open, it will mean huge infrastructure changes to the Upper Peninsula. Power, roads, railways will need to be placed across some of the wildest country in the Midwest. When the mines leave and this infrastructure is left in place -- the open Commercial Forest (CFA) lands we are used to -- will probably be sold to private owners and they will start developing the area. When roads and power are available -- what happens? This is timber country. Already logging jobbers in the area have been told by Mead Paper Company that their roles will be changing in that neck of the woods. So, these folks look to lose their jobs as the area “grows and develops”.

Not only do we value this wild open country as our recreational/hunting/fishing area -- but so does the rest of the country. People come from miles around to enjoy our waters, wilderness and recreational opportunities. If our wild areas go -- so do the tourists, hikers, hunters and other sports folk. Canada will be their next best choice -- and ours too. So for a few labor jobs, communities in this area will lose the income from snowmobilers, hikers, bikers, timber, etc. Is this what we want to happen to our country where we live and play? The people of the Upper Peninsula live here for a reason. We want it to stay, as TV 6 says:

“Someplace Special”

Questions and Answers: The Economics of Mining

Q. Will this mine bring many jobs to our area?
A. No. Currently on a national level, a metallic mine employs an average of seventy people.
(“Economics of Mining” a NIOSH -- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health -- Publication #2003-131,

Q. Will local companies be involved?
A. The majority of the work Kennecott has had done so far has used non-local companies such as: Dynetec Drilling, Inc., from Utah;
Idea International Drilling from Minnesota; Bell Geospace, Inc., of Texas; and geologists from Canada and Arizona.

Q. Will jobs be available for Upper Peninsula residents?
A. Not necessarily. Kennecott just closed the Denton Rawhide Mine in Nevada and is transferring miners to their other mining operations in Alaska, Colorado and Wyoming. They could transfer here and fill any positions created. (Las Vegas Sun, January 21, 2002)

Q. What other factors are involved in hiring local people?
A. Fifteen percent of the Denton Rawhide Mill was owned by Kennecott and forty-nine percent by Dayton Mining. Seventy percent of Greens Creek Mine in Alaska is owned by Kennecott and thirty percent by Hecla Mining. Any other company involved in a local mine could bring its own skilled labor.

Q. Where would the Upper Peninsula's minerals be going then?
A. China, Mexico, India, Brazil, South Korea and East Asia. (CNN.COM/BUSINESS, April 17, 2003)

Q. Are there other economic problems with mining?
A. Mining is a boom-and-bust business. A well-known impact is rapid population increase with accompanying inflation due to job seekers coming to an area in seek of employment and its effect on commodities such as housing and land. This places a burden on social services and it especially affects residents on fixed incomes.

Q. How long have Kennecott's other mines remained in operation?
A. Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin lasted only four years, although it was supposed to remain operational for five; Kennecott pulled out early. Recently-closed Denton Rawhide Mine in Nevada lasted twelve years, Ridgeway Mine is South Carolina lasted eleven years, Greens Creek Mine in Alaska began in 1989, but closed from 1993 to 1996 due to low metal prices. The mine is still running with expected closure in 2006.

Q. During Kennecott's Flambeau Mine operation (1993-1997), what was the unemployment rate in their county?
A. The unemployment rate in Rusk County was one of the three highest in the state, and was unaffected by Kennecott's Flambeau Mine.

Q. What is the future metal mining job outlook per the U.S. Department of Labor? (U.S. Dept. of Labor,
A. Twenty percent decrease by 2010 due to low-priced imports and technology displacing workers.

Q. When a sulfide mine opens in a community, does the unemployment rate drop?
A. No. In Ladysmith, WI where Kennecott owned and operated the Flambeau Mine, unemployment rates were virtually unchanged during the period of mine operation.

Q. What financial and other problems could a mine bring?
A. The proposed area for a mine currently has no electricity or paved roads. It is an area for hunting, snowmobiling and other recreation. Hikers, bikers, sports enthusiasts, berry pickers, vacationers and tourists are drawn to the wilderness area. If Kennecott starts mining the area, all of this will change. Establishment of a mine will have a big impact on tourism, as it will destroy the appearance of the area and wildlife habitat. Costs could also include power line and other infrastructure maintenance and clean up, which will likely be passed on to the taxpayers of Marquette County and the State of Michigan.

Who and What is Kennecott?

Kennecott Mining and Exploration Company is located in Vancouver, Canada and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto, London, UK -- one of the largest mining companies in the world. Kennecott has been in contract with the State of Michigan since 1992 -- when Kennecott began leasing the mineral rights owned by the state in the Escanaba River State Forest on the Yellow Dog Plains. In 1994, Kennecott purchased 462,000 acres of mineral rights from Ford Motor Company. Today, they are in a Phase 4 of a five-phase exploration process at the Headwaters of the Salmon Trout River on the Yellow Dog Plains.

Kennecott now owns 462,000 acres of the mineral rights in Marquette and Baraga Counties alone. Kennecott leases 4,200 acres of mineral rights from the State of Michigan: leases 5,500 acres of mineral rights from private landowners; and owns 1,560 acres of surface and mineral rights outright -- all within the boundaries of the Escanaba River State Forest.

Kennecott owns and operates gold, diamond and copper mines throughout North America. Kennecott spokesmen say a mine opens on the Yellow Dog Plains would be the same scope and size of the Flambeau Mine at Ladysmith, WI. That mine was open for four years and netted Kennecott $750M dollars with $100M of that being in Gold. The mine generated a total of $17M in taxes, investments and donations for the State and local communities. (Tim Tynan--Mining Impact Coalition. ‘97)

What is Kennecott looking for?

While the mineral rights being leased are owned by the public, there is a clause of confidentiality between the State of Michigan and their lessees -- so we cannot obtain factual information from the State. Kennecott is saying they are looking for Nickel/Copper/Gold/Zinc and other base minerals on the Yellow Dog Plains.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other scientists have recently noted the potential for new Nickel/Copper Sulfide deposits in the Lake Superior Region. What this means is that the Upper Peninsula could potentially be the next great mining field of the nation. In the western states, where 40% of the groundwater is polluted by mining -- we could face the same with intense sulfide mining in the Lake Superior Basin.

Find out more about Yellow Dog Peridotite and our geology:


The Eagle Alliance has been formed in response to the sulfide mining exploration taking place in our watersheds and wild areas. The Eagle Alliance is a broad-based coalition of concerned citizens working to educate ourselves and others to the peril that the Upper Peninsula is in -- both environmentally and culturally. The Eagle Alliance provides public education regarding Sulfide Mining: seeks legislative change to protect our natural resources from Acid Mine Drainage (AMD); engages and leverages local, regional and state interests to protect Michigan's waters from AMD. The Eagle Alliance is working with groups in Wisconsin who have opposed Sulfide MIning ventures in their state for the last twenty years. It is the Eagle Alliance's goal to not only oppose these mines in the U.P. but to mirror the work of Wisconsin in the establishment of a State of Michigan Moratorium on Sulfide Mining. The Wisconsin Moratorium on Sulfide Mining was signed into being in 1997 as Wisconsin Act 171. This act would require that no mining company will be given a mining permit unless they can:

1. Prove that an existing mine has operated in a sulfide ore body for 10 years without polluting the groundwater and surface waters with Acid Mine Drainage at the tailings site or mine site -- or from the release of heavy metals.

2. Prove that a mining operation that operated in a sulfide ore body and has been closed for 10 years has not polluted the ground and surface waters with AMD and other heavy metals.

We ask you to join with us in opposing this most polluting of mines. Sulfide mining is an endangerment to our lakes and streams, our fisheries, our wild areas and our people. Pleas join the following who have stated their
Opposition to Sulfide Mining on the Yellow Dog Plains and in the State of Michigan:

Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Inc.
National Wildlife Federation
Sierra Club -- Local, State and Wisconsin
Northwoods Wilderness Recovery
Upper Peninsula Environmental Council (UPEC)

States their opposition to Sulfide MIning on the Yellow Dog Plains:
The Huron Mountain Club
Big Bay Sportsmans Club -- member MUCC

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community -- States their opposition to Sulfide MIning on their reservation, in their Ceded Territories and in the State of Michigan

The many professors and students of Northern Michigan University and Michigan Technical University who are working with us, especially:

Environmental Sciences Organization (ESO) -- NMU
Yellow Dog Student Group -- NMU

and the many, many concerned citizens in the communities
across the Upper Peninsula

With special thanks to Roscoe Churchill,
the lead goose against the Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, WI

What you Can Do

*See UPDATE at top of this web page --
sign the petition and
join the Aug. 14 solidarity march

1. Go to our website:

Get educated by reading up on:
--Acid Mine Drainage
--Sulfide Mining
--U.P. Geology and the Mid Continent Rift
--Kennecott, Rio Tinto and the other mining interests in the U.P.

2. Talk to your friends, neighbors and fellow workers

3. Write or call your government representatives:

Representative Steve Adamini 906-226-2543

Senator Mike Prusi
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536

U.S. Representative Bart Stupak
1410 Longworth Building, Washington, DC 20515
1-800-950-7371 or 202-225-4735

4. Write Governor Jennifer Granholm
State Capitol, Executive Office
P.O. Box 30013, Lansing, MI 48909

5. Contact township officials with your concerns


To Get Involved

1. We will hold monthly public forum meetings. Our website tells you when and where plus updates you on our activities.

2. Look for opportunities to volunteer your time and resources to the effort.

3. Help with funding by sending your contribution to

Eagle Alliance Mining Fund
Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve
P.O. Box 5
Big Bay, MI 49808

4. If you belong to any organization supporting this effort -- please send contributions to them and indicate it is to help fund Eagle Alliance.