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Judge Refuses To Stop Work On Mich. Nickel Mine

JOHN FLESHER

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) â¿¿ A federal judge has refused a private outdoor sporting club's plea to halt construction of a nickel and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, saying the group failed to convince him that its lawsuit challenging the mine would be successful.

The Huron Mountain Club is suing to block the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine, claiming the company didn't get federal permits that should have been required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The exclusive club, which owns about 19,000 acres of forestland in Marquette County near Lake Superior, including an 11-mile stretch of the Salmon Trout River, claims the mine will damage the river and nearby wetlands.

But in a ruling Wednesday, Judge Robert Holmes Bell said the lawsuit hasn't shown that the Corps was legally obligated to require the permits, and he rejected the club's request to stop construction before trial. Bell said such a stop-work order would be appropriate only if the lawsuit had a high likelihood of succeeding.

State regulators and company officials have said the mine can be operated safely. Drilling has begun and mineral production is expected to begin in 2014.

The club filed the lawsuit in May. No trial date has been set.

Nolan Knight, attorney for club, said his team was studying the judge's decision. "We haven't ruled anything out, no final decisions as to what our next step will be," he said.

The mine, whose name was recently changed from Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co., is owned by London-based Rio Tinto PLC. A spokeswoman for Rio Tinto Eagle said the company had no comment on Bell's ruling.

The company has won a series of legal victories since the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved its mining permit application in 2007. Rio Tinto Eagle is targeting about 230 million pounds of nickel and a similar volume of copper, according to court documents. The mine would be located in the isolated Yellow Dog Plains region of Marquette County.

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