Aquila Representative Faces Criticism at Public Meeting

by Gabriel Caplett

December 15, 2008

Menominee, Michigan – Canadian junior mining exploration company, Aquila Resources, hosted a public information meeting at the VFW Hall, Monday, to present its opinion on a controversial topic: acid rock drainage. The company has been exploring its Back Forty Project under intense opposition from local residents and elected officials. The company recently sold its Humboldt Mill facility to Kennecott-Rio Tinto. The company also supplied Kennecott with state mineral leases for its proposed Eagle Project mine over a decade ago.

Aquila hosted “guest speaker” Al Trippel, an environmental consultant with Environmental Resources Management (ERM), based out of London, England. Trippel acted as the mining company’s representative throughout Michigan’s “Part 632” statute and rules process that crafted legislation regulating the metallic sulfide mining industry. Trippel is currently on Aquila’s payroll, conducting baseline environmental studies necessary prior to submitting a mine application.

Aquila’s advertisement for the presentation, in the Menominee County Journal, noted that the meeting was being held “in response to public requests for unbiased, educational, fact-driven information from an expert.”

Teresa Bertossi, Marquette County resident and part-time employee at Save the Wild UP, claimed that publicity surrounding the event showed a lack of “integrity” at Aquila. According to Bertossi, the advertisement did not disclose that Trippel works for the mining company and, in order to be truly unbiased, the company should “have brought in a university professor or a scientist that does not work for Aquila” to present information.

“I think all of us are biased”, responded Trippel. “I think all of us have a perspective and bias that may have to do with…who we work for.” Trippel insisted, “The work that I do is unbiased.”

According to Trippel, the presentation was intended to introduce local residents to the basics of acid rock drainage and how it can be prevented from occurring in a mining operation. Trippel listed both mining projects that have generated significant acid runoff as well as mines that he considers to have operated without significant acid drainage problems. “Mining’s legacy is both good and bad,” said Trippel. “There’s very definitely bad mining legacy from historic mining operations and, in some cases, from current ones.”

Trippel explained that acid drainage only occurs when three substances come into contact: sulfides, water and air. Removing one or more of these ingredients precludes the possibility for acid generation. According to Trippel, a mining operation can avoid acid mine drainage problems by preventing sulfide ore from contacting groundwater and surface water through the use of liner systems and water treatment facilities. If the problem cannot be contained, a company can “minimize the amount of acid rock drainage that would be created,” “minimize its potential to seep into the ground” or clean up the mess “if the designs intended to avoid and minimize the impact weren’t good.”

In response, one local resident commented that Trippel brought up “some pretty big ‘ifs’.”

Acid rock drainage commonly occurs at mining operations that encounter certain sulfide deposits, primarily those containing iron pyrite which, when it contacts air and water, forms sulfate. Recently, the government of Norway, one of mining giant Rio Tinto’s largest shareholders, divested its $890 million stake in the company, citing major concerns regarding extensive acid mine drainage at the company’s Grasberg Mine, in West Papua. In explaining its controversial move, Norway’s Council on Ethic’s referred to acid mine drainage as “one of the most serious mining-related environmental problems across the world.”

Trippel introduced Kennecott-Rio Tinto’s Flambeau Mine, in Rusk County Wisconsin, as an example of a successful metallic sulfide mine that has not created acid drainage. According to company documents, elevated levels of iron, manganese and copper in groundwater flowing into the Flambeau River are expected to occur, above baseline levels, for at least another 4,000 years. Levels of sulfates are expected to continue for over 3,000 years.

Bertossi took issue with hailing Flambeau as a successful operation. Kennecott-Rio Tinto and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources data “show that there is acid rock drainage as well as high copper levels and high manganese levels,” said Bertossi. “But it’s under the mine site and, based on the statute in Wisconsin, they can pollute groundwater beneath the mine to any limit.”

Lake Township supervisor, Bob Desjarlais, commented that the majority of Trippel’s list of “good” mines began operations in the 1800s when there was very little enforcement of mining operations. “These mines must have been rather low in sulfides that if you consider them to be fairly good mines that they could be open in the 1880s and 1927, I mean long before EPA regulations came out on acid rock drainage,” said Desjarlais. “So, how can we say these are significant mines without significant acid rock drainage when they probably didn’t have any to begin with.”

Trippel maintained that the intent of his presentation was not to compare his listed mines that he considered successful with either the Kennecott-Rio Tinto’s Eagle Project or the Back Forty project.

Trippel also introduced the White Pine Mine as an example of a deposit containing high sulfides that was mined without creating reported acid mine drainage. However, according to sources familiar with operations at White Pine, acid mine drainage was never expected to occur at the facility because the ore was located in a copper sulfide deposit and was surrounded by natural calcium-containing buffering agents. Orvana Minerals Vice President of Corporate Development, Bill Williams, recently told the Marquette Mining Journal that ore found within the White Pine deposit is classified, under Michigan law, as “nonreactive.” According to Williams, Orvana has found “no obvious indications” that the deposit contains iron pyrite, which could cause acid drainage.

Aquila’s Back Forty Project consists of a “massive sulfide” gold-zinc deposit near the Menominee River, outside of Stephenson, Michigan. The ore body extends under the river, which is shared with neighboring Wisconsin, possibly introducing purview under that state’s metallic mining requirements, which are more stringent than Michigan’s.

The company plans to use a cyanide leaching process to extract gold from the deposit.

Aquila’s stock is currently worth less than one US dime, per share [as of this writing], and the company is looking to form a joint-venture partnership with a larger mining firm in order to extract and process the ore. According to Aquila President, CEO and Director Tom Quigley, the company will be “looking at a variety of partnerships” if Aquila lacks access to sufficient capital. The company projects a total cost of between 120 and 140 million dollars needed to open the mine.

Quigley said that Aquila has solicited a resource assessment from Toronto-based SRK Consultants and will announce the results by early January. Aquila has been pursuing a preliminary economic assessment and expects Trippel’s baseline environmental studies to be finalized in time for the company to submit a mining application by late 2009. Aquila has also been relocating its drill cores from a field office, in Daggett, to a new building south of Carney.

According to Quigley, the economic downturn is “something that could potentially impact our progress and development” and Aquila may have to layoff staff and postpone some “development activities.” According to some local citizens, the company has already layed-off its lead geologist.

8 thoughts on “Aquila Representative Faces Criticism at Public Meeting

  1. Aquila resources says one thing, and does another. I think it would be a disaster if they put a mine in along the Menominee River. I feel terrible for the people who have made their homes on this beautiful river. They are the ones who will suffer most.
    Thank you,

  2. I find it strange that unemployed people are fighting a company trying to bring jobs to the vastly unemployed UP.

    Most of the students involved won’t stay in the UP and will leave to find JOBS elsewhere once they graduate.

    Mines can and have been built that operate safely. We need jobs. We don’t need to listen to do-gooder 20-nothings that are just rebels searching for a cause.

    They won’t be her in the long run, we will! Build the mine, employ the good people of the UP !!!!!!!!!

  3. Dear Simone Legree,

    Given your statements, I am assuming you are one of those unemployed UP residents. I see your point that the UP needs jobs, but I disagree that metallic sulfide mining is the way to create those jobs. The Eagle Mine would create only a few hundred temporary “construction type” jobs and last only a decade or two. This is not a long term economic investment for the UP. Most of the real profits from the mine wouldn’t stay in Michigan, that money would go straight into the pockets of Rio Tinto. I am not a strict anti-mining tree-hugger, and am in full support of mineral extraction that is done responsibly and that financially fuels the local economy. Unfortunately, metallic sulfide mining is not one of those responsible practices and has never been executed without polluting its watershed. I respect the long mining heritage of the UP and encourage its residents to push for resource development that focuses on its sustainability before its profitability.

    I may be a “do-gooder 20-nothing”, but I do have a vested interest in the UP, and further more to the Great Lakes. The risk of polluting the greatest fresh water resource in the world is to great to be considered economically viable. Most of the people involved in the anti sulfide mining movement are not in fact college students, but lifelong UP residents and land owners, the Native American community, and environmentally minded university professors.

    I encourage you to read up on the history of Metallic Sulfide Mining and the effects it has on the communities that it is bringing all those jobs to. At first I was skeptical of this movement as well but have found it to be something more than just a cause for all us youthful rebels.

    I have found that the UP is vastly rich in extremely valuable resources. Its pristine lakes, rivers, and trails do more to employ people in the tourism industry than sulfide mining could ever hope to.

    I hope the UP’s residents realize this in time.

    Travis Kidd

    NMU Ecology major, Anthropology minor

  4. How did the tourism go for all those businesses? Gas was over $4/gal…my parents only came to visit once, instead of the planned 4-5 times. My wife’s parents didn’t even come up (retired – fixed income). Now the economic mess will keep them away longer.

    Before I get torn apart in the next post, I support mining. I also hold a dgree in geology with a minor in environmental science. I am out of college and in the real world…yet still in my twenties.

  5. Dave,

    It is true that economies based on tourism can be somewhat unreliable. I am from a small town in Northeast Lower Michigan about a 5th the size of Marquette. We rely heavily on summer tourism and the town has had a lot of trouble for the past few years dealing with increased travel costs and a crumbling global economy. But don’t deceive yourself that a mining industry is impenetrable to these forces. The price of metals has dropped so much recently that there was rumor that Kenecott and Rio Tinto might have to AXE many of their less profitable endeavors.

    Economic forces hold sway most any industry that a small town can invest in. The difference between a sulfide mine and tourism, is that when tourism falters during hard times, the resources it is based on don’t disappear. If the Eagle Project Mine were begun, then shut down due to financial collapse, it leaves a scar on the land, a potentially devastating source of pollution, and a possibly bankrupt corporation unable to fulfill its obligations to manage that pollution. Not to mention, Kenecott’s plan is to harvest only the richest of the ore in the body, leaving the rest of the valuable minerals inaccessible. This is not responsible resource management. The UP should hold its cards close to its chest on this one and wait till they get an offer that would responsibly develop those resources in a safe sustainable way.

    Thus ends this chapter of “do-gooder twenty-nothing” ranting.

  6. As a person born in Daggett, raised in Stephenson, and am conservative in philosophy, I am very skeptical of the “economic benefits” except for Aquila Mining. This could destory the following:
    recreation: Deteriation of Shaky Lakes Park,
    almost permanent damage to groundwater ruining the agricultue business in Menominee County, greater damage to tourism and recreational fishing in the Menominee Rivcer.
    Potential polution of Lake Michigan. Damage to groundwater and wells in Lake Township and Wisconsin properties bordering the Menominee River.

  7. shakey lake is already messed up ur lucky if u catch a 7in perch the only fish that r clean of parasites and or worms r the crappie. There are no clean fish to eat anymore due to poor management.

  8. Great comments everyone, I live far away in Hawaii, but I was doing some research and found this post, we too have problems with growth, tourism, industry etc.

    I think these problems are everywhere and the hard part is finding balance.