MARQUETTE – Local grassroots environmental group, Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has secured an independent “red-flag review” of Aquila Resources mining permit application for the proposed Back Forty project. The technical review, completed by Dr. Kendra Zamzow (Ph.D., Environmental Geochemistry) and Dr. David Chambers (Ph.D., Geophysics) of the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2), outlines significant concerns and recommendations related to Aquila’s proposal for an open-pit sulfide mine on the banks of the Menominee River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. CSP2 analyzes mining applications for the sake of increased public understanding of the complexities involved in mining projects. SWUP has forwarded this review, funded by Michigan-based Freshwater Future, to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).
Aquila Resources Inc. submitted a mining permit application for their proposed “Back Forty” project to the MDEQ in late November of 2015. Their 37,000 page application includes highly technical information regarding rock chemistry, acid rock drainage (ARD), milling, tailings waste, environmental impacts, and more. Prior to securing independent, expert analysis from CSP2, SWUP provided extensive written comment to the MDEQ.
“We’ve already requested that Michigan reject this mining permit application as fraudulent. Why is the Michigan DEQ still seriously considering this permit? Given all the errors, critical omissions, and misleading statements about the mine’s life, this permit application should be rejected. It’s that simple,” said Kathleen Heideman, Save the Wild U.P. president. SWUP, along with hundreds of concerned citizens, also called on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to deny Aquila’s requested land swap, since the open pit mine and tailings would be built on what is currently public land.
The new report from CSP2 flags serious omissions and miscalculations, and includes specific recommendations and technical actions regarding Aquila’s plans for Water Management, Tailings & Waste Rock Management Facilities, Pit Backfill Metal Leaching, Water Treatment Post Closure, Financial Assurance, and other topics. For example, according to the report:
- “Monitoring wells need to be placed to ensure the tailings facility embankment is not contributing acid or metal leaching to groundwater.”
- “Given the potential for antimony, selenium, and arsenic to mobilize under neutral conditions, monitoring will need to occur at the TWRMF leachate sumps and at monitoring wells on and around the backfilled pit until hydrology and chemistry have stabilized.”
- “The TWRMF (tailings waste rock management facility) cap is designed to reduce infiltration, but given the extremely acidic nature of the material that will be enclosed, the cost of a WTP (water treatment plant) should be included in financial assurance for at least the 20 year post closure monitoring period.”
- “When reviewing the indirect and direct cost estimates for the Back Forty financial assurance, it is obvious that it has been significantly underestimated, especially with regard to the indirect cost calculations(…) the direct costs should be reviewed by a qualified party to correct assumptions that underestimate the cost of reclamation that would need to be conducted by a regulatory agency.”
- Dr. Zamzow also points out the erroneous comparison of Aquila’s closure plans to those of the much smaller Flambeau Mine, which had no tailings to deal with (ore was processed off-site) and left no waste rock on the surface. According to CSP2, detailed plans concerning alkaline amendment of tailings and the waste rock facility design was omitted from Aquila’s application.
In their letter to the MDEQ, Save the Wild U.P. requested that “the technical recommendations and questions raised in this report by Center for Science in Public Participation be incorporated into the MDEQ’s permit review process, and added to the Public Comment record for this permit application.”
“This review from the Center for Science in Public Participation – well known for their high quality technical analysis of mining applications – confirms our worst fears. Aquila’s permit application was incomplete at best, fraudulent at worst,” said Heideman. “Honestly, the Back Forty mining permit application reads like a bad cut-and-paste job. MDEQ should view this as a Red Alert.”
While CSP2’s review offers recommendations and actions that could remedy some of the technical deficiencies and glaring omissions in Aquila’s permit application, underlying, serious concerns cannot be resolved. As SWUP’s Executive Director Alexandra Maxwell points out, “The facts remain unchanged: this mine would destroy cultural and natural resources of the Menominee people, and it threatens the Shakey Lakes savanna, a globally unique habitat. The U.P.’s largest river is no place for an open-pit sulfide mine.”
Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to preserving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup.