SWUP’s Final Comments on Aquila Resources Mining Application

Save the Wild U.P., along with many regional environmental organizations and The Menominee Tribal government submitted extensive public comment on Aquila Resources mining application in February, 2016, including a red-flag review completed by the Center for Science in Public Participation. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) received thousands of comments on the dangers posed by an open-pit sulfide mine on the banks of the Menominee River; so many in fact, that they sent an extensive list of 197 questions to Aquila Resources requesting answers to issues surrounding financial assurances, water treatment plant design, potential harm to state and federally listed species of plants and animals, to name a few. Aquila responded to these questions, offering explanations and justifications of their original answers in the mining application, but no solutions to the significant issues raised by concerned citizens. Save the Wild U.P. had issue with the fact that the answers provided by Aquila resources were inadequate and that the mining application was never edited or revised to reflect the concerns raised by environmental organizations, Menominee Tribal leaders and the Center for Science in Public Participation, so we submitted further questions and concerns to the DEQ during the most recent public comment period.

Here is an example of some of SWUP’s most pressing concerns regarding the mining application, but you can read them in full by clicking here.

“Save the Wild U.P. strongly objects to the State’s proposed “decision to grant a Mining Permit” to the Aquila Back Forty project in the absence of a publicly reviewable Wetland Permit application—

  • The mine proposal conflicts with federal policy protecting wetlands. Based on a review of the draft Wetland Permit, now rescinded, this mining project will result in the direct destruction of regulated and unregulated wetlands, resulting in the impairment and degradation of surface and groundwater.
  • It would irreversibly harm a globally significant and state-endangered oak-pine savanna area.
  • It would harm endangered, threatened and special concern species, including sturgeon, mussels, the Northern Long-eared Bat, dwarf milkweed and the Pitcher’s thistle.
  • It is not in the public interest, would impair tribal resources, and would result in an uncalculated loss of ecological services.
  • Aquila Back Forty wetlands destruction and NPDES-related water quality impairments will have adverse impacts on freshwater fisheries, aquatic life, wildlife, human health and welfare, environmental justice and special aquatic sites.

We formally request that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality reject the Aquila Back Forty Mining Permit Application and EIA as misleading and inadequate. We ask that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reject the proposed land exchange of Escanaba State Forest lands for the Aquila Back Forty project. We further request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency veto and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deny any Section 404 permit that would allow Aquila Back Forty to degrade the Menominee River and the riparian corridor through industrial wastewater discharges and/or wetlands destruction.

We request specific responses to these comments, submitted November 3, 2016, and to the extensive written comments our organization originally submitted on February 16, 2016.”

2 thoughts on “SWUP’s Final Comments on Aquila Resources Mining Application

  1. Demonstrates there is an open Bias for Aquila and against persons not in favor of a Mine.

    Persons at the DEQ have proven a bias in favor of a mine and have purposely aided persons at Aquila Resources by ignoring certain parts of Part 632. They have violated DEQ and SOM policies pertaining to application of FOIA laws. In correspondence to Mr. Alvin Lam at the DEQ an email was sent to him which noted in the subject line that the questions I was asking were not part of any public Commentary. On his reply to me I was shocked to see persons from Aquila Resources copied. They were not copied on my email to him. When I asked why he copied them on his email he wrote: “I have copied the applicants on similar emails numerous times in the past.” After his reply yet I asked to be copied as Aquila on their similar correspondence and my request was denied. It is concerning that as a matter of “routine” the DEQ copied an opposing party regardless of my email stating: *Legal notice:* This message and any attachments are confidential and are to be read only by the persons to whom the email was sent. Mr. Lam said he would as a matter of courtesy stop copying Aquila Resources on my emails. I contend that Mr. Lams routine copying of Aquila resources on his emails to persons outside the DEQ isn’t a matter of courtesy but is in fact a matter of violating certain Michigan laws and SOM policies. It isn’t up to Mr. Lam to determine what is available via a FOIA request and preempt the process by copying Aquila Resources as a matter of routine. By doing so the DEQ has usurped the role and responsibility of the SOM “FOIA Coordinator” – The individual designated by a public body in accordance with Section 6 of Michigan’s FOIA (MCL 15.236) to accept and process requests for public records” And that “to ensure accurate and timely responses to FOIA requests, all FOIA requests must be sent to the FOIA Coordinator in the Office of Environmental Assistance (OEA), DEQ, for processing”, who after receiving a FOIA request and reviewing the scope of that request with qualified responsible parties, determines what does / doesn’t fall under a specific FOIA request. Certainly the DEQ has predetermined these permit applicants, including Aquila Resources, aren’t required to submit a FOIA request or pay the fees associated with a FOIA request?

    The DEQ has implied the permit process seems to be more about convenience for Aquila than it does in following FOIA laws, rules and procedures in place? I am not an attorney but I believe the DEQ has waived any rights it has for not submitting any and all information regarding correspondence they have regarding Aquila Resources by opening proverbial can of worms.

  2. Persons at the DEQ have provided the public with de facto legal opinions related to Part 632 stating Part 632 will supersede local zoning regulations. The DEQ is not qualified to answer any legal questions pertaining to this specific mine location. I believe based on the DEQ comments persons at Aquila Resources have sent letters to Lake Township basically saying they intend to ignore local zoning ordinances. This is despite Tom Quigley, on behalf of the mining project, stating to the township that a mining entity would adhere to all local laws. He even went so far as to put that in writing as part of Aquila Resources mission statement which says: “mining and mineral processing practices in strict conformance with federal, state and local laws and guidelines now in force or enacted in the future. “ Also, the leases the company holds with the DNR which is specific for the properties within the mine sire that are leased (written contract) local zoning ordinances are enforceable. The lease reads under #7:

    Laws, Rules and Regulations – a. Any operations under this lease shall be subject to all applicable federal, local and state laws, rules, and ordinances now or hereafter in force. In addition to compliance with the provisions of this lease, and particularly sections I and J thereof. Lessee must obtain all permits which may be or are required under federal, local and State law or any rules or ordinances adopted thereunder.”

    By signing this document the lease agreed (mining entity) to be bound by local laws, including zoning, on property controlled by the State of Michigan. I asked the DNR if their definition of “local ordinances” included “zoning: and they said it did. A review of the mine site map shows that State land is interracial to any mine. The point being the DEQ has provided a legal opinion specific to this mine site that is not accurate but on which many of the public, including a township supervisor, has stated must be factual. Again this demonstrates a bias by the DEQ in favor of Aquila and against any opposing a mine. The DEQ should be held accountable to provide the legal opinion they used in which they based their statements.