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 Based on a review of the draft Wetland Permit, now rescinded, this mining project will result in the direct destruction of regulated and unregulated wetlands, resulting in the impairment and degradation of surface and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.”

SWUP Critical of Back Forty’s NPDES Permit

Save the Wild U.P. has submitted extensive written comments to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), concerning Aquila Resources’ application for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permit. In their comments, SWUP outlines numerous objections to the proposed NPDES permit, noting that the discharges pose significant threats to Menominee River. The Back Forty mine proposal would construct an open-pit sulfide mine, mill and tailings basins on the banks of the Menominee River, and treated industrial discharges would be piped to the Menominee:

  • The NPDES permit proposes to use the Flambeau Mine as an example of non-polluting mine, and a model for post-closure remediation. This is a dangerous comparison —  the Flambeau Mine received multiple Clean Water Act violations, had no on-site milling operations, left behind no permanent tailings on the surface, and used no cyanide on the site.
  • The permit fails to provide a longterm treatment plan for acid leachate that will be produced closure produced during Postclosure years; it appears that leachate production will require Perpetual Care.
  • Permit fails to analyze health risks and impacts on communities who rely on fishing for subsistence, including risks from toxic heavy metals, arsenic, methylmercury, use of cyanidation, and acid mine drainage.
  • Permit fails to adequately consider alternatives to minimize environmental harm or reduce polluted seepage from permanent waste facilities.
  • The mine proposal conflicts with federal policy to protect wetlands, and circumvents cumulative review. As of November 2016, there is still NO Wetlands Permit to review in conjunction with this NPDES permit — even though a large portion of the “authorized discharges” will be contact water produced as a result of dewatering (groundwater and wetlands drawdown) at the Back Forty site.
  • The NPDES permit fails to fully evaluate pollution risks to drinking water, fisheries, and threatened species (particularly freshwater mussels).
  • The NPDES permit would harm endangered, threatened and special concern species, including sturgeon, mussels, river fingernail clams and snails. Species-specific limits were not included in the permit. Multiple pollutants have no limit — “Report Only.” 
  • Aquila Back Forty water quality impairments would have adverse impacts on freshwater fisheries, aquatic life, wildlife, human health and welfare, environmental justice and special aquatic sites.
  • The lack of an integrated permit review process, as was promised by the DEQ in January 2016, has frustrated and compromised the work of those offering technical comments on Aquila’s permit.
  • The pollution authorized by this permit IS NOT in the public interest, it degrades the Menominee River, will impair tribal resources, and will result in an uncalculated cumulative loss of ecological services.

To read SWUP’s full comments, click here.

Al Gedicks Letter to Orion Finance: No Social License for Aquila

November 1, 2016

Mr. Oskar Lewnowski, CIO
Orion Mine Finance Group
1211 Avenue of the Americas
Suite 3000
New York, NY 10036
Dear Mr. Lewnowski,

I am writing in regard to Orion’s 19% investment in Aquila Resources’ Back Forty metallic sulfide deposit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Recent events have highlighted growing opposition to the project that may be of great interest to your shareholders.

Have you seen the recent headlines about the recent public hearing that brought over 350 people to the Stephenson high school to voice their concerns about Aquila’s mine permits on October 6, 2016? These headlines reflect deep public dissatisfaction with the proposed mine after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality gave preliminary approval for the permits for the Back Forty project.

“Strong Feelings Erupt at Back Forty Mine Hearing” Peshtigo Times, 10/12/16

“Battle Lines Drawn in Fight Over U-P Mine” wsau.com 10/7/16

“Emotions about mine run hot” Eagle Herald, Marinette/Menominee 10/8/16

Or are your shareholders aware of the recent demonstrations and public forums organized by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and their supporters protesting the failure to consult the tribe about the violation of sacred sites within the Back Forty mine footprint?

“Menomonee Nation holds rally against Back Forty sulfide mining project” News from Indian Country, October 2016

“Mine plan troubles tribe” Wisconsin State Journal, 10/23/16

I suspect you may be unaware of the significant community opposition to this proposed mine because Aquila’s CEO, Barry Hildred, has misrepresented the local community in an October 3, 2016 presentation before mining industry professionals at the recent Precious Metals Summit and in statements to the local media.

When asked whether there was any opposition to the Back Forty project, Hildred said, “The opposition tends to be small. These were the same groups that opposed the Eagle mine [in the U.P.]. They’re not well-funded and there are no national groups challenging the permit.” (http://www.gowebcasting.com/events/precious-metals-summit-conferences-llc/2016/09/15/aquila-resources-inc/play/stream/20256)

“There are no bad surprises”

When asked whether Aquila had done its homework to insure that there would be no bad surprises for the project, Hildred replied, “There are no bad surprises.”

No bad surprises? Just a week before Hildred assured his audience of broad community support for the project, the Marinette County Board, by a 28-0 vote, adopted a resolution that “strongly opposes Aquila’s Back Forty metallic sulfide mine and urged the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to deny a permit for the Back Forty project.” Aquila Resources was invited to address the board before the vote but declined to send a representative to the meeting.

The resolution (see the Eagle Herald story on 9/21/16 enclosed) cited concerns over long term leaching of acid-producing wastes into the groundwater and the river, the risk to human health and the environment in Wisconsin as well as Michigan, the threat to the sturgeon population in the Menominee River and the irreversible loss of significant cultural resources of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, including Native American gravesites.

A company that cannot or will not defend its project before elected officials in a community that draws its drinking water downstream from the proposed mine has no social license to operate.

On October 25, an Environmental Protection of Air and Water Quality resolution was stricken from the agenda by the Menominee County Board of Commissioners to prevent a public discussion of concerns about the Back Forty proposed mine.

As the extensive news reports, letters to the editor, op eds, and feature articles in environmental and Native American publications assembled in this packet demonstrate, the characterization of the opposition as “small” and “composed of the same groups that opposed the Eagle project” is wildly inaccurate. Over 2,000 members of the public wrote to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to express serious concerns about the Back Forty project. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, we know that 98 percent of all signatures and comments opposed the project (see report by Save the Wild U.P. enclosed).

While the individual citizens, groups and Indian tribes opposing this project may not be well-funded, this does not mean they are incapable of exercising considerable political influence over the permitting process and whether this mine will ever be built.

If you doubt the power of organized local opposition to defeat controversial mining projects I urge you to Google the defeat of Exxon’s Crandon, Wisconsin project in 2003, Aquila’s Lynne project in Oneida County, Wisconsin in 2012 and Gogebic Taconite’s Penokee Hills project in Iron and Ashland Counties in Wisconsin in 2015. All three cases involved Indian tribes and grassroots citizens groups organized against destructive mining projects.

Barry Hildred may know a great deal about financing mining projects but he appears to know very little about what mining risk analysts like Ernst & Young have termed the “social license to operate” (SLO). According to Ernst & Young, the fourth greatest risk to mining investors comes from “ignoring community voices and their environmental and public health concerns. Mining projects that generate protests and civil unrest are bad for business.” (Top 10 Business Risks Facing Mining and Metals, 2016-2017, p. 4).

“The mining world has changed dramatically,” wrote Wayne Dunn in a special report to The Northern Miner, a Canadian mining industry newspaper. “Projects can be stopped dead by local people and communities, dashing shareholder’s hopes and often destroying executives’ careers. Project management has become exponentially more complex as social issues no longer take a distant backseat to technical issues.” (90:28, 9/3/04, p. 6).

The term “social license to operate” emerged in response to a perceived threat to the mining industry’s legitimacy as a result of environmental disasters in the late 1990s. The Fraser Institute, a mining industry think tank in Vancouver, British Columbia says the social license to operate “refers to the level of acceptance by local communities and stakeholders of mining companies and their operations.” It “is based on the idea that mining companies need not only government permission [or permits] but also ‘social permission’ to conduct their business. Increasingly, having an SLO is an essential part of operating within democratic jurisdictions, as without popular support it is unlikely that agencies from elected governments will willingly grant operational permits or licenses.”
(http: www.miningfacts.org/Communities/What-is-the-social-licence-to-operate/).

The Fraser Institute warns that “the lack of an SLO is associated with social conflict, loss of machinery due to vandalism, higher financial costs, increased difficulties in hiring skilled labour, costly delays of mine operations, and possible mine shutdowns due to community opposition to the mine.”

Serious concerns about the mine permit application have also been raised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that have forced Aquila to withdraw its wetland permit because it failed to identify regulated resources on the project site and within the proposed impact area. That permit application will need to be resubmitted.

Please review the extensive documentation of community opposition in this packet and make your own judgment about whether this project has a social license to operate.

Sincerely,

Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary

Wisconsin Resources Protection Council

Public Comment from October 6, 2016 DEQ Hearing on Aquila – IN FULL

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Save the Wild U.P. would like to extend a hearty THANK YOU to all of our friends, allies and activists who came to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s public hearing on the proposed Back Forty project on October 5th. The Stephenson High School gymnasium was packed and the overwhelming message from concerned citizens was: Don’t Undermine the Menominee!

Individuals who signed up to speak were told they would have five minutes to share their concerns, but at the start of the meeting, it was dropped to three and then dropped again to two minutes. Folks who had prepared their comments ahead of time were unable to deliver the entirety of their concerns – but we have collected quite a few in full and have them available for you to read!

Public Comment from Jon Saari, vice president of Save the Wild U.P.

Public Comment from Bob Harrison, President, Badger Fly Fishers

Public Comment from Lanning Hochhauser, President, Dupage Rivers Fly Tyers (DRiFT)

Public Comment from Dr. Barry A. Coddens, President of the Gary Borger Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Public Comment from Richard Dragiewicz

Public Comment from Megan Berns, Secretary – Northern Illinois Fly-Tyers

Statement of Douglas Cox, Environmental Coordinator for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

Public Comment of Mr. Gary Besaw Legislator, Menominee Tribal Legislature

Public Comment of Ms. Joan Delabreau Chairwoman, Menominee Tribal Legislature

Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

Public Comment from Mr. Pershing Frechette, Legislator, Menominee Tribal Legislature

Public Comment from Rich Sloat

Comments from Alexandra Maxwell, director of Save the Wild U.P.

Public Comment of Laura Gauger

Public Comment of Kathleen Heideman

Public Hearing on Aquila’s Back Forty Project: October 6th, 6pm CST

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ACTION ALERT! We need your voices of opposition on October 6th! The public hearing for the Back Forty project is fast approaching! It will be held at Stephenson High School on October 6, 2016 from 6pm to 10pm CST in Stephenson, MI. The Department will accept written comments until November 3, 2016. Our friends in the group Concerned Citizens of Big Bay are offering gas and lodging stipends to people willing to travel to the hearing! Please contact Gene Champagne at genec_nsa@yahoo.com for more information.

As you all know, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has issued a proposed permit decision on the Back Forty Project. This means the MDEQ is seeking comments from interested persons on the proposed mining permit decision, as well as two other pending permit decisions for the project: an air emissions and surface waters discharge permit. The MDEQ will hold one consolidated hearing and public comment period for all three permit decisions. A fourth permit application for impacts to wetlands will be considered by the MDEQ in a separate review process. As soon as we receive notice on the wetlands permit, we will share it widely!

Aquila’s Back Forty Project, an open pit sulfide mine proposed for the bank of the Menominee River, poses numerous environmental, cultural and social threats, including: degraded water quality in the Menominee River, impacts to endangered Lake Sturgeon and native freshwater mussels, lowered property values, and the destruction of integral cultural resources of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. To help you understand the scope of the Back Forty project, we’ve summarized all the outrageous details on Save the Wild U.P.’s website. Please review our Aquila Back Forty Facts — we will update you as we learn more!

Our friends and allies of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin recently held the Menominee River Water Walk + “Remembering Our Ancestors” Gathering with great success! Activists, tribal members, and concerned citizens all came together last week to walk for the water, celebrate Menominee culture and to raise their voices in opposition to the Back Forty Project. Read all about the gathering here. Meanwhile, Marinette County (Wisconsin neighbors of the proposed mine) Board of Supervisors penned a strongly-worded resolution in opposition to the Back Forty project, citing environmental and health hazards and noting specifically the loss of the cultural resources of the Menominee Nation. “So what is in it (the mine project) for Wisconsin folks?” asked Marinette resident Dale Burie. “Absolutely nothing. Do we derive as a positive declining property values and chemically contaminated water? Water is life. Water determines the quality of life.” The resolution passed 28-0. We are coming together as a region, as stewards for the water, so please join us in this fight on October 6th.

Save the Wild U.P. and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Join Forces!

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NEW ERA OF COLLABORATION AS UPEC AND SWUP COMBINE FORCES

Marquette — The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) and Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) are joining forces to create a far-reaching, inclusive environmental advocacy group for the Upper Peninsula. Effective January, 2017 SWUP will become a part of UPEC, allowing the strengths of both groups to be highlighted in their cooperative work to protect clean water, healthy ecosystems, and wild places. UPEC will maintain its focus on environmental education and advocacy for U.P. wild lands, while SWUP, with its new partner’s support, will continue its activism as the SWUP Mining Action Group within UPEC.

Horst Schmidt, UPEC President, said “We’ve done it! UPEC and SWUP are becoming One Voice. With five decades of combined leadership and effort, the merger leads to a strengthened organization reaching out to the citizens of the Upper Peninsula. We could not have done it without the dedication of board members of both groups. ”

The leaders of SWUP, Kathleen Heideman and Alexandra Maxwell, will be joining the UPEC board, adding depth and knowledge to its discussions. SWUP’s strength lies in its social media contacts and in its hard-hitting public commentary on sulfide mining related permits, most recently on the proposed zinc-copper mine targeting the Menominee River and the proposed expansion of the Eagle Mine in Marquette County.

“UPEC’s perspective is broader and more historical,” said Jon Saari, who has served in leadership roles in both organizations. “The U.P.’s extensive public lands are the key to providing the needed core area for nature’s story to unfold. Enhancing the quality of these wild lands and containing the threats to them are UPEC’s goals. If we can do this, the U.P. has a rare chance to demonstrate what it means to be a sustainable place in the 21st century.”

UPEC’s activities have focused on community outreach through its quarterly newsletter, its annual Celebration of the U.P., and its grant programs in environmental education and community conservation. “We awarded $34,000 in grants in 2016 in these two programs,” said President Schmidt, “and going forward we want to enhance our presence and partnerships U.P. wide.”

SWUP has gone through several transformations in its 12 year history, but has always maintained a presence as think-tank for citizens concerned about the environmental and social threats brought by sulfide mining. In recent years its accomplishments have included stimulating impressive public participation in the permitting processes, providing college-level fellowship programs, leading one-of-a-kind outdoor excursions to threatened wild places in Marquette County, and providing intelligent analysis on mining-related permits, and all for the purpose of protecting clean water and wild places.

UPEC and SWUP complement each other, said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP President. “This organizational transformation will enable members of the SWUP Mining Action Group, now organized under the larger tent of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, to refocus on their grassroots work – defending Upper Michigan’s clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining. We’re not getting bigger as a result of the merger, we’re getting better.”

As the groups join and navigate the path ahead, they will speak with “ONE VOICE” for the environment of the U.P.

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Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to defending wild places and clean water of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining. For more information contact info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org or follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup.

Save the Menominee River Speaking Tour and Paddling Trip!

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Grassroots opposition to Aquila’s Back Forty metallic sulfide mine next to the Menominee River will sponsor its fourth public forum on the cultural, environmental and economic impacts of the proposed mine in the Wausaukee, Wisconsin Town Hall (N 11856 Hwy 141) on Saturday, July 23rd  at 10:00 am. Save the Menominee River Speaking Tour sponsored previous forums in Marinette, Wisconsin and Menominee and Stephenson, Michigan. The event is free and open to the public.

Speakers from groups including the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the River Alliance of Wisconsin, the Front 40 citizens group and the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council will present information about mining impacts, including the endangered sturgeon population in the Menominee River and invite public comments about the proposed open pit mine.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality is expected to hold a Public Hearing on the Back Forty proposal later this summer (TBA). Citizens can learn how to speak out at public hearings in “lunch & learn” activist trainings sponsored by Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) on Monday, July 18th and Monday, July 25th from 12 noon to 3:00 pm followed by a social hour at the Ore Dock Brewing Company’s upstairs public space in Marquette, Michigan.

For those interested in a closer look at the proposed mine site, the River Alliance of Wisconsin is leading a canoe/kayak excursion on the Menominee River on Friday, July 29 to learn about the mine and appreciate the beauty of this river. Starting at the White Rapids dam, east of Amberg, Wisconsin, and northwest of Stephenson, Michigan, the excursion will visit significant native American archaeological sites and do a “paddle-by” of the proposed mine site. The River Alliance will be joined by officials from the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and the Front 40 citizens group.  The Menominee River takes its name from the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin whose creation stories start at the mouth of the Menominee River. According to Guy Reiter, a Menominee tribal member, “the creator gave us responsibility for watching out for that water thousands of years ago.” For more details and to register, go to htts://www.wisconsinrivers.org/home/events.

For more information contact: Guy Reiter (715) 853-2776 anahkwet@hotmail.com
or Ron Henriksen (906) 563-5766 menomineeriver.com

Public Comments to MDEQ: 98% Opposed to Back Forty!

ARE ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATORS BEING ‘TRANSPARENT’?

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced a Public Comment period regarding the Back Forty mine permit application — more than 37,500 pages long. After concerned citizens requested more time to comment on the permit, MDEQ agreed to extend the deadline by two weeks. However, following the Public Comment period, the MDEQ staff person who received those comments refused to answer basic questions like “how many public comments were received?” Not even a rough estimate could be provided.

Alarmed that MDEQ regulators were not being “open and transparent” during the mine permit review process, one concerned citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and forwarded the documents to Save the Wild U.P. for our review.

It is now clear that over 2,000 members of the public – including local residents, landowners, fishing enthusiasts, business owners, county officials, educators, tourists, tribal members, scientists, environmentalists and other concerned citizens – wrote to MDEQ to convey serious concerns about the proposed sulfide mine project!

DEQ-Aquila-publicComments-piechart

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98.2% OPPOSED!

Public Comments were expressed through emails, letters, editorials, technical analysis, handwritten messages, and signature petitions.

WHAT ARE FOLKS SAYING ABOUT THE BACK FORTY MINE PROPOSAL?

“I don’t want to show my children and grandchildren (the Menominee River) and tell them about stories when the river used to be a thing of beauty and inspiration.”
- C.J. to MDEQ

“I worked as a Project Manager on Superfund sites. I have seen how companies reap profits and then walk away from their contaminated sites. Please do not approve the permit…”
-B.N. to MDEQ

“As a graduate of Michigan Technological University, in Metallurgical Engineering with thirty years experience in the cast metals industry, I have knowledge on both the positive and negative effects of removal and refining of rock to generate metals. Huge advances have been made -in legislating environmental protection. At the same time the best prevention based approach can’t override the unknown level of natural events, mine processing accidents, or simple human neglect that could wash mine residue and contaminants off the Back Forty site and into the Menominee River.”
-J.R. to MDEQ

“With great concern for the well-being and future of the lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, creeks, wells, marshes, bogs, groundwater and, reality check here… “life in general,” I am speaking from my heart. The Menominee River has been a part of our family for four generations.”
-D.T. to MDEQ

Think about all the mothers and fathers who aren’t going to be able to take their sons and daughters fishing on the rivers and streams after this FOR PROFIT company sucks every dollar out of the ground and put back in its place, runoff and chemicals.”
-C.S. to MDEQ

“After the initial shock was overcome regarding what this mine would look like and how it may affect these streams, wetlands, swamp and the Menominee River- I thought to myself how can the DEQ on one hand offer programs as the one we’ve been involved with for now over 10-years and on the other hand ignore the data that’s been collected by a collective body of persons numbering in the hundreds? Data that shows a wide number of “rare” species. And yes this data is being ignored. (…) We are no experts but these persons (Aquila Resources and their contractors) failed to even note at least 1 stream that runs along their boundary and other locations such as wetlands and swamps that will be negatively impacted should they be allowed to dewater the area.”
-T.B. to MDEQ

“When reviewing the indirect and direct cost estimates for the Back Forty financial assurance, it is obvious that it has been significantly underestimated…”
-Dr. Kendra Zamzow of the Center for Science in Public Participation to MDEQ

“The ARD (Acid Rock Drainage) risk is very high. Most material contains sulfides, and there is very little natural carbonate for buffering. (…) All tailings are expected to generate acid, with the exception of tailings produced in year 3 of mining. Additionally, over 75% of the waste rock is expected to generate acid.”
-Dr. Kendra Zamzow of the Center for Science in Public Participation to MDEQ

“The tailings analyzed represent only the first 8 years of the life of mining operations. Since tailings are generally piled, the last tailings to be produced are the most representative of what would be near the surface when mining operations cease. Are there any tailings test results for the tailings expected to be produced as the mine is preparing to close operations?”
-Menominee River Front 40 to MDEQ

“I know that the constant argument for mines are to promote well paying jobs. As a young person with student loans and personal experience with small town people having to move to find work, I understand this argument. That being said, I cannot ignore the fact that this may temporarily help local communities, but long term probably will be devastating. A well maintained natural area where my family, myself and hopefully many generations to come will put money into local business promotes a healthy long term economy. Even this may be a small amount of money compared to what this mine could make, but when you combine all of the people in our states and tourists who love the outdoors over generations it will outweigh the immediate benefit.”
-M.S. to MDEQ

“I am writing you to express my concern regarding the Back Forty Mine and its proximity to the Menominee River. As a resident of the Great Lakes Region, as vacationer who brings his family to Harbor Country to enjoy Lake Michigan, and finally as consumer of Lake Michigan drinking water, I have grave concerns over the risks posed by having a mine so close to a river and its conveyance to Lake Michigan. Decisions of those in the entire basin affect all of those who live around these wonderful lakes. We only need to look at the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo oil spill to recognize the dangers.”
-T.C. to MDEQ

“The Assessment states that tests reveal there are no known occurrences of contaminated groundwater or surface water in the Project area and that “This is consistent with its remote location and lack of industrial activity in the surrounding area.” Will this be true when the mine closes after seven years and in the years to follow? Will we be another Flint someday or have an Animas River situation? The potential for damage to Upper Peninsula water and the environment are real. Risks are numerous, unknown and uncertain. PLEASE do not allow Aquila to proceed with the Back Forty Mine Project and deny its Permit Application.”
-K.L. to MDEQ

“Please hear us. We do not want a mine polluting our back yard. Nature is too precious and needs to be preserved for future generations.”
-S.E. to MDEQ

“What will happen when our wells become contaminated from the cyanide, arsenic and other poisons that will end up in the river and the Aquila people be held accountable? What will happen, as has happened before, is that they will go slinking back to where they came from and file bankruptcy. We have been inundated with misleading info and outright lies. We deserve better.”
-N.T. and S.T. to MDEQ

“At another winter meeting, a DEQ official explained the regulation process involved in mining permits. Hew said that mining companies must take care of cleanup, and the Menominee River would be protected from tailings pollution. What he didn’t say however, is that the low wall Aquila might build along the river would not be exempt from ‘Acts of God”. For example mild earthquakes (…) Floods can also occur, washing tailings into the river. So much for the protection of our water supply!”
-P.G. to MDEQ

“As landowners in Holmes Township we are very concerned that the impact of the proposed mine will negatively affect our groundwater, not to mention the quality of the waters of the Menominee River and Shakey Lakes.”
-C.M and J.M. to MDEQ

“Metallic sulfide mining has never been done anywhere in the world without polluting ground and surface waters. Because this is common knowledge other areas have banned the use of cyanide for the extraction of gold and silver. (…) Cyanide poisoning from metallic sulfide gold mining is a far more serious problem (than lead poisoning in Flint). The question is not “if” but “when” this will occur. All the mining company PR won’t help when they are long gone and DEQ gets blamed for allowing them to legally or illegally contaminate our post precious vital resource – water. Water is more precious to life than gold!”
-B.W. to MDEQ

“A spill would create a disaster with chemicals flowing into the bay and eventually Lake Michigan. And what about the liners? How long will they last and who will be responsible. How large will the pond(s) be and what is its capacity? Will the pond be covered and how will you prevent run-off into the river Many have these same questions but we have no answers. From what is on the DEQ website there is no dollar amount required to be held for such a disaster or even a plan should one occur. Many of us who are residents along the river are fearful of the possibility of such a disaster and the contamination of our wells, loss of property values and the loss of being able to enjoy a pristine river, its beauty and the fishing it offers.”
-D.P. to MDEQ

“I am a Native American living in Menominee Township just downstream from the “Back Forty Mine.” I live on land that my Woman’s ancestors homesteaded 143 years ago and it is still in the family and we hope that it will still be in the family for many more generations to come with still the BEST TASTING WATER EVER. I was raised to respect Mother Earth for she provides us with all that we need to sustain life and that we need to protect her for the next seven (7) generations that are coming. Promoting this Back Forty Mine so close to the Menominee River is not a good Idea. Everybody in the area has a well for their water, some are shallow (…). I would not be proud to tell my generations to come that I was part of why they have NO WATER.”
-W.B. to MDEQ

“Totally opposed! Reasons: 1. Disruption of environment 2. Destruction of wildlife caused by 3. Pollution of river and tributaries 4. Harmful to surface water and wells. What are we to do if we can’t use our wells? 5. Many will lose their livelihood. 6. Property values in the area will plummet. We will have to pay property tax on land that will be diminished. It is unbelievable to me how this project could move forward being so harmful to so many, just to line the pockets of a few!”
-ST. to MDEQ

“Even if Aquila meets all the standards required, there is no guarantee that it is safe. It may not happen in our lifetime but sometime in the future, maybe the next generation, the poison will flow into our rivers and wells.”
-M.K. to MDEQ

“We have lived in other areas where mine residue was left from mines long closed with no one responsible for remediation. The danger to the public continues long after such projects come to the end of their productive life.”
-K.M and J.M. to MDEQ

“I have been employed as an environmental affairs manager for a manufacturing firm and am well acquainted with the risks associated with the mining chemicals being proposed, particularly cyanide. With the proximity of the mine to the river there is insufficient mitigation available to acceptably eliminate the risk of contamination to the river. And once released , the results of the contamination cannot be undone. Please do not allow this project to go forward.”
-S.O. and K.O. to MDEQ

“Since the District is charged with assisting County landowners with the management of their natural resources, we feel obligated to address the potential Back Forty Mine project. We identify the proposed mine location as a sensitive natural and cultural area, and the adjacent Menominee River System as a unique, regionally significant water feature. The Menominee Conservation District implores both the Michigan DEQ and Aquila Resources that great care be exercised in the planning, pending authorization, potential development, and final remediation of the site to ensure the quality of our natural resources are not diminished. “
-Menominee Conservation District Board to MDEQ

“We are writing to express our opposition to the proposed Back Forty gold-zinc sulfide mine which Aquila Resources would like to develop next to the Menominee River in the Upper Peninsula. (…) Aquila Resources likes to say that the Flambeau mine of Ladysmith, Wisconsin is an example of a mine operating without causing pollution, but in reality the Flambeau mine has polluted surface and groundwater and that pollution continues today. There is currently no technology or method available to prevent the pollution which this proposed mine will cause. (…) Please do the right thing and think about the long-term future and deny the permit for the proposed Back Forty mine.”
-D.P. to MDEQ

“I was not fully aware of the size or scope of this proposed mine until I attended the meeting (in Stephenson). It will be huge. I do not believe most people living in Menominee County have any idea just how big or even where it will be. This huge open pit mine will literally be on the banks of the Menominee RIver. If there could be a 1-10 list of worst places to put a gold and silver mine, this would be number one.”
-M.T. to MDEQ

“I am 71 years old. I have resided in Menominee County Mich since I was five years old. I am writing this letter to voice my concerns about the mine being planned for our county. I feel that this mine, if it comes in, will ruin Shakey Lakes Park, pollute the Menominee River, pollute all the wells for miles, and ruin all the beautiful land where it will be located. I have a camp and 80 acres a few miles away. (…) I realize that there are a lot of people that are easily lead and easily swayed by big money, and will allow this to happen. But I also feel there are a lot of people in high places who are sincere and honest. I hope they feel as I do and will try to prevent this from happening.”
-T.S. to MDEQ

“Do we really need these natural resources? Look at the prices they are paying for recycled metals, historically low. Why are they low, because they have more than there is a demand for. People are letting recyclable metals go to the landfills because it’s not worth messing with. Let’s slow down on mining so the recycling markets pick up and people can make a little money doing what everyone should always be doing – RECYCLING. The mining companies have written their own history. It’s a dirty business and they can’t hide from all the water resources they have ruined. Let’s not add the Menominee River to the list of water resources that have been compromised.”
-J.M. to MDEQ

“We attended the meeting put on by the D.E.Q. on January 5, 2016 at Stephenson H.S. to learn more about the mine project. (…) I was disappointed at the responses by the D.E.Q. people to some of the questions raised at the meeting: such as what chemicals will be used to treat the tailings? Response, I don’t know! How much money will be held in an escrow account to cover damages after Aquilla pulls out? Again, I don’t know, ask Aquila was a common response. Does not the D.E.Q. have oversight on the mining project? I am afraid we will wind up with another toxic dump as has happened before in other areas. We think it is plain lunacy to even consider digging a pit mine next to the River for the purpose of extracting gold and silver or any ore. The trade-off for jobs is not worth the risk of damaging the environment with sulfuric acid or related chemicals, poisoning area aquifer from which our drinking water comes, and killing all the marine life in the River and Shakey Lakes, ecosystems that evolved over thousand of years, also the archaeological importance of the area with regards to our Native Indian population and features dating back to the Woodland Cultures. We expect our State Government to lookout for these interests and to carefully consider all the ramifications of allowing a pit mine on the banks of the Menominee River. WE ARE AGAINST THE BACK 40 MINE PROJECT.”
-J.N. and J.N. to MDEQ

“It is absolutely not true (as claimed by Aquila) that the Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin has not polluted nearby waters.In fact, it is still polluting ground and surface water today. The WDNR has recommended to the USEPA that a tributary of the Flambeau River be listed as “impaired” due to copper and zinc toxicity. Please take the long view of damages to the environment including major public investment in supporting lake sturgeon populations, and Native American cultural sites. Don’t trade them off for short term (and dubious) economic benefits.”
-K.W. to MDEQ

“Any contamination from the Aquila project will not only affect Michigan waters, but also the Menominee River and water aquifers that feed many families, livestock and agricultural enterprises. My wife and I will go on record with fellow Wisconsin residents to reject and oppose any mining project by Aquila in the Menominee County of Michigan. Our waters and the environment should be our most valuable asset.”
-D.B. and L.B. to MDEQ

“A feeder creek from the mine site flows into the Menominee River and we are objecting to the continued planning for the Back Forty Mine. While mining has been an important part of Northern Wisconsin’s and the Upper Michigan’s heritage and growth in the past century, our current generations have been struggling with much of the waste produced from those efforts. While unintended, they did occur. The risks that the mine carries to the pristine waters of the Menominee, and quite possibly Lake Michigan are too hard to ignore. Successful fishing, recreational use, and clean water don’t happen overnight. But, those uses can all come to an end in ONE night. Is it worth the risk? We say no!”
-Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance to MDEQ

“The Menominee River is considered to be one of the best smallmouth rivers in North America. It also supports, musky, pike, sturgeon, amphibians and many species of birds and mammals. It provides recreational opportunities to thousands of people each year and this, in turn, provides a strong economic boost to the citizens living in this area. To jeopardize all of this for the small return the Back Forty Mine project might produce seems shortsighted at best. I hope you will prohibit this project from moving forward.”
-Badger Fly Fishers Club to MDEQ

“As a long-time Lake Township landowner and taxpayer, I am concerned that a foreign company can come in and dictate through, what appears to be a flawed permit process, what will happen to the area. There is not enough protection for the Menominee River, the environment around it, the people’s rights, historical areas, air, land, clean-up, waste.”
-M.T. to MDEQ

“The mining permit shows the use of a large amount of Cyanide. Holmes Township, Lake Township and Menominee County have passed resolutions against the use of cyanide in relation to mining. Will the MDEQ take those resolutions into consideration for this permit application? Part 632 does not detail the use of Cyanide- therefore what regulations covers use of Cyanide if any? Will the State of Michigan defer to the Township…?”
-T.B. to MDEQ

“I am sure the company views itself as professional and qualified to take on the project, but it is their first mine! (…) The Menominee River is a major tributary of Green Bay and the Great Lakes. How does an open pit chemical mine on its banks fit in with the goals of the Great Lakes Compact or the $250 million dollars just budgeted federally for clean up? How does it fit in with the lower Menominee clean up projects of the Wisconsin DNR and Wisconsin Public Service? How does it fit in with the Sturgeon restoration or other stocking programs on the river? And, in general, Pure Michigan! Or how does it fit in with the Menekaunee Harbor Restoration Project at the mouth of the river? I hope you are working with or seeking feedback from these entities as well.”
-T.D. to MDEQ

“If there is an accident or natural disaster how many people on both sides of the river will be affected by contaminated water. Please don’t allow this project, the jobs and profits created are drop in the bucket compared to the devastation that will happen to the Menominee should something unforeseen occur. All mines pollute.”
-D.D. to MDEQ

“I started out looking at this Mine with an open mind but the more I learn the more I believe the long range possible negative impact on our environment is not worth the short term financial gain. An open pit mine 25 meters from the Menominee River seems to be a problem begging to happen. I believe this is a floodplain area with old dams, ice shoves and a reported earthquake in an area not far from the proposed site. (…)I’m not a tree hugger but believe we have to be stewards for future generations and all the animals and fish that use this watershed. Please err on the side of caution.”
-M.B. to MDEQ

“Our sturgeon fisheries need to be protected. The cultural and spiritual needs of the First Nations in the UP need to be protected. And most importantly, the water quality in the UP’s largest river system needs to be protected. As a UP property owner, and as a fifth-generation Yooper descendant, I beg you to keep our wild wilderness pure.”
-K.T. to MDEQ

SOURCES

Given serious concerns about MDEQ transparency and the fate of public input, we’re making these public comment files available for others to review: http://bit.ly/BackForty-FOIA-Public-Comments

Lundin’s “Eagle East” Undermines Public Process

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MARQUETTE — Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is expressing outrage following news that Lundin Mining will begin immediate construction of extensive new tunnels connecting Eagle’s existing orebody with a new target, Eagle East — all without public input, or the permit revisions that should be required under Michigan’s Nonferrous Metallic Mining Regulations, known as Part 632.

“Lundin’s press release states that ‘The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has determined that no modifications are required to Eagle’s Part 632 mining permit at this time,’ which means, if it’s true, that somehow it is acceptable to build a (double) tunnel spanning approximately 1.5 miles, thousands of feet deep, with no knowledge of its stability or the potential impacts to water,” said Michelle Halley, Marquette attorney and Save the Wild U.P. advisory board member.

“Just a few of the obvious questions that should be answered before such a project begins include: Will the rock removed be acid-generating? If so, how will it be handled and stored? What will happen to it post-mining? Will the tunnel need de-watering? If so, will the water require treating? If so, can the existing water treatment facility handle the volume and constituents of the water? Where will it be discharged? Can the discharge aquifer handle that quantify of discharge? Will this tunnel be back-filled, post-mining? Will the tunnel need reinforcing to be stable and safe for workers? How will the need to ensure the safety of this tunnel affect the financial assurance required by the state? If Lundin’s press release is accurate, the Michigan DEQ is asleep at the wheel. It wouldn’t be the first time,” said Halley.

According to Wednesday’s press release (“Eagle Mine provides exploration update on Eagle East”) from Lundin Mining, “A Preliminary Economic Assessment on Eagle East was also released and the company intends to complete a full feasibility study and permit review. If mined, the life of mine of Eagle would be extended by one year.”

“This is bad news for the Yellow Dog Plains. Extending the life of the mine definitely increases the environmental degradations,” said Save the Wild U.P. director, Alexandra Maxwell. “Constructing another underground mine 1.5 miles from Eagle’s current operation will increase the draw-down of groundwater. Marquette County’s trout streams rely on clean, cold groundwater. Is Lundin or the DEQ concerned that these degradations affect not only the Salmon Trout, but its neighboring river, the Yellow Dog? The extension of mining activities will now degrade two beloved Upper Peninsula rivers.”

“Eagle is grasping to survive in a flailing commodities market and is displaying the classic definition of “high grading.” This is right out of the mining industry playbook: “adjust” or “expand” your mining operations, target only the highest grade ores for extraction, make more money in the short-term to stay afloat in uncertain economic conditions. This is a shortsighted risk and a huge gamble with the health of our environment,” said Maxwell.

Lundin’s press release further states: “Access to Eagle East is planned with a spiral ramp from the bottom of Eagle Mine, making use of the existing ventilation infrastructure. Lundin Mining has authorized ramp development to begin in July.”

Targeting a single deep high-grade lobe of the Eagle East orebody is part of a corporate ‘cut-and-run’ strategy. Retired mining engineer Jack Parker’s analysis showed, early on, that Eagle Mine was guilty of high-grading their orebody. Parker stated as early as 2012 that they “plan to leave behind an additional billion dollars’ worth of lower grade ore, which could extend the life of the mine around 16 years” — an irresponsible mining practice.

“All of this will extend Eagle Mine’s operating life by a single year? Seriously? Three years of tunneling to expand Eagle’s mine life by one year? The proposed ramp and twin access tunnels will be far deeper than the existing Eagle Mine operations, and Lundin knows next to nothing about the rock or the hydrology at this depth, so constructing this extensive tunnel exponentially increases Eagle Mine’s risks. The DEQ should recalculate Lundin’s financial assurances immediately — before allowing any new construction to begin,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

Diagram illustrating the miles of new tunnels that will be required to connect Eagle Mine (top left) with Eagle East (lower right), found on page 6 of Lundin Mining’s press release, “LUNDIN MINING ANNOUNCES EAGLE EAST MINERAL RESOURCE, PEA RESULTS AND PROJECT COMMENCEMENT” (June 29, 2016). A complete Technical Report on Eagle East is not yet available.

According to Lundin’s press release: “The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has determined that no modifications are required to Eagle’s Part 632 mining permit at this time.”

Heideman is outraged. “We’re very disappointed that the DEQ has once again circumvented due process for industry’s sake. Each time Eagle Mine’s Part 632 Permit is modified, the public is informed that these changes are “insignificant” and no public hearing is held. Clearly, the DEQ doesn’t have a working definition for “significant change.” The DEQ’s process is not working. The community has significant concerns but is not allowed to participate.”

“Eagle is building a tunnel that would stretch from the US-41 highway roundabout to NMU’s University Center – and back! It will take three years of drilling, through unknown geology, with no hydrological data, and Lundin states they’re unsure if they will mine Eagle East once they’ve finished building the tunnel? Ridiculous. Worst of all – none of this results in a modification to Eagle’s mining permit? This is stunningly egregious. No other industry would be permitted to construct something like this without conducting environmental studies, and securing significant permit revisions,” said Heideman.

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to defending wild places and clean water of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining. For more information contact info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org or follow SWUP on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or Twitter @savethewildup.

Files:
* Eagle East Q & A (PDF)
* Press Release: Eagle Mine Provides Exploration Update on Eagle East (PDF)
* Corporate Press Release: Lundin Mining Announces Eagle East Mineral Resource PEA Results and Project Commencement (PDF)

Aquila Resources: Putting Their Mine Where Our River Mouth Is?

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Article by Tyler Dettloff, originally printed in the Anishnaabe News, Spring 2016 issue.

In November 2015, Canadian-based mining company Aquila Resources submitted a mine permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The proposed Back Forty Project would be on the banks of the Menominee River, the origin place of the Menominee people. While Aquila Resources claims to be mainly interested in zinc, copper, gold, and silver, Aquila investors are also interested in extracting other metals via an open-pit sulfide mine.

But precious metals are not the only valuable resources to come from beneath the Menominee River. According to Menominee tribal member and lore expert James Frechette (1930-2006), the river holds the Menominee clan origins. A “Great Light Colored Bear” came up from the earth and traveled up the river. Then, Grandfather granted the bear the ability to change form, into a human, Frechette said, “The bear… became the first Menominee.” This first Menominee goes on to meet Eagle, Wolf, Crane, and Moose who change into humans and form the five clans of the Menominee Nation.

Origin stories create a space that Dr. Henrietta Mann (Cheyenne) would describe as sacred: “These origin stories—that we emerged or fell from the sky or were brought forth—connect us to this land and establish our identities, our belief systems. We have spiritual responsibilities to renew the Earth.” Mann affirms a connection between identity, belief, and origin place in the form of ceremony, and explains the traditional, healthy reciprocity between people and land as “give and take.” Respecting the Menominee River is respecting the sacred origins of the Menominee People.

The Menominee Indian Tribe Reservation, in Wisconsin, is sixty miles from the river. Regarding the Back Forty Mine Project, the tribe has firmly and publicly opposed the mine for both cultural and environmental reasons, and is urging area residents and community members to recognize the cultural significance of protecting the integrity and health of the Menominee River. Two grassroots organizations, Save the Wild U.P. and The Front Forty, have also helped raise community consciousness of the Back Forty Project’s potential negative environmental impacts.

Aquila Resources has released documents that boast their commitment to environmental concerns, community engagement and local economic growth. It’s interesting that in these reports, the word “river” is only mentioned once, and in a non-tribal context. Interested parties—job-creation enthusiasts and environmentalists—may both dispute and regulate the environmental impact of Aquila Resources’ proposed Back Forty Project. Aquila Resources may even be able to comply with environmental and safety regulations in exchange for the promise of public support. But neither Aquila Resources nor any other entities can dispute the sacredness of the site to the Menominee people: origin stories establish and maintain identities and belief systems, as Dr. Mann states. If the Back Forty project can potentially harm the Menominee River, it can harm Menominee cultural identity, a priceless tool against assimilation, for survival.