MARQUETTE —On Wednesday, February 17th, environmental nonprofit Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) hosted a forum on Aquila Resources’ proposed Back Forty open pit sulfide mine, to a packed room of concerned citizens, Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) staff, Northern Michigan University students, and worried homeowners.
Wednesday’s “Don’t Undermine the Menominee” forum featured Denny Caneff, the executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin; Ron Henriksen, spokesman for the Front 40 environmental group; Dr. David Overstreet, a professor of archaeology at the College of the Menominee Nation; Doug Cox, the environmental program coordinator for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin; Guy M. Reiter, an environmental advocate and a member of the Menominee Conservation Commission; and Chuck Brumleve, an environmental mining specialist and geologist.
“It was a great forum and really rewarding to see everyone speaking to their expertise with passion. I think that the message came across loud and clear: concerned citizens don’t want a sulfide mine on the banks of the Menominee River”, said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP executive director.
Message to MDEQ: Deny Aquila’s Mining Permit
On Tuesday, February 16th, Save the Wild U.P. submitted a letter to the MDEQ asking them to deny Aquila Resources’ Back Forty application on the basis of fraudulent or misleading “life of mine” statements. Over the past week, 829 concerned citizens signed onto the letter, some on behalf of organizations they represent, including Superior Watershed Partnership, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, The Western Mining Action Network, Save our Sky Blue Waters, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, Sugar Law Center, numerous fishing clubs, and more.
SWUP’s Public Comment re: Aquila Back Forty
SWUP provided substantial public comment to the MDEQ concerning the Back Forty mining application, and sent a strongly worded request to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), with supporting comments, asking that the MDNR deny an underlying “Land Swap” proposed by Aquila Resources. The proposed land swap between Aquila Resources and the State of Michigan would destroy critical habitat, threatened and endangered species, invaluable archaeological sites, and treaty-protected natural and cultural resources of the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin.
“The proposed Land Swap is not in the Public Interest, and would result in an uncalculated loss of ecological services, with adverse impacts on freshwater fisheries, wildlife including threatened and endangered species, human health and welfare, environmental justice and special aquatic sites,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.
Aquila plans to develop a large open pit sulfide mine on the Menominee River northwest of Stephenson, extracting rock to create a pit over 750 feet deep and at least a quarter mile wide, processing ore – containing lead, zinc, copper, gold and other heavy metals using flotation, cyanide and smelting – and dumping their waste on the banks of Upper Michigan’s largest watershed.
SWUP’s public comments raised serious concerns about the mining application and the company’s environmental impact assessment (EIA), including: threats to sturgeon fisheries and freshwater mussels, shoddy or inadequate EIA surveys that missed or misidentified plants and failed to mention threatened and endangered species, the vulnerability of the mine site to flood hazards, the hazardous use of cyanide and mercury in smelting, reclamation plans based on the environmentally disastrous Flambeau Mine, the planned destruction of regulated wetlands and vernal pools, groundwater draw-down, the potential instability of highly-fractured and faulted rock at this site, Aquila’s plan to backfill the pit with acid-generating waste rock, and more.
As designed, much of Aquila Back Forty mine facility, including a majority of the Back Forty’s near-surface orebody, much of the Open Pit, and all of the Oxide Tailings Waste Rock Management Facility (TWRMF), would be built on State Land that is currently part of the Escanaba State Forest. The land that Aquila wants for an open pit mine and a perpetual waste rock facility are not currently owned by Aquila Resources.
“The Back Forty mine application raises more red flags than I can count – critical oak savannas, sturgeon fisheries, treaty-protected natural resources, and indigenous archaeological sites will be threatened or destroyed by this mining operation,” said Maxwell. “The U.P. is tired of being a long-term sacrifice zone for short-term profits.”
“We seem, as a society, to be ever ready to relinquish this public stewardship of the wild for the sake of private gains for a few, and contribute through ill-considered industrial-scale projects to an ongoing degrading of the landscape. Is reducing and mitigating damage the best that we can do?” asked Jon Saari, SWUP vice president.
Wednesday’s well-attended forum included multiple presentations from experts offering brief overviews of the proposed mining activities, the environmental impacts from mining activities, and significant regulatory steps taken by Menominee and Lake township residents to protect their citizens from the dangers of sulfide mining. During Guy Reiter’s presentation, he asked that the audience stand and pledge to “get involved” and every single person stood up and promised to work for the protection of the Upper Peninsula’s clean water and wild places.
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 email@example.com or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup.
SWUP Public Comments to DEQ:
SWUP Letter to DNR:
SWUP Sign-On Letter “Deny Aquila Back Forty Application”:
SWUP Essay on Fraudulent Life of Mine: