Don’t Undermine the Menominee: Forum on Aquila’s Back Forty Mine Proposal

MARQUETTE — Local environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is collaborating with the Menominee River Front 40 group, regional environmentalists, Menominee tribal leaders, archaeologists and mining experts to hold an informational forum on Aquila Resources’ Back Forty mine permit application. The forum will be held in the Shiras Room of the Peter White Public Library in Marquette on Wednesday, February 17th from 6pm – 8pm. The event is free and open to the public.

Aquila Resources has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for a mine permit. Aquila plans to develop a large open pit sulfide mine on the Menominee River northwest of Stephenson, extracting rock, 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.

“Sulfide mines are known to pollute indefinitely. This mine doesn’t belong on the Menominee River,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director.

The forum will include a slideshow, and experts offering brief overviews of the proposed mining activities, the environmental impacts from those mining activities, the potential loss of archaeological and cultural resources of the Menominee Nation and the significant regulatory steps taken by Menominee and Lake township residents to protect their citizens from the dangers of sulfide mining.

Wednesday’s “Don’t Undermine the Menominee” forum features a panel of experts from Michigan and Wisconsin, including: Gary Besaw, Menominee Indian Tribal Chairman; Denny Caneff, the executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin; Ron Henriksen, who joined the Front 40 Environmental Group to oppose the open pit metallic sulfide mine along the banks of the Menominee River; 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.

“We’re truly honored to host such a knowledgeable and passionate panel of experts. The future of the Menominee River is at stake,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s president.

The Back Forty mine permit application – over 37,500 pages, including environmental impact assessment – is currently under review by the Michigan’s DEQ. Concerned citizens, regional environmental organizations, and the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin are also scrutinizing the permit. “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.

“Almost all of the rock Aquila plans to extract will be highly reactive, so acid mine drainage is going to be a serious issue here,” said Heideman.

“The DEQ has done almost nothing to educate the public about Aquila’s mining plans. This forum is long overdue. Yoopers have been hearing big promises from this company for over a decade. Everyone needs to be aware of the threats posed by this project,” said Maxwell. “This is a great opportunity for all of us to learn what’s really at stake — Michigan’s clean water, as usual, and the health and well-being of our communities. The U.P. is tired of being a long-term sacrifice zone for short-term profits.”

The public comment deadline for the Aquila application is Tuesday, February 16th at 5pm. Concerned citizens are urged to send comments and concerns to: MDEQ Back Forty Mine Comments, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, Michigan, 49855; or by email to Joe Maki: makij3@michigan.gov

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 info@savethewildup.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.

MEDIA LINKS

“Don’t Undermine the Menominee” Event Page: http://bit.ly/MQTMenomineeForum

GUEST SPEAKER BIOS + PHOTOS

Gary Besaw is the Tribal Chairman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.
photo: http://bit.ly/BesawImage

Chuck Brumleve is an environmental mining specialist and geologist.
photo: http://bit.ly/CBrumleveImage

Denny Caneff is the Executive Director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin.
photo: http://bit.ly/DCaneffImage

Doug Cox is the Environmental Program Director for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.
photo: http://bit.ly/DCoxImage

Ron Henriksen is the spokesman for the group Menominee River Front 40.
photo: http://bit.ly/RHenriksenImage

Guy M. Reiter is a traditional Menominee Indian, an environmental advocate and a member of the Menominee Conservation Commission.
photo: http://bit.ly/GReiterImage

David Overstreet is the Principal Investigator at Center for Cultural Research, and professor at the College of the Menominee Nation.
photo: http://bit.ly/DOverstreetImage

Songs and Stories of Cycling Lake Superior: Surrounding Water

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MARQUETTE — Local environmental nonprofit Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) will host an evening of song and storytelling featuring singer-songwriter and clean water advocate Ben Weaver. The event takes place Friday, February 12th, and starts at 6pm at the Marquette Women’s Federated Clubhouse.

SWUP hosted Ben Weaver in July of 2015 as he circumnavigated Lake Superior on his bicycle, raising awareness about the environmental stewardship of Lake Superior. Weaver, a Minnesota- based musician, has toured extensively in Europe and North America, with critically acclaimed recordings and a “hillbilly Leonard Cohen” stage presence. Weaver visited communities around Lake Superior — working with local parks and environmental groups to help raise awareness and tell new stories about how we can take better care of our freshwater resources.

Weaver is returning to tell stories from his trip, sharing songs, poems and videos from all around Lake Superior. “We are happy to offer a wild alternative to the corporate-sponsored events in town,” said SWUP director, Alexandra Maxwell. “Ben is an incredible talent and we are so happy to welcome him back and hear all the inspiration he gathered. I think his project really resonates with folks —advocating for the protection of Lake Superior while getting out there and really experiencing the landscape first-hand.”

“This past July, I circled Lake Superior on a bicycle in 16 days. Along the way, I performed for audiences in small towns, on behalf of Provincial Parks, the Great Lakes Commons, Save the Wild U.P., Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, F.O.L.K., and other environmental groups, in order to raise awareness about clean water and Lake Superior,” said Weaver. “I’ve been riding bikes around the country for several years now, preferring to do my performances outdoors or in alternative spaces, using music and bikes to offer new ideas about how we can live more fulfilled, satisfying lives with healthier connections to our land and ecosystems.”

“Ben brings together so many facets of Save the Wild U.P.’s work. Insight is gained from time spent in nature, it can inform the way we interact with the world at large, and Ben will be sharing his insights with fellow concerned citizens. Ben Weaver wants us all to ‘become better ancestors’ — I love that idea,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

The event is $10 at the door with proceeds benefitting the work of Save the Wild U.P. and Ben Weaver’s advocacy on behalf of the Great Lakes Commons. For more information on the event, check out SWUP’s facebook page: http://bit.ly/BWFBEvent

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining. For more information contact info@savethewildup.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.

Related Links:

Promotional Image of Ben Weaver: http://bit.ly/BenWeaverIMG
Image of Ben on bike: http://bit.ly/BenWeaverBike
Save the Wild U.P. Event Page: http://bit.ly/BWFBEvent
Explore Ben Weaver’s Music: http://bit.ly/BWRatherBeABuffalo

benweaver-bike

Action Alert — Sign-On Letter To Michigan’s DEQ

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Our message is simple, really.

“We respectfully request that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) act to deny Aquila Resources’ Back Forty mine permit application, in light of serious and fundamental misrepresentations (….)
Click ‘READ THE SIGN-ON LETTER’ (below) to review the full letter, then SIGN ON!
For further analysis, read this: Will Michigan DEQ Reject Fraudulent Mine Permit?

Michigan DEQ: Reject Fraudulent Mine Permit Application

Robert A. Kaplan, Acting Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5

Keith Creagh, Interim Director
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

Hal Fitch, Chief
MDEQ Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals

Steve Casey, U.P. District Coordinator
MDEQ Water Resources Division

Joe Maki, District Geologist
MDEQ Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals

 

February 4, 2016

 

Dear Administrator Kaplan, Director Creagh, Chief Fitch, Supervisor Casey, and Mr. Maki,

We are writing to you on behalf of the collective members and supporters of our organizations, tribal groups, local residents, concerned citizens, and on behalf of the land and water we seek to protect. We respectfully request that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) act to deny Aquila Resources’ Back Forty mine permit application, in light of serious and fundamental misrepresentations or factual omissions regarding the Back Forty’s “Life of Mine” and Aquila’s “proposed mining activities.” 

Under Part 632, an applicant is required to determine type and method of mining and the life of mine, in accord with Rule 425.203 (a) A description of the type and method of mining, the expected operating life of the mine, and the anticipated rate and schedule of mining.


We cite the following specific concerns:

  • In their permit application, Aquila stated “Project will be an open pit mining operation” and the “Life of Mine (LOM) operation is planned to be approximately 7 years.”  This is a fundamental misrepresentation. Elsewhere, Aquila has consistently described the Back Forty as a “16 year life of mine (LOM), of which 12.5 Mt is open-pit and 3.6 Mt is underground” — in Aquila’s press releases, in the Back Forty’s website, in communications with the Menominee Indian Tribe, in letters to investors and local community leaders, and, significantly, in Aquila’s current “NI 43-101 report” (National Instrument required by Canadian Securities Administrators).
  • In their permit application, Aquila stated that all facilities are designed to accommodate the life of the mine. By misrepresenting the mine’s life – 7 years, instead of 16 years – all of the mine’s impacts may be miscalculated, including tailings capacity, size of waste rock storage areas, total limestone needed for neutralizing total waste rock, total need for importing and storing cyanide and other chemicals used in the processing of the ore, total crushing and processing throughput, milling equipment capacity, water treatment plant capacity, dewatering and draw-down estimates, air pollution quantities, noise, pit backfilling estimates, remediation planning, post-closure timelines, and more. Life of mine miscalculations skew every aspect of the application, including the environmental impact assessments.
  • In their permit application, Aquila claimed “no underground mining” will occur, sidestepping valid regulatory concerns. Underground mining questions were marked “not applicable” in the permit application checklist. Aquila dismissed Subsidence, Impacts to Public or Private Water Supply Wells, Closure of Openings and more, stating “project does not include an underground mine as such contingency planning for subsidence is not required.”
  • In their press release (“Aquila Resources submits mine permit application for its Back Forty Project with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality”) Aquila described the Back Forty as follows: “16-year life of mine, of which 12.5M tonne will be open-pit and 3.6M tonnes will be underground.”
  • In their permit application, Aquila stated “underground mining was considered but rejected (...) underground mining is not a prudent alternative for this ore body.” In fact, according to the current NI 43-101 report, Aquila reviewed mine design options and selected a design that integrates open pit mining and underground mining. Aquila selected the integrated design “to extend the mine and mill life” – and because the orebody extends beyond the limits of the open pit shell.

Clearly, Aquila’s Back Forty mine permit application has misrepresented some of the most fundamental information required under Part 632 Rule 425.203 (a), life of the mine, and the type and method of mining. The applicant’s plan – expressed in every document except their mine permit application to MDEQ – is to develop a 16 year mine, using open pit and underground mining (type) with long hole stope (method). 

Given these contradictions, factual misrepresentations and omissions, the mine permit application currently under review by the State of Michigan must be dismissed.

We respectfully ask that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality demonstrate their environmental leadership, exercise their legal obligations under Part 632, and fulfill their mission of "wise management of Michigan's air, land, and water resources” by denying Aquila Resources' Back Forty mine permit application. Public trust in our regulatory process is at stake.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kathleen Heideman, Save the Wild U.P. president

Alexandra Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P. executive director

 

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683Jacquelyn LauermanMichigan property tax payerFeb 12, 2016
682mb steisslingerGlobal Commons TrustFeb 12, 2016
681Evan BurtonFeb 12, 2016

NOTE: This letter, and a list of all signatures, will be submitted to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality at 12 noon on February 16, 2016, as part of the Public Comment period for the Back Forty mine permit application. A copy of the final submitted letter will be sent to all signatories. Thank you!

Will Michigan DEQ Reject Fraudulent Mine Permit?

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MARQUETTE – Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has announced that they will be asking Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to reject Aquila’s Back Forty mine permit application. SWUP is raising alarming questions about false or contradictory statements made in Aquila Resources’ Back Forty mine permit application. Aquila plans on developing an open pit sulfide mine on the Menominee River, extracting rock, processing ore – containing lead, zinc, copper, gold and other heavy metals – with flotation, cyanide and smelting, and dumping their waste on the banks of Upper Michigan’s largest watershed.

TAKE ACTION:  join our SIGN-ON letter to Michigan’s DEQ!

The Back Forty mine permit application – over 37,500 pages, including the environmental impact assessment – is currently under review by the MDEQ. Concerned citizens, regional environmental organizations, and the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin are also scrutinizing the permit.

When reviewing any mine proposal, one basic question must be answered: “what is the proposed Life of Mine (LOM)?” In order to correctly calculate a mine’s risks, benefits and cumulative environmental impacts, an accurate LOM estimate is essential. According to Aquila’s permit application, “The (Back Forty) Project will be an open pit mining operation” and the “Life of Mine (LOM) operation is planned to be approximately 7 years.”

This is misleading. Elsewhere, Aquila describes the Back Forty project as having a “16 year life of mine (LOM), of which 12.5 Mt is open-pit and 3.6 Mt is underground.” Back Forty is described as a 16 year mine in Aquila’s press releases, in communications with the Menominee Indian Tribe, and in letters to investors and local community leaders. According to their Project Fact Sheet: “we support a transparent process(…) visit our website at aquilaresources.com/projects/back-forty-project for more information.” Visitors to Aquila’s website find a 16 year mine described.

“Apparently, the only folks who haven’t been told about Aquila’s 16 year open pit and underground mining plan are the DEQ regulators who are busy at this very moment, reviewing Aquila’s application for a 7 year open pit mine,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

Significantly, the 16 year LOM is described in Aquila’s current NI 43-101 report, required by Canadian Securities Administrators. “Aquila’s NI 43-101 report should be used by Michigan regulators to truth-test whether this company is being ‘open and transparent’ concerning the Back Forty project,” said Michelle Halley, Marquette attorney and member of Save the Wild U.P.’s advisory board.

aquila-pit-and-underground-diagram-NI43101

Is Aquila Lying To State Regulators? Should DEQ Care?

Aquila’s application asserts that mining and milling facilities are scaled to accommodate the life of the mine. By minimizing LOM, the company can misrepresent all of the mine’s impacts, including tailings capacity, size of waste rock storage areas, total limestone needed for neutralizing total waste rock, total need for importing and storing cyanide and other chemicals used in the processing of the ore, total crushing and processing throughput, milling equipment capacity, water treatment plant capacity, dewatering and draw-down estimates, air pollution quantities, noise, pit backfilling estimates, remediation planning, post-closure timelines, and more.

“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. Sulfide mines are known to pollute indefinitely. This mine doesn’t belong on the Menominee River,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director.

Aquila-project-has-no-underground-plan

By claiming that “no underground mining” will occur, Aquila’s application sidestepped valid regulatory concerns under Michigan’s Part 632 rules governing sulfide mining. In the application checklist, underground items were marked “not applicable,” and Aquila skipped questions about Subsidence, Impacts to Public or Private Water Supply Wells, Closure of Openings and more, stating “project does not include an underground mine as such contingency planning for subsidence is not required.” In the permit application, Aquila flatly states “underground mining was considered but rejected (…) underground mining is not a prudent alternative for this ore body. The shallowness of the ore body, specifically the shallow ore zones, heavily influences the effectiveness of open pit mining.”

“Actually, Aquila hasn’t ruled out underground mining anywhere else — only in their permit application. Are they talking out of both sides of their mouth?” asked Heideman. “It undermines their credibility.”

Aquila-MDA-investors-June2015-underground-cut-off-value

“The Aquila Back Forty project must not be permitted on the basis of a fraudulent permit application for a short-lived open pit mine, only to have the company request endless revisions until Back Forty’s open pit gradually morphs into an unrecognizable and potentially unregulated underground mine,” warned Maxwell.

The Back Forty mine permit application for a 7 year mine appears misleading and inaccurate, at best, and fraudulent at worst. Aquila’s clear intent — expressed in every document except their mine permit application — is to develop a 16 year mine. Tacking on a subsequent underground mining phase could increase the mine’s life by a factor of 129%, forcing dramatic and non-public-involved revisions to every aspect of the permit application currently under review by the State of Michigan.

“If Aquila affirms that this 7 year open pit LOM is accurate, and defends the permit application, all public statements containing the Back Forty’s 16 year life of mine estimate should be viewed as baseless or fraudulent statements, designed to attract investors and gain greater political and community support,” said Heideman.

“Misinformation about the ‘life of mine’ has infected this permit application. We are asking DEQ regulators to act promptly to dismiss Aquila’s mine permit application, given the inaccurate statements. Public trust in our regulatory process is at stake,” said Maxwell.

DEQ Public Comment Deadline Extended

Concerned citizens are urged to submit their written comments by 5:00 P.M. on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. Mail comments to MDEQ Back Forty Mine Comments, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, Michigan, 49855; or by email to Joe Maki: makij3@michigan.gov

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the threat of sulfide mining. For more information contact info@savethewildup.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.

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Environmentalists Warn: Flint is Not A Fluke

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MARQUETTE – Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is calling on the Obama Administration to appoint an individual with proven leadership experience in environmental protection to fill the top position at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 5 headquarters, following the resignation of EPA Administrator Susan Hedman. On Thursday January 21, Hedman tendered her resignation, after admitting to the Detroit News that “her office knew in April 2015 that Flint’s action to switch its water supply could cause increased pipe corrosion and spiked lead levels.”

“This situation is urgent and new leadership is critical. The EPA needs a leader with an environmental track record, not a career administrator or an industry insider. All Hedman did was throw the problem back at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Meanwhile, an entire city was being poisoned,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director. In December, MDEQ Director Dan Wyant resigned his position as the scope of the water crisis was revealed.

“What has happened in Flint is egregious,” said Michelle Halley, Marquette attorney and advisory board member for Save the Wild U.P. “The public who relies upon their elected officials and the agencies they oversee should know that the problems do not stop in Flint. The same attitude of disregard for citizens and the environment has repeated itself in DEQ decisions across our state for well over a decade.”

“Administrator Hedman’s resignation comes as no surprise, honestly,” said Kathleen Heideman, Save the Wild U.P. president. “I’m afraid the problems in Flint are just the tip of the iceberg. EPA Region 5 has been turning a blind eye to environmental degradations happening right here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as well. For years, we’ve been calling on the EPA for transparency, accountability and enforcement actions.”

“Flint is not a fluke,” said Halley. “Flint reflects the failure of values and lack of thoroughness that has become habitual with Michigan politicians and environmental regulators. This happened in Michigan, and the EPA watched and did nothing.”

In 2015, Save the Wild U.P. brought water quality and permitting problems to the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency — specifically, discharges of industrial wastewater to the Salmon Trout River (from Eagle Mine), and the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River (from the Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill). SWUP petitioned the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board to uphold the Clean Water Act. The group also requested the veto authority of the EPA over wastewater discharges at the Humboldt Mill, which are known to pollute riparian wetlands of the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River.

“Instead of being a partner, EPA Region 5 worked to oppose the efforts of concerned citizens. Given new leadership, we hope the EPA will become a true environmental ally,” said Heideman.

“When it comes to water quality, mining companies view the U.P. as a Third-World economy; Lundin Mining called us a ‘low-risk jurisdiction’ when they purchased the Eagle Mine, referring to our historical experience with mining, the complicity of state regulators, and the EPA’s lack of interest in our environmental problems,” said Gail Griffith, professor emeritus of chemistry at Northern Michigan University and Save the Wild U.P. board member.

“Why hasn’t the EPA been more responsive? Politics and poverty are big factors, I think. In 2014, the median income in Humboldt MI was less than $36,000; the median income in Flint was over $49,000. Yoopers make the residents of Flint look wealthy,” said Maxwell.

“It took the poisoning of hundreds of poor children to demonstrate that the leaders of both EPA Region 5 and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality were incapable of properly managing those organizations. Why did it take a catastrophe after we provided an abundance of evidence over the last 5 years demonstrating that they were inept?” said Jeffery Loman, former federal oil regulator and Save the Wild U.P. advisory board member. “The EPA has been too busy commemorating, celebrating and congratulating — mostly themselves — to care about enforcing water quality.”

“Our message is simple,” said Maxwell. “Michigan and the Great Lakes deserve real environmental leadership. We look forward to establishing a positive working relationship with EPA Region 5 in 2016.”

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 info@savethewildup.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.

Environmentalists Tally Ongoing Pollution Concerns at White Pine Mine

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MARQUETTE — Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has submitted written comment to Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), after reviewing the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit #MI0006114 for Copper Range Co. (White Pine Mine). SWUP is deeply concerned that the permit lacks enforcement. The permit conditions appear insufficiently protective of aquatic life, given the well-documented and devastating history of legacy mining contamination at the Copper Range Co. (White Pine Mine) facility. The hydrological and ecological health of the surrounding Mineral River watershed, including the receiving waters listed in the permit (Perch Creek), have been ecologically impaired. Human-wrought landscape changes have permanently altered the watershed, to the point that Perch Creek now exists only to receive untreated wastewater discharges —that is, it has a “flow” volume of 0.

The industrial discharges authorized by this permit play a well-established role in transporting pollutants to Lake Superior, including contaminants such as chloride and copper. Given the long-term and ongoing nature of these discharges — mine dewatering without end, brines containing toxic amounts of metals and salts, and the lack of a industrial wastewater treatment facility — SWUP raised several key concerns.

First, the NPDES permit is intended to be an enforceable tool for maintaining surface water quality, however, this permit lets the polluter “report” contaminants rather than setting strict limits for copper (“report only” through 2018), dissolved copper, total hardness, total organic carbon, acute toxicity, chronic toxicity, total suspended solids, total chlorides, outfall observations, mercury, arsenic, cadmium — all of these contaminants are listed as “report” only. Given the egregious history of this facility, chloride in particular needs to be tightly controlled.

Second, the permit’s “allowable” copper levels appear detrimental to the Mineral River aquatic ecosystems; this watershed is already identified by the State of Michigan as “impaired” by copper. Impaired waters are those identified as “not attaining all designated uses” according to Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act.

Third, it is unclear what percentage of leachate — water contaminated by contact with toxic metals — is allowable in the final effluent discharge. This NPDES permit authorizes the discharge of “mine dewatering” (brine water), “leachate from an on-site repository” (slag from historic copper milling or smelting), and “stormwater runoff.”  The actual amount of stormwater runoff is unspecified, but “until the expiration date of this permit, the permittee is authorized to discharge an unspecified amount of stormwater runoff from lands on Michigan’s List of Environmental Contamination.”

Finally, a NPDES tool must be enforceable. Since this facility has no wastewater treatment plant, compliance can’t be enforced. While the permit would “add monitoring” for arsenic, cadmium, silver, the monitoring is “report only” so the prevention of pollution is not enforced.

Mining at the site began in 1879. Historically, the White Pine Mine facility polluted the Mineral River (via Perch Creek) and Lake Superior with industrial wastewater discharges containing toxic amounts of salts and metals. Discharges included tailings, contact water, and brine pumped from underground mine workings.  In 1983, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted a study of the mine’s dewatering plume entering Lake Superior at the mouth of the Mineral River, and found levels of chloride at 2,000 mg/L, compared to natural levels of chloride in Lake Superior of 1 mg/L. This single source of pollution accounted for “35-40% of total US tributary load of chloride to Lake Superior.”

In 1989, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) stated that “flow in the Mineral River downstream of the Perch Creek confluence is primarily tailings impoundment effluent from the White Pine mine.” 1991, the MDNR described “macroinvertebrate abundance as low and much reduced” in the Mineral River due to the mine’s brine discharges. In 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited the White Pine Mine, and noted that despite extensive tailings impoundment basins filled with mine effluent  — the tailings basins are visible from space — “no groundwater monitoring” was required at the site. It is now understood that brine rising in the former underground mine poses a critical threat to the local groundwater aquifer, so the mine (currently owned by Copper Range Co., pending purchase by Highland Copper) is required to continue dewatering.

Despite years of remediation efforts, the Mineral River is still being polluted by the White Pine facility. According to the EPA’s 2011 “Discharge Monitoring Report Pollutant Loading Tool,” the Mineral River is listed as a top receiving watershed for industrial effluent discharges, polluted by a staggering “total Toxic Weighted Pounds Equivalent” of 1,020 pounds per year of “ore mining and dressing” waste. This NPDES permit appears to facilitate an ongoing unregulated point-source of pollution to Mineral River and Lake Superior.

The Upper Peninsula is witnessing a resurgence in mining and mineral exploration which threatens multiple watersheds in the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior basins. This resurgence also threatens the treaty protected natural and cultural resources of federally-recognized tribal nations and highlights the state’s responsibility in maintaining government-to-government negotiations when these resources are threatened. Playing off the area’s history of economic boom-and-bust cycles, mining companies move in promising good jobs and a watchful eye to the environment — but mining and milling bring short-term profits at the expense of legacy environmental contamination. The White Pine mine site, and the NPDES permit currently under DEQ’s review, perfectly illustrate the long term environmental hazards of mining.

“The DEQ might as well build a drainage pipe from the northernmost tailings basin of the old White Pine Mine to the Lake Superior shoreline and have it done with. The facility authorized by this NPDES permit really has no water treatment plan, and no true “mixing zone” for effluent, given the low volume of the Mineral River. Let’s be honest: historically — and for the foreseeable future — this site is polluting Lake Superior,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director.

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 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.

Related Sources:

SWUP Asks DEQ To Extend Public Comment, Back Forty Mine Application

UPDATE

 

 

The DEQ has extended the Public Comment period for the “Back Forty” sulfide mine permit application —new deadline is Tuesday, February 16, 2016.

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Save the Wild U.P. has formally asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to extend the Public Comment period (currently set for February 2, 2016) for the mine permit application submitted to the DEQ for the Aquila Resources “Back Forty” sulfide mine project.

Save the Wild U.P. cites the following reasons for the request:

  • Key environmental stakeholders — including tribal members, grassroots organizations and local residents — have reported a range of technical difficulties related to the mine permit application documents: confusions related to non-functioning or misleading URLs, poor functionality (ie: Tables of Contents without internal links), PDF compilation issues (causing viewer applications to randomly ‘skip’ pages while reading), excessive file size of individual PDF files (100MB+, and a single file containing more than 20,000 pages, crashing PDF readers or causing memory errors), residually copy-protected text, etcetera. Altogether, these represent inexcusable obstacles to public participation.
  • The applicant did not submit their primary file — Mine Permit Application Volume I. — in a format usable to the public: the text was copy-protected. The DEQ was notified of this problem by Save the Wild U.P. on December 23rd, and to this date (January 6, 2016) no solution or explanation has been provided by the DEQ.
  • Total file size is over 37,500 pages, not including an AQD “Permit to Install” (New Source Review) which is also in a public comment phase, but not included in DEQ links.
  • Save the Wild U.P. was not notified by the DEQ when this mine permit application went to Public Notice.
  • No information is provided concerning a key “land swap” proposed between Aquila Resources and the State of Michigan, for parcels critical to the mine permit application’s site design. The public has not been informed about the land swap. A direct question about the land swap, asked at the DEQ public meeting in Stephenson on January 5, 2016, could not be answered by the DEQ staff. Until the underlying “land swap” has been publicly reviewed, the mine permit application review should be put on hold.
  • Numerous concerns have been raised about the ‘timing of the permit’ and while the DEQ may not have had control over the application’s original submission date, serious consideration must be given to the holidays, which resulted in DEQ staff being unavailable to resolve concerns in a timely fashion.
  • New information, not disclosed in the permit application materials, is coming to light about the extent to which mapped archaeological resources of enormous cultural value are in the path of this project. The Back Forty mine application threatens to destroy, disrupt or inflict significant damage to Menominee Tribe’ treaty-protected natural and cultural resources. These damages are culturally offensive and unethical. It is in the State of Michigan’s best interest to grant stakeholders additional time for permit review, given the applicant’s apparent lack of full disclosure. The loss of these resources would reverberate well beyond any cultural or political boundaries.

 

SWUP to Screen “Winona: A Copper Mining Ghost Town” by Michael Loukinen

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MARQUETTE— Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) will host a special screening of Michael Loukinen’s documentary Winona: A Copper Mining Ghost Town. The film will be shown on Thursday, January 7, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the Baraga Conference Room located at 129 W. Baraga Street, Marquette. Note: $5 cover for the film screening.

Michael Loukinen, who serves on Save the Wild U.P.’s Advisory Board, has also made copies of the film for sale at the screening, with proceeds to benefit Save the Wild U.P.’s work.

“You can dig out the heart of a community, but you can’t kill its spirit,” said Chip Truscon, SWUP board member.

“I really look forward to seeing our supporters at this screening of Winona,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP executive director and contributing photographer to the project. “There’s a poignant human story here, but the film also acknowledges a dirty little secret – when the mining boom ends, the U.P. is always left with struggling communities and collapsed economies, in addition to a polluted environment.”

ABOUT THE FILM: Winona, Michigan, a former copper mining town 33 miles south of Houghton is fast becoming a “ghost town.” The town’s population has shrunk from an estimated 1,000+ in 1920 to perhaps 13 residents today. Noted documentary filmmaker and sociologist, Dr. Michael Loukinen has created this beautiful, fascinating and elegiac film documenting the community’s history and demise. More info: http://www.upnorthfilms.com/HOME.html

ABOUT THE FILMMAKER: Michael Loukinen is an emeritus professor of sociology at Northern Michigan University. He started by trying to teach using 35mm slide presentations. Gradually, he learned 16mm filmmaking, working with experienced filmmakers such as Tom Davenport, Debora Dickson, Kathleen Laughlin and especially Miroslav Janek (Czech Republic). Recently he has teamed up with digital cinema artist, Grant Guston. Most of his films are about the traditional cultures of the Lake Superior Region: Finnish Americans, Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and wilderness workers (loggers, trappers, and fishers). He has also made three sociological intervention films concerning at-risk youth in alternative schools, adults with disabilities who are fighting for independent lifestyles, and the prevention of vehicular homicide. His films have won both academic and artistic awards. His films have won numerous awards and have been featured at film festivals across the country.

Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining, and preserving the Upper Peninsula’s unique culture. For more information contact info@savethewildup.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. 

 

Environmentalists Criticize Open Pit Sulfide Mine Planned for Menominee River

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MARQUETTE – In November, Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) learned that Aquila Resources (Aquila) submitted a mine permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for their “Back Forty Project” (“Back 40” in some sources, including MDEQ’s website). Aquila describes the proposed mine as “gold- and zinc-rich” but their investor materials list several other “metals of primary interest” including lead, copper and silver. The Back Forty, a volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit, also contains additional toxic metals, arsenic, corrosive sulfosalts, and radioactive elements including uranium. Aquila’s mine permit application has been deemed “administratively complete” by the MDEQ.

Several grassroots environmental organizations, including Save the Wild U.P. and the Front 40, with local property owners, have been deeply critical of the Back Forty proposal for years, contending that an open pit sulfide mine, with on-site processing and tailings, will pollute the adjacent Menominee River. Tribal natural resources, including archeological sites, are also threatened by any mining operation on the Menominee River, the largest watershed drainage system in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. According to the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, “our origin or creation begins at the mouth of the Menominee River.”

“With a watershed of over 4,000 square miles (4,070 square miles with 2,618 square miles located in Michigan and 1,452 square miles located in Wisconsin, according to the Environmental Protection Agency) and more than 100 tributaries, the Menominee is the U.P.’s largest river system. It supports large populations of smallmouth bass, walleye and northern pike, and provides spawning habitat for sturgeon. Nearby Shakey Lakes Savanna is one of the few intact savanna ecosystems left in the Upper Midwest, and supports rare prairie plants and abundant wildlife. Mounds, garden beds, and other remnants of an ancient Native American village are also clearly evident. Aquila Resources couldn’t have chosen a worse place for a mine,” said Steve Garske, biologist and Save the Wild U.P. board member.

“I question the wisdom of digging an open pit mine on the edge of a river,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director. “These metals are wrapped in an enormous amount of sulfides, so the risks to the U.P.’s clean water are real, unavoidable, and numerous.”

“In describing the Back Forty project, Aquila doesn’t mention the sulfides and pyrites in their rock. With a sulfide mine on a riverbank, acid mine drainage is a real threat. Aquila has no experience dealing with acid mine drainage. Back Forty would be their very first project, anywhere,” said Maxwell.

According to Ron Henriksen, spokesman for the Menominee River Front 40 environmental group, “This is not a done deal. Even though Aquila’s permit was deemed ‘administratively complete’ by the MDEQ, the company must comply with Lake Township’s ‘Mineral Extraction Ordinance’ and ‘Land Usage Approval.’ Front 40 will continue to do what is necessary to ensure that a metallic sulfide mine is not allowed to impact our rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands.”

“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,” said Marla Tuinstra of Lake Township.

In opposing this sulfide mine proposal, Save the Wild U.P. cites numerous threats to the Menominee River watershed. “Aquila’s press release never mentioned the Menominee River. That’s a very bad sign. This project would literally undermine the Menominee River – first with an open pit mine, and later with an underground mine, with milling and tailings proposed for the site as well. Furthermore, cyanide will be used in the processing, exponentially increasing the risks. I applaud all of the citizens who are fighting the Back Forty project, and defending Michigan’s clean water,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

“We still have the opportunity to help make “Pure Michigan” a reality, rather than just a catchy slogan,” said Jim Voss, a resident of Lake Township.

OPPORTUNITIES TO GET INVOLVED

Public Notice – Concerned citizens are asked to review the proposed Mine Permit Application, now available by following directions on the MDEQ website: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3311_18442—,00.html

Public Meeting – The MDEQ will hold a Public Meeting concerning Aquila’s Mine Permit Application. The meeting takes place on January 5, 2016, from 6 to 9 p.m. CST, at Stephenson High School, W526 Division Street in Stephenson, Michigan.

Public Forum – Save the Wild U.P. and Front 40 will host “Don’t Undermine the Menominee River!” an informational forum reviewing the Back Forty sulfide mine proposal, and what’s at stake. The forum will take place on Wednesday, February 17, 2016, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Shiras Room of the Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

UPDATE

Public Comment Deadline has been EXTENDED to February 16! – Concerned citizens and other interested persons are urged to submit written comments by mail or e-mail until 5:00 P.M. on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. Mail your comments to MDEQ Back Forty Mine Comments, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, Michigan, 49855; or by email to Joe Maki: makij3@michigan.gov

NEW:  DEQ Information Session – MDEQ staff have been asked to hold an additional educational session for the public, concerning Aquila’s Back Forty Mine Permit Application. This meeting is tentatively schedule to take place on March 9th, 2016, at 7p.m. CST, at the Lake Township Hall Co. Rd. 577/G-12, Stephenson, MI 49887. For confirmation, contact Joe Maki: makij3@michigan.gov – for directions, contact Lake Township at 906-753-4385. 

Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining, and to preserving the Upper Peninsula’s unique culture. For more information contact info@savethewildup.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

DEQ to hold Public Meeting on “Back Forty” mine permit application

Grassroots organizations Save the Wild U.P. and the Menominee River Front 40 urge the public to attend an upcoming Public Meeting to be held by Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), regarding the Back Forty Mine proposed by Aquila Resources Inc. The proposed mine — an open-pit sulfide mine — would be located in Lake Township, Menominee County, Michigan, on the bank of the Menominee River.

According to the DEQ, “the application was submitted under the requirements of Part 632, Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended. The MDEQ received the application on November 12, 2015, and determined it to be administratively complete on November 26, 2015. The purpose of the meeting is to provide an opportunity for interested parties to exchange information through informal discussions.”

The meeting will be held on January 5, 2016, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. CST, at Stephenson High School, W526 Division Street in Stephenson, Michigan. 

Concerned citizens and other interested persons are urged to submit written comments on Aquila’s Mine Permit Application by mail or e-mail until 5:00 P.M. Tuesday, February 2, 2016. Mail comments to DEQ Back Forty Mine Comments, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, Michigan, 49855; or by email to Joe Maki:  makij3@michigan.gov

Printed copies of the proposed Back Forty mine permit application may be reviewed in person at the following locations:

MDEQ Upper Peninsula District Office
1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, MI.
Contact Tina Coluccio, 906-228-4524

MDEQ Office of Geological Survey
525 W. Allegan St., Lansing, Michigan 48933
Contact Deana Lawrence, 517-284-6823

Lake Township Hall
Co. Rd. 577/G-12, Stephenson, MI 49887
Contact 906-753-4385

Concerned citizens may also view the the proposed Back Forty mine permit application online, by following the DEQ’s detailed instructions here:
http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3311_18442—,00.html

The Menominee River’s Front 40 environmental group, founded in 2003, seeks to ensure that metallic sulfide mining operations are not allowed to adversely impact the Menominee River and surrounding lakes and streams. Save the Wild U.P., founded in 2004, is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending clean water and wild places in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the environmental degradations of sulfide mining.