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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com – 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup