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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385 signatures

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Latest Signatures
385Alycea MakiFeb 09, 2016
384Amy ProvenzanoFeb 09, 2016
383Ruth SchautFeb 09, 2016
382Jane WisniewskiMps educatorFeb 09, 2016
381Mark YoungMrFeb 09, 2016
380Lauren YellenSWUPFeb 08, 2016
379Beth WaukechonEducatorFeb 08, 2016
378Susan CraneFeb 08, 2016
377Marlene Williamsconcerned citizenFeb 08, 2016
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348Janeen RastallFeb 08, 2016
347Emily AndersonConcerned citizenFeb 08, 2016
346Dennis GrzezinskiLaw Office of Dennis M GrzezinskiFeb 08, 2016
345Laura PaalanenFeb 08, 2016
344Jan WierengaFeb 08, 2016
343Kathleen HenryFeb 08, 2016
342Thane PadillaIron Worker local 8, ApprenticeFeb 08, 2016
341Therese YglesiasSouthwest Economic Solutions Teacher and Workforce CoachFeb 08, 2016
340wayne nelsonFeb 08, 2016
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338Walter E. "Ted" AuchThe FracTracker Alliance, Great Lakes Program CoordinatorFeb 08, 2016
337Raymond KruegerFeb 08, 2016
336Rainbow BarryFeb 08, 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.

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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.

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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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Menominee Resident Tells DEQ: Aquila Threatens Our River

Letter to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality:

I am a sixty seven year old retiree who has enjoyed and utilized the Menominee River for most of my life. From biking down to the Hattie Street Bridge as a child to fish or “puddle jump” when the gates of the dam were closed, to swimming, swinging off rope swings, camping, canoeing, kayaking, pontooning and recently eagle watching!

I am also the secretary of the Pflueger Brothers Fishing Club of the Chalk Hill Flowage, and our club has been involved in many conservation and community projects along the Menominee River. These including public access, a free life jacket station, fishing piers, invasive species eradication and walleye stocking. I love this River and can speak for many others who do not want to see it threatened in any way. Especially from something as obvious as an open pit gold mine on its banks.

I attended your public comment forum in Stephenson and agreed with most reports that the” for” and “against” was evenly matched. But one thing was obvious to me – and I hope it was to you as well. And that is that those against the mine spoke with a passion for and a knowledge of the environment. Those for the mine did not even talk about the environment, except to say “Trust Aquila”. They only spoke of money! We all have economic concerns, but Menominee County ranks in the top 10 or 11 Michigan counties with the lowest unemployment. So economic concerns should be a very low priority in this decision.

There are a few points I would like to make that were not brought up at the meeting:

1. “Trust Aquila”…I am sure the company views itself as professional and qualified to take on the project, but it is their first mine! Problems, accidents and failure are inherent in a first time venture of any kind.

2. 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.

Open pit gold mines in the middle of unpopulated, wilderness areas like those in Nevada have caused many problems and destruction to the local environments. To even think of dropping a mine in an environmentally sensitive area, populated by people who chose to live or own property there because of their love of the environment, nature, peace and tranquility just blows my mind! I believe it takes about 20 tons of ore to produce one gold ring…a ring that will not even stay in this county, but will be marketed to one of the rising middle classes in the far east portions of this globe.

Please make the wisest and most informed decisions when reviewing this application.

Menominee County Resident, Tom DeDamos

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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.

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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.

 

MDEQ Needs Real Leadership in 2016

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MARQUETTE – Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is calling on Governor Snyder to appoint an individual with proven experience in environmental protection to fill the leadership vacuum at Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), following Director Dan Wyant’s resignation. Wyant resigned, along with a top MDEQ public relations staffer, after a State Task Force blamed MDEQ for Flint’s water quality crisis.

“This situation is urgent and new leadership is critical. The MDEQ needs a leader with an environmental track record, not a career administrator or an industry insider. The clock is ticking on a number of environmental permits currently under review by the MDEQ — including a mine permit application for what could be Upper Michigan’s second sulfide mine,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director.

“Under Dan Wyant’s tenure, the MDEQ made decisions that benefited industry, at the sake of the environment — he was hand-picked for that purpose by Governor Snyder. Wyant was totally incapable of managing the agency. Snyder needs to be held accountable for appointing Wyant, just as he should now be held accountable for the egregious mismanagement of Flint’s water quality crisis,” said Jeffery Loman, former federal oil regulator and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member.

“At the highest level, MDEQ leaders have repeatedly failed to protect water quality in Michigan. The MDEQ can’t go on treating our priceless rivers like sewer pipes, useful only for flushing away wastewater discharges,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

“Michigan visitors, residents, and wildlife alike depend on clean water — for everything from habitats to recreation to drinking water. The Governor has apologized for the DEQ’s failure to ensure that the city of Flint had a safe water supply, for disregarding the concerns of local citizens and denying there was a problem. Now we hope he gets serious about reorganizing the MDEQ so that it works for the people of this state, instead of benefiting the big corporate polluters they’re supposed to be regulating,” said Steve Garske, SWUP board member.

“Lacking DEQ leadership, the task of defending clean water and wild places has fallen to grassroots organizations like Save the Wild U.P., F.O.L.K., Front 40, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, and so on,” said Maxwell.

“I applaud the concerned citizens in Flint who spoke out in order to sound the alarm about their contaminated water — that’s grassroots activism. These ordinary citizens are truly heroes. It’s clear that the EPA only got involved in Flint because of citizen efforts, while the DEQ tried to cover up the problem,” said Heideman.

“Our message to Governor Snyder is simple,” said Maxwell. “In 2016, Michigan deserves real environmental leadership.”

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.

 

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.

Open Letter To Governor Mark Dayton Regarding Your Recent Tour Of Eagle Mine In Upper Michigan

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As published in the Minnesota StarTribune:

When talking PolyMet, don’t be fooled by Michigan’s Eagle Mine

You call this a good example of environmental protection?  Hardly. This facility poses threats to the surrounding air, water and land. 
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Dear Gov. Mark Dayton,

When we learned you’d be touring Eagle Mine in Michigan’s wild Upper Peninsula, we — Board and Advisory Board members of grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. — asked to meet with you, to share key concerns about the Eagle Mine. We’d like you to make an informed decision on the PolyMet project. Since you were unable to meet with us during your visit, we’re sharing our concerns publicly.

You toured Eagle Mine’s facility, which the sulfide mining industry deems an environmentally responsible sulfide mine. Did you happen to notice the newly constructed, heavy-duty paved haul road you traveled on from Big Bay, pavement which ends at the gates of Eagle Mine? Under Michigan’s Part 632 Legislation governing sulfide mining, that road should have been regulated as a mining haul road, subject to an environmental impact assessment and permit revisions. Through a series of political-corporate sleights of hand, however, the haul road was paid for by Eagle Mine, but constructed as a County Road.

Did Eagle show you their air pollution? For example, did Eagle proudly show you the Main Vent Air Raise on the bank of the Salmon Trout River, a wild blue-ribbon trout stream flowing swiftly down to Lake Superior? During the mine’s permitting phase, Eagle pledged to use environmentally responsible baghouse filters to remove heavy metals, sulfide rock particles, exhaust from underground equipment, and cancer-causing particulates ejected from the mine following blasting. Did they mention that they changed the design, revised the permit, and removed all filters? Now, twice daily, the underground sulfide orebody is blasted, and a plume of heavy metals is blown from the stack at high velocity. The pollutants are carried on the winds, falling out over the surrounding environment. Only one stack test was ever done, more than a year ago, prior to the mine becoming fully-operational. Twice daily, we are told, someone stands at the vent site and views the plume to rate how dark it is, a sort of visual opacity test — although one blast takes place at night. The actual contents of Eagle’s air pollution plume remain entirely unassessed and unregulated.

Did Eagle Mine show you the Salmon Trout River, a pristine, groundwater-fed river? At their treated wastewater infiltration system, the mine’s deionized wastewater is returned to the shallow groundwater aquifer, where it bonds with metals in the ground as it percolates. Almost immediately, it is outside of Eagle’s fenceline. Did Eagle Mine explain they are utilizing groundwater as if it were a sewer pipe, conveying wastewater directly to springs which feed the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River? We’d like you to understand that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA have allowed Eagle Mine to use the wrong permit — a Groundwater Discharge Permit, meeting only human drinking water values, rather than an NPDES Clean Water Act permit, with the more sensitive pollution limits for copper and other contaminants needed to protect macroinvertebrates and other stream life, including trout. We hope you learned there are no monitoring wells tracking the movement of Eagle’s wastewater toward these critical springs. The Salmon Trout River will be harmed — it’s simply a question of when.

Eagle Mine LLC’s milling facility, the Humboldt Mill, also poses multiple threats to clean water, with discharges from its tailings degrading the Escanaba River watershed, and the Lake Michigan basin. Note that Lundin Mining has provided a mere $23.2 million in total financial assurances for both the mine ($18m) and the mill ($5.2m) — a tiny sum, inadequate to fund even an EPA cleanup investigation.

The sulfide mining industry would like you to ignore these serious issues — impacts to the air, water, and land, as well as grossly inadequate bonding assurances — while falsely portraying the Eagle Mine as environmentally protective. The Eagle Mine should be viewed as a dire warning, rather than a good example. We urge you to deny the PolyMet permit, and protect Minnesota’s most valuable natural resource: clean water.

Kathleen Heideman, President of Save the Wild U.P.
president@savethewildup.org

Board of Directors, Save the Wild U.P.
Advisory Board, Save the Wild U.P.

 

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.

Letter of Unified Opposition to Headwaters Lease

Dr. Susan Hedman, Regional Administrator
US EPA Region 5
77 West Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60604-3590

Benita Best-Wong, Director, Office of Wetlands, Oceans & Waters
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

Keith Creagh, Director
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 30028
Lansing, MI 48909

Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst, Minerals Management
Department of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 30452
Lansing, MI 48909

Submitted on September 22, 2015

Dear Ms. Maidlow,

On behalf of our collective members and supporters, including property owners, environmentalists and concerned citizens, tribal organizations, and on behalf of the watersheds we seek to protect, we strongly urge you to deny the proposed mineral lease sought by Eagle Mine LLC for 40 acres of State-owned land (NE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of Section 8, T50N, R29W, Michigamme Township, Marquette County).

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) is entrusted with managing and conserving lands under the public interest doctrine. This lease proposes to sacrifice the use and integrity of public lands for the benefit of a foreign mining company.

The parcel in question is located in an intact watershed and contains an undisturbed headwater wetland ecosystem of over 1,000 acres (in a state that has lost 50% of its wetlands). Wetland functions include benefits to fisheries and recreation; with tourism playing a major role in Michigan, it is unwise to despoil areas valued by our visitors.

Critically, these 40 acres contain headwaters of the Yellow Dog River, a federally-designated Wild and Scenic River. Mining is incompatible with the values espoused by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, which specifies additional “regulations for minimizing surface disturbance, water sedimentation, pollution and visual impairment.” Headwaters and wetlands, once polluted, would negatively affect downstream users and ultimately damage the Lake Superior watershed. The State of Michigan should not allow mineral exploration on headwater wetlands. Andersen Creek flows through this land; identified as headwaters of the Yellow Dog River.

  • The Superior Watershed Partnership published the Salmon Trout River Watershed Management Plan (2006), which included a recommendation to “prohibit sulfide-based mining” (p.41). Since the Salmon Trout River and the Yellow Dog River share common watershed boundaries at this critical headwaters site, the sulfide mining recommended prohibition applies to both watersheds.
  • The State’s mineral rights on this parcel are currently unsevered.
  • The MDNR departmental lease review acknowledges the headwaters of the Yellow Dog (Andersen Creek) and noted the possible presence of endangered species and a Special Conservation Area, protecting the “wet willow marsh and its unique lowland wildlife habitat.” MDNR Fisheries staff recommended that a “Stipulation 15” be included, minimizing surface disruption, but the lead agency reviewer removed Stipulation 15, which would have required proper drilling and exploration protocol. Multiple MDNR reviewers identified this land as headwaters, but (ultimately) recommended a “development with restrictions” classification.
  • After reviewing comments from MDNR staff, we request that further review of the site be done in a timely manner by third party consultants.
  • Additionally, we request a Public Hearing, in order to discuss concerns about the site of the proposed mineral lease, and review hydrologic data.

In announcing the Clean Water Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency has recently clarified the scope of protections intended by the Clean Water Act; in their analysis of peer-reviewed studies of watersheds, there was overwhelming consensus: “All ephemeral and intermittent streams, and the wetlands that are connected or next to them, will be subject to federal oversight under the proposed rule.”

The State of Michigan has delegated authority from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for protecting wetlands, especially headwater wetlands and other waters of the United States, from degradation, pollution and destruction. The state-administered 404 program must be consistent with all requirements of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and associated regulations set forth in the Section 404 guidelines, including the Clean Water Rule (effective August 28, 2015).

In order to meet its responsibility to protect “waters of the United States,” the State of Michigan needs to recognize that sulfide mining and associated mineral exploration is wholly incompatible with the protection of valuable headwaters. In accordance with new federal guidance, the State of Michigan must now act to provide enhanced protections for rivers, wetlands, headwaters and their aquatic resources — or risk revocation of delegated authority.

Clearly, the decision to proceed with a mineral lease to Eagle Mine LLC, a company with active mineral exploration and mining in the immediate vicinity, may cause irreparable harms to headwaters of the Yellow Dog River and Salmon Trout River. While mineral leases in themselves do not guarantee successful exploration, it is widely understood that if a viable mineral product is discovered, political and financial collaboratives will join until extraction becomes possible.

We collectively voice our unified opposition to this proposed mineral lease and urge the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to take this opportunity to immediately reclassify the 40 acre parcel as non-leasable, in light of significant headwater protection concerns.

Mineral exploration on this fragile property will threaten unspoiled wetlands and the headwaters of two watersheds. The State of Michigan cannot afford to be reckless in regulating the vital water systems that feed our Great Lakes.

Sincerely,

Alexandra Maxwell, Executive Director, Save the Wild U.P.
Save the Wild U.P. Board of Directors
Save the Wild U.P. Advisory Board
Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve Board of Directors
Carl Lindquist, Executive Director, Superior Watersheds Partnership
The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Board of Directors
Friends of the Land of Keweenaw Board of Directors
Central Upper Peninsula Group of the Sierra Club for the Michigan Sierra Club, Chair John Rebers
Social Action Committee, Marquette Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Rev. Jon Magnuson, Concerned Clergy of Marquette
Rev. Tesshin Paul Lehmberg, Concerned Clergy of Marquette
Charles West, Concerned Clergy of Marquette
Gene Champagne, Spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Big Bay
Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Jane A. TenEyck, Executive Director
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, KBIC Tribal Council, Warren C. Swartz, President
Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Charlotte Jameson, Policy Manager
Amy Conover, President of Superior Sustainability
Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary
Front 40, Ron and Carol Henriksen
June Rydholm, adjacent landowner
Daniel C. Rydholm, adjacent landowner
Catherine Parker
Edie Farwell
William F. Ogden Jr.
Kippy Isham Phelps
Laura Farwell
Maddie Dugan
Marianne Pyott
Mary H. Campbell
Jeffery Loman
Kathleen Scutchfield
M. Comfort
Dave and Beverly Stromquist
Laurie Serchak, Allan Stromquist
Kurt Stromquist, adjacent landowners
Andy Cocallas, President of Chicago Whitewater Association
Tom Hafner, kayaker with Chicago Whitewater Association
Steve LaPorte, member of Illinois Paddling Council, Prairie State Canoeists
Mari Denby
Pamela McClelland
J. Kevin Hunter
Steve Washburne
Tom Mountz
Judith Bosma
Dick Huey
Tracy Heenan Walklet
Justine Yglesias
Erin Bozek-Jarvis
David Kallio
Nancy Olsen
Jennifer Brown
Marian Gram Laughlin
Louis V. Galdieri
Luke Mountz
Allyson Dale
Martin J. Reinhardt
Gerry Stromquist

Yellow Dog Headwaters - Anderson Creek Panorama

Yellow Dog Headwaters, Anderson Creek Panorama. Photo by Steve Garske, 7-31-2015.

——

ArcGIS Map showing location of proposed mineral lease

http://arcg.is/1UqnIRl

ArcGIS Map (interactive map slideshow with detailed views)

http://arcg.is/1eTFFYo

Save the Wild U.P. Summer Fellows Program a ‘Wild” Success

MARQUETTE — Local grassroots environmental organization Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) just completed the 2015 Summer Fellows program. SWUP’s Fellows enjoyed a dynamic summer, learning how to become better stewards for the environment and their community. The program included educational seminars on social justice, environmental awareness, and mining-related issues, and trainings geared toward becoming effective advocates through grassroots outreach.

The 2015 Fellows  program focused on the controversial County Road 595. “The wealth of knowledge and experience that our Fellows gained this summer was transformational, “ said Lauren Yellen, SWUP Fellowship Coordinator. “They left prepared to advocate for clean water and responsible environmental legislation.”

Fellows began with an intensive two-day grassroots “Bootcamp”  which covered topics ranging from geology and the history of mining in the Upper Peninsula to hydrology and environmental movements. While the Fellow’s focused on educating community members about the issues surrounding the Marquette County Road Commission’s lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, the larger goal was to gain a comprehensive understanding of mining issues at local, regional and global scales.

“Mining is never an isolated incident,”said executive director, Alexandra Maxwell.  “Mining affects the people and environments that witness the extraction, it affects economies, and the insatiable demand for minerals seems inextricably woven into modern life — but clearly we all need to make more responsible decisions. The next generation of environmentalists will need to view these issues as complex, multidimensional — and filled with opportunities to effect positive change. We strive for our fellowship program to do just that —this is hands-on learning at its best. We do our best to prepare our students with real-world skills and we certainly work hard to ignite their passion for wild places. We’re so proud of them!”

Maxwell is confident that the experiences Fellows were exposed to this summer will help them become better leaders in their communities. “Working on behalf of clean water,” says Yellen, “is a clear priority for all who are concerned about their fellow citizens and the health and integrity of Lake Superior Watersheds.”

“Too often, citizens are shut out of democracy — especially young adults,” said Kathleen Heideman, president of SWUP. “SWUP’s Summer Fellows program demonstrates our commitment to educate a new generation of environmentally-responsible leaders. This is critical to the future of the U.P., where we face regulatory capture, road and industrial encroachment, the risk of acid mine drainage from sulfide mining, legacy mining pollution, and serious threats to wild lands, wetlands, rivers, and Lake Superior.”