In late 2015, Aquila Resources submitted a mining permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for their “Back Forty Project,” a metallic sulfide mine proposed for the bank of the Menominee River, 10 miles west of the town of Stephenson, MI. This stretch of the Menominee River is also known as “Sixty Islands.”
According to the permit application, Aquila intends to construct an 800′ deep open pit mine adjacent to the river, with a “cut-off wall” (to limit the movement of groundwater) less than 100′ from the river, dangerously close to the “flood line.” In addition to mining activities, the Back Forty calls for on-site crushing, milling, and refining through the use of floatation/separation, mercury, and cyanide-smelting. Two different tailings basins will be constructed to contain the waste-rock slurry, (“mine slimes”).
The Back Forty would be a sulfide mine; tests show that most of the ore and surrounding rock is “reactive” – that is, it forms sulfuric acid when exposed to air and water. After mining is completed, Aquila proposes to backfill their deep pit with waste-rock and tailings slurry. Some tailings basins will remain as permanent features of the landscape.
Aquila Resources is an exploration-stage Canadian mining company with no previous mining experience, traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Aquila has hired several outside contractors to prepare the Back Forty permit applications, collect baseline data, analyze geochemistry, evaluate the site, etc.
PERMIT APPLICATIONS NOW UNDER REVIEW BY MDEQ
Aquila Resources submitted applications for multiple permits related to the Back Forty Project: (1) a mining permit which would authorize construction of the mine, haul roads, onsite milling and processing facilities, and tailings basins for waste-rock; (2) a wetlands permit that would authorize the direct and indirect destruction and impairment of wetlands at the mine site, caused by groundwater drawdowns, filling of wetlands, and displacement from mining or facility construction; (3) a wastewater discharge permit (known as a NPDES permit) which would regulate water treatment and authorize wastewater discharges to the Menominee River; and (4) an air quality permit.
SUMMARY OF BACK FORTY PERMIT APPLICATIONS
- Back Forty Project Mining Permit application
KEY – This is Aquila’s primary permit application under Part 632, Michigan’s rules governing nonferrous metallic mining. The permit is reviewed by a Mining Team coordinated by MDEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals. Note: the mining permit application (MPA) consists of sixteen PDFs (six volumes addressing the Back Forty mine project, and ten volumes addressing the mine’s Environmental Impact Assessments). Status: In an August 11th press release, Aquila stated that “Subsequent to the quarter end, the Company granted the DEQ an extension to August 25th to render a draft decision on the MPA.” An email from Aquila, dated Aug 5, confirms the August 25 extension: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,
4561,7-135-3311_18442-359902– ,00.html Background: The mining permit application was deemed “administratively complete” in late 2015; an initial public meeting was held in January 2016. Public Comment on the draft mining permit application was requested and received, but the MDEQ has not acknowledged or responded to any of public comments. In May 2016, the MDEQ requested additional information (see: 197 questions for Aquila). In June, Aquila sent a response document to the MDEQ. The MDEQ is still reviewing the application materials. The MDEQ announced a preliminary approval of the mining application on September 2nd, 2016. Public comment will be accepted until November 3rd, 2016.
- Back Forty Wetland Permit application
Currently under review by the MDEQ’s Water Resources Division, Aquila’s Wetland Permit application includes wetland delineations of the Back Forty mining site, wetland hydrology, analysis of wetlands impacts (temporary and permanent wetland losses), and Aquila’s proposed wetland mitigation plan (which would ‘offset’ the loss of wetlands caused by the mine). Status: public notice has been rescinded; the MDEQ requested additional information and corrections. Another public notice is expected.
- National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (NPDES) application
Aquila’s NPDES Permit application includes technical information about Aquila’s plans for water supply, water usage, water pollutants, water treatment (additives, facility plans, treatment technologies), stormwater plan, contact water basins, expected quality of wastewater, location of outfalls (piping wastewater discharge to the Menominee River), contaminant limits, discharge flows/rates, toxic pollutant data, biological toxicity testing data, and Aquila’s Anti-Degradation statement. Status: The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has issued a public notice for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit connected to Aquila’s Back Forty Project. Follow the link provided above to see all documents related to this permit which will allow the discharge of treated waste water, stormwater and treated mine drainage into the Menominee River. Aquila Resources also provided, due to the fact that their discharges will be lowering water quality, an antidegradation demonstration, which outlines their perceived exchange of an increased economic benefit for lowered water quality in the Menominee River. DEADLINE: Public comment on the NPDES permit should be submitted to MDEQ by November 3rd, 2016!
- Michigan Air Use Permit – Permit to Install
Under review by the MDEQ’s Air Quality Division, this permit regulates air pollution concerns including fugitive dust from mine blasting, crushing, processing, transportation, vehicle emissions, onsite refinery/furnace emissions, etc. Emissions include particulate matter (particles that can be inhaled), nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, and lead; other contaminants of special concern include arsenic, cadmium, and copper. Status: administratively complete, under review; informal public comment is welcome until November 3rd, 2016.
FACTS AND THREATS
- Aquila’s Back Forty “open pit mine” would be constructed ~100 feet from the Menominee River. Because this is a METALLIC SULFIDE MINE, the mine’s proximity raises serious flooding and inundation risks.
- Any mine-related water contamination would threaten the health of the Menominee’s fish populations and recreational fishing, especially Lake Sturgeon. Millions of dollars have been invested in the recovery of sturgeon in the Menominee River, where they are threatened but “stable” after years of collaborative sturgeon habitat restoration efforts by Michigan and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, with assistance from federal agencies, fishing clubs and nonprofit environmental groups such as the River Alliance of Wisconsin.
- The Back Forty mine targets a section of the Menominee River considered a world class smallmouth bass fishery – one of the best in North America! Fishing clubs are deeply concerned about the future of Smallmouth Bass Fishing on the Menominee River, as are the small businesses, including river guiding companies, that depend on the health of the river.
- The Back Forty project is poised to destroy cultural resources of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, including archaeological sites considered by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin to be important cultural properties, related to the tribe’s Origin Story. The mouth of the Menominee River is the origin place of the Menominee people and forms the basis of Menominee origin stories, traditions and tribal identity. Menominee tribal archaeologist Dr. David Overstreet and Dr. Marla Buckmaster, Northern Michigan University professor emeritus of Archaeology, have extensively studied the garden mounds of the Menominee people along the river. The loss of this “northernmost occurrence of ridge field agriculture” wouldn’t just be a loss for the Menominee, it would be a loss for human history.
- The proposed mine threatens natural resources of the Menominee River, an interstate waterway jointly managed by Wisconsin and Michigan. The Menominee River is the state boundary line, and is the largest watershed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council is actively opposed to this sulfide mine proposal.
- The Center for Science in Public Participation conducted a red-flag review of Aquila Resources mining application and found multiple issues of concern, serious omissions and miscalculations, including specific recommendations and technical actions regarding Aquila’s plans for Water Management, Tailings & Waste Rock Management Facilities, Pit Backfill Metal Leaching, Water Treatment Post Closure, Financial Assurance, and other topics. According to their report:
- “Monitoring wells need to be placed to ensure the tailings facility embankment is not contributing acid or metal leaching to groundwater.”
- “Given the potential for antimony, selenium, and arsenic to mobilize under neutral conditions, monitoring will need to occur at the TWRMF (tailings waste rock management facility) leachate sumps and at monitoring wells on and around the backfilled pit until hydrology and chemistry have stabilized.”
- “The TWRMF cap is designed to reduce infiltration, but given the extremely acidic nature of the material that will be enclosed, the cost of a WTP (water treatment plant) should be included in financial assurance for at least the 20 year post closure monitoring period.”
- “When reviewing the indirect and direct cost estimates for the Back Forty financial assurance, it is obvious that it has been significantly underestimated, especially with regard to the indirect cost calculations(…) the direct costs should be reviewed by a qualified party to correct assumptions that underestimate the cost of reclamation that would need to be conducted by a regulatory agency.”
- The entire planned Back Forty open pit mine and Tailings Waste Rock Management Facility basins (TWRMF) hinge on a single underlying assumption: that the State of Michigan will agree to a proposed LAND SWAP with Aquila Resources.The proposed land exchange threatens critical habitat, including threatened and endangered species. The mining proposal’s open pit mine, contingent upon the land swap, would disturb or destroy tribal archaeological resources, treaty protected natural resources, and Menominee River fisheries.
- Shakey Lakes: The Escanaba State Forest’s Shakey Lakes Oak-Pine Barrens Ecological Reference Area (ERA) and a proposed Biodiversity Stewardship Area (BSA) are adjacent to the proposed mine site. A mine next to this ecological reference area will degrade the ERA, endangering rare habitat, and jeopardize the state’s Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for sustainably-harvested timber.
- Aquila has made fraudulent “Life of Mine” statements! 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 million tonnes is open-pit and 3.6 million tonnes 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.
- The design of the Back Forty Project (an open pit sulfide mine on a river) is described as comparable to Wisconsin’s Flambeau Mine (another open pit sulfide mine on a river). Does the Flambeau Mine prove that riverside sulfide mining can be done safely? Absolutely not — get the facts: https://deertailpress.
files.wordpress.com/2016/06/ flambeau-mine_gauger_jun2016__ final_l.pdf
- Because the Back Forty would be a sulfide mine, it threatens to leach sulfuric acid, which is extremely hazardous to freshwater rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater. Again, the Center for Science in Public Participation warns that the mine’s “ARD (Acid Rock Drainage) risk is very high. Most material contains sulfides… (…) All tailings are expected to generate acid, with the exception of tailings produced in year 3 of mining. Additionally, over 75% of the waste rock is expected to generate acid.” Sulfide mining could pollute groundwater or devastate the Menominee River, which drains into Lake Michigan.
Don’t let sulfide mining undermine the health of the Menominee River. Defend our clean water – Say NO to the Aquila Back Forty sulfide mining proposal!
Thanks to a supporter’s Freedom of Information Act request, Save the Wild U.P. has received copies of Public Comments on Aquila’s Back Forty Project, received by Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality between December of 2015 and March 2016. It is now clear that over 2,000 members of the public – including local residents, landowners, fishing enthusiasts, business owners, county officials, educators, tourists, tribal members, scientists, environmentalists and other concerned citizens – wrote to MDEQ to convey serious concerns about the proposed sulfide mine project! Comments were expressed though emails, letters, editorials, technical analysis, handwritten messages, and signature petitions. Given serious concerns about the fate of public comments, and a perceived lack of transparency from the DEQ, Save the Wild U.P. is making these files available for review: http://bit.ly/BackForty-FOIA-Public-Comments
Knowledge is power! Check out the recent media coverage of this critical issue, and get involved.
- Wisconsin Public Radio: Tribe Members, Others Oppose Proposed Mine Near Menominee River
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Mine proposed on Michigan-Wisconsin border prompts concerns
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Companies consider mining for gold in Wisconsin
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Mining firm sees gold in U.P. hills – but some are wary of environmental effects
- Keweenaw Now: Environmentalists criticize proposed open-pit sulfide mine near Menominee River
- WNMU-FM: Plans for Upper Peninsula mine resurrected
- Anishnaabe News: Aquila Resources – putting their mine where our river mouth is?
- Save the Wild U.P.: Concerned citizen questions DEQ on Aquila Back Forty Project
- Will Michigan DEQ Reject Fraudulent Mine Permit?
- National Wildlife Federation: Dangerous Mediocrity (comparative analysis of sulfide mining regulation, Michigan summary)
- Environmental Health News: Sacred Water
- Environmental Health News: Mining Leaves a Wisconsin Tribes Hallowed Sites at Risk
- Green Bay coverage of October 6th public hearing
AQUILA’S PRESS RELEASES
Recent Aquila Press Releases discussing the Back Forty Project:
- Nov. 12, 2015: Aquila Resources submits mine permit application for its Back Forty Project with MDEQ
- Nov. 26, 2015: MDEQ Determines Aquila’s Permit Application for its Back Forty Project is Administratively Complete
- Jan. 6, 2016: Drilling at Aquila’s Back Forty project returns 2.8 meters of 38.5 g/t gold; 231.8 g/t silver overlying zinc and copper rich massive sulfides
- Jan. 13, 2016: Aquila commences Feasibility Study on Back Forty project
- Jan. 20, 2016: Aquila Resources strengthens management with appointment of Cliff Nelson as Vice President of US Operations
- March 30, 2016: Aquila Resources Files 2015 Financial Results and Provides Corporate Update
- April 11, 2016: Aquila Improves Gold and Zinc Metal Recoveries at its Back Forty Project
- May 12, 2016: Aquila Resources Files Q1 2016 Results and Provides Corporate Update
- June 1, 2016: Orion Mine Finance increases ownership stake in Aquila Resources through exercise of warrants
- June 13, 2016: Aquila provides Back Forty permit status update
Work with us! Call Save the Wild U.P. at (906) 662-9987, or email us at email@example.com for more information – no matter your time or talent, we’ll find a great fit for you!
Public Comment Deadline: November 3rd, 2016