Aquila Back Forty Facts

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OVERVIEW

In late 2015, Aquila Resources submitted a mining permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for the “Back Forty Project,” a polymetallic 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 and the use of cyanide. Two different tailings basins will be constructed to contain the waste-rock slurry, known as “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 dewatering, groundwater drawdown, filling of and dredging of wetlands, and destruction from mining and facility construction; (3) a wastewater discharge permit (known as a NPDES permit) which would authorize water treatment and authorize the discharge of industrial wastewater to the Menominee River; and (4) an air quality permit.

SUMMARY OF BACK FORTY PERMIT APPLICATIONS

  1. Back Forty Project Mining Permit application
    This is Aquila’s permit application under Part 632, Michigan’s rules governing nonferrous metallic mining, reviewed by a Mining Team coordinated by MDEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals. 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) – more than 37,500 pages in length. Status: ISSUED. 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. MDEQ did not acknowledge or respond to any comments. In May 2016, MDEQ requested additional information (see: 197 questions for Aquila). In June, Aquila sent a response document to the MDEQ. The MDEQ announced their preliminary approval of the mining application on September 2nd, 2016. A public hearing was held on October 6, 2016. Final public comment was accepted through November 3rd, 2016. SWUP submitted extensive written comments on the Aquila Back Forty mining permit application. On December 28th, Michigan approved the Back Forty Mining Permit; MDEQ published a press release headlined “Aquila Back Forty project gains conditional approvals by MDEQ; faces significant remaining hurdles”; this press release disappeared midday, replaced by a second press release titled “Aquila Back Forty project gains two permit approvals by MDEQ.” The revised press release does not use the phrases “significant remaining hurdles” or “conditional.” MDEQ did not respond to requests for an explanation of these significant revisions. PERMIT LINK: Permit issued 12-28-16, Aquila Back Forty Mining Permit (Part 632) and Compiled Responses to Public Comments Received by the MDEQ on the Aquila Back Forty Project. Updated – March 1, 2017:  “A person who is aggrieved by an order, action, or inaction of the department or by the issuance, denial, revocation, or amendment of a mining permit under this part may file a petition with the department requesting a contested case hearing…” Two contested case petitions have been filed: one by an adjacent landowner, and another by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. According to a press release from the tribe, “The MDEQ and Aquila Resources Inc. are well aware of the Menominee Indian Tribe’s close cultural connection to this area and our serious concern in regards to our cultural resources and mounds, including our ancestral burial sites located within the impact area of the proposed mine. Despite these valid and well documented concerns, a full evaluation of the cultural resources and mounds threatened by this project never occurred.”
  2.  Back Forty Wetlands Permit application
    On January 17, 2017, Aquila Resources submitted a Wetlands permit application to the MDEQ. This wetland delineations of the Back Forty mining site, wetland hydrology, analysis of wetlands impacts and wetland losses due to dewatering, groundwater drawdown, filling and dredging of wetlands, and destruction from mining and facility construction, and a proposed wetland mitigation plan (to offset the loss of wetlands caused by the mining activity). Status as of March 1, 2017: under review by MDEQ. On January 26, 2017, MDEQ sent a Correction Request to Aquila, outlining a list of significant problems, including errors and omissions. Aquila had 30 days to respond to MDEQ’s Wetlands correction request, but they’ve since been granted a deadline extension of June 30th. PERMIT LINKS: Permit application files are available for review through the MiWaters system.
  3. 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. PERMIT LINKS: Aquila Back Forty NPDES permit application. The NPDES was public noticed on August 3, 2016. A public hearing was held on October 6, 2016. Final public comment on the NPDES permit was accepted thru November 3rd, 2016. Status as of March 1, 2017: under review; NPDES permit has not been issued.
  4. Michigan Air Use Permit – Permit to Install 
    Under review by the MDEQ’s Air Quality Division, this permit authorizes air pollution from the Aquila Back Forty mining project. 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: ISSUED. Background: Public comment was accepted thru November 3rd, 2016. A public hearing was held on October 6, 2016. Final public comment on Aquila’s Air Use permit was accepted thru November 3rd, 2016. PERMIT LINKS: Summary of the Aquila Back Forty Mine “Proposed Project Summary“; FINAL Permit to Install (PTI) Application No. 205-15; and Compiled Responses to Public Comments received by MDEQ Air Quality Division concerning Aquila’s Air Use Permit to Install.

FACTS AND THREATS

  • Aquila’s Back Forty open pit mine will be constructed ~100 feet from the Menominee River. Because this is a 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 – OPPOSE the Aquila Back Forty sulfide mining project

PUBLIC COMMENTS

Public Comments to MDEQ: 98% Opposed to Back Forty!

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

In February 2016, Save the Wild U.P. submitted extensive comments to the MDEQ regarding Aquila’s Back Forty mine permit application.

MEDIA COVERAGE

AQUILA’S  PRESS RELEASES

Recent Aquila Press Releases discussing the Back Forty Project:

GET INVOLVED

Work with us! Contact the Mining Action Group at (906) 662-9987, or email us at miningactiongroupUPEC@gmail.com for more information – no matter your time or talent, we’ll find a great fit for you!

 

 

8 thoughts on “Aquila Back Forty Facts

  1. We demand that the MDEQ does not give a permit to Aquila Back Forty mining operation to use Our Wisconsin WATER from the Menominee River. How can the department be in there right mind, to contaminate OUR WATER ? Save our Water.

  2. Wisconsin law should be recognized as runoff and leaching will reach the Menominee River, thus being on or in Wisconsin territory. The Flambeau mine proves toxins exist years after closure and will reach the river through the small tributaries. Also, the flow will eventually reach Green Bay, again, Wisconsin territory.

  3. Please provide specific information on how to submit comments on this insane mine proposal to the MDEQ – their site, the local paper and other media don’t have that specific online address, and we certainly need it out there as much as possible for citizens to become activists before we lose this precious resource to Aquila and their reckless plans for greedy motives. Also, I hear that no real EIS has been done on the proposal, just Aquila ‘models’ based on their obviously biased research. If so, have you r other organizations been in contact with the EPA directly? I cannot believe EPA would not look very skeptically about this entire process as its been handled by bamboozled local officials and the apparently Aquila-friendly MDEQ. The very concept of such a mammoth environmentally dangerous men on the banks of this river is ludicrous, and one wonders how it got this far. Hopefully, it’s not too late to stop the devastation it will certainly bring – keep up the good work, and please provide an address where to send comments.

  4. As a native of the upper St. Croix valley,presently living in the Rondout valley ,Ulster Co. NY please send me your slow mail street address for contact. Its a long battle and keep up your good work. Max

  5. HI EVERYONE— I AM VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THE GOLD MINE TO CLOSE TO THE MENOMINEE RIVER—- DOES THE ( MDEQ ) HAVE THE POWER TO ISSUE THESE PERMITS TO AQUILA NO MATTER WHAT THE PUBLIC OPINION IS ? AND WHO IS CLIFF NELSON ? IS THE ( EPA ) INVOLVED IN ANY WAY ? AND I DONT HEAR ANYTHING ABOUT THE ( DNR) JUST SOME OF THE THINGS I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW. AND PIPEING WASTEWATER BACK INTO THE MENOMINEE RIVER— WOW — VERY BAD. I”M QUITE SURE IF A FARMER HAS ANY OF HIS MANURE (DUE TO RAIN) RUN INTO STREAMS OR RIVERS, HE”S IN TROUBLE. IF THE MINE CANNOT BE STOPPED; I SURE WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHO AND HOW IT WILL BE MONITORED—ESPECIALLY THAT WASTEWATER RUNNING BACK INTO THE RIVER. I JUST FIND IT HARD TO BELIEVE THEY COULD DO THAT. I HOPE THE PEOPLE IN LAKE TOWNSHIP CAN MONITOR AS MUCH AS WE KNOW HOW. AND IF THIS IS IN FACT A 16 YEAR OPERATION, PEOPLE TEND TO STOP MONITORING QUITE A BIT. I AM OPPOSED TO THE MINE. I JUST HOPE THERE ARE SOME LAWS THAT CAN STOP THE MINE. LET THEM SHIP THEY’RE PRECIOUS ORE TO CANADA ON THEY’RE NEWLY AQUIRED RAILROAD. MIGHT HAVE A LITTLE HOLE LEFT BEHIND HEY? BETTER IDEA—–STOP THE MINE.

  6. I can not get any response from Rep Beau LaFave or Sen Tom Casperson who are in Lansing for protecting our drinking water that comes from the area near the mouth of the Menominee River that
    The mine will pollute with sulfide and cyanide.

  7. Another case were money outweighs just plain old common sense!. The government is suppose to be for the people. I sure hope they are in this case,and not for the money.

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