Public Comment from October 6, 2016 DEQ Hearing on Aquila – IN FULL


Save the Wild U.P. would like to extend a hearty THANK YOU to all of our friends, allies and activists who came to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s public hearing on the proposed Back Forty project on October 5th. The Stephenson High School gymnasium was packed and the overwhelming message from concerned citizens was: Don’t Undermine the Menominee!

Individuals who signed up to speak were told they would have five minutes to share their concerns, but at the start of the meeting, it was dropped to three and then dropped again to two minutes. Folks who had prepared their comments ahead of time were unable to deliver the entirety of their concerns – but we have collected quite a few in full and have them available for you to read!

Public Comment from Jon Saari, vice president of Save the Wild U.P.

Public Comment from Bob Harrison, President, Badger Fly Fishers

Public Comment from Lanning Hochhauser, President, Dupage Rivers Fly Tyers (DRiFT)

Public Comment from Dr. Barry A. Coddens, President of the Gary Borger Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Public Comment from Richard Dragiewicz

Public Comment from Megan Berns, Secretary – Northern Illinois Fly-Tyers

Statement of Douglas Cox, Environmental Coordinator for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

Public Comment of Mr. Gary Besaw Legislator, Menominee Tribal Legislature

Public Comment of Ms. Joan Delabreau Chairwoman, Menominee Tribal Legislature

Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

Public Comment from Mr. Pershing Frechette, Legislator, Menominee Tribal Legislature

Public Comment from Rich Sloat

Comments from Alexandra Maxwell, director of Save the Wild U.P.

Public Comment of Laura Gauger

Public Comment of Kathleen Heideman

Public Hearing on Aquila’s Back Forty Project: October 6th, 6pm CST


ACTION ALERT! We need your voices of opposition on October 6th! The public hearing for the Back Forty project is fast approaching! It will be held at Stephenson High School on October 6, 2016 from 6pm to 10pm CST in Stephenson, MI. The Department will accept written comments until November 3, 2016. Our friends in the group Concerned Citizens of Big Bay are offering gas and lodging stipends to people willing to travel to the hearing! Please contact Gene Champagne at for more information.

As you all know, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has issued a proposed permit decision on the Back Forty Project. This means the MDEQ is seeking comments from interested persons on the proposed mining permit decision, as well as two other pending permit decisions for the project: an air emissions and surface waters discharge permit. The MDEQ will hold one consolidated hearing and public comment period for all three permit decisions. A fourth permit application for impacts to wetlands will be considered by the MDEQ in a separate review process. As soon as we receive notice on the wetlands permit, we will share it widely!

Aquila’s Back Forty Project, an open pit sulfide mine proposed for the bank of the Menominee River, poses numerous environmental, cultural and social threats, including: degraded water quality in the Menominee River, impacts to endangered Lake Sturgeon and native freshwater mussels, lowered property values, and the destruction of integral cultural resources of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. To help you understand the scope of the Back Forty project, we’ve summarized all the outrageous details on Save the Wild U.P.’s website. Please review our Aquila Back Forty Facts — we will update you as we learn more!

Our friends and allies of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin recently held the Menominee River Water Walk + “Remembering Our Ancestors” Gathering with great success! Activists, tribal members, and concerned citizens all came together last week to walk for the water, celebrate Menominee culture and to raise their voices in opposition to the Back Forty Project. Read all about the gathering here. Meanwhile, Marinette County (Wisconsin neighbors of the proposed mine) Board of Supervisors penned a strongly-worded resolution in opposition to the Back Forty project, citing environmental and health hazards and noting specifically the loss of the cultural resources of the Menominee Nation. “So what is in it (the mine project) for Wisconsin folks?” asked Marinette resident Dale Burie. “Absolutely nothing. Do we derive as a positive declining property values and chemically contaminated water? Water is life. Water determines the quality of life.” The resolution passed 28-0. We are coming together as a region, as stewards for the water, so please join us in this fight on October 6th.

Save the Wild U.P. and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Join Forces!



Marquette — The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) and Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) are joining forces to create a far-reaching, inclusive environmental advocacy group for the Upper Peninsula. Effective January, 2017 SWUP will become a part of UPEC, allowing the strengths of both groups to be highlighted in their cooperative work to protect clean water, healthy ecosystems, and wild places. UPEC will maintain its focus on environmental education and advocacy for U.P. wild lands, while SWUP, with its new partner’s support, will continue its activism as the SWUP Mining Action Group within UPEC.

Horst Schmidt, UPEC President, said “We’ve done it! UPEC and SWUP are becoming One Voice. With five decades of combined leadership and effort, the merger leads to a strengthened organization reaching out to the citizens of the Upper Peninsula. We could not have done it without the dedication of board members of both groups. ”

The leaders of SWUP, Kathleen Heideman and Alexandra Maxwell, will be joining the UPEC board, adding depth and knowledge to its discussions. SWUP’s strength lies in its social media contacts and in its hard-hitting public commentary on sulfide mining related permits, most recently on the proposed zinc-copper mine targeting the Menominee River and the proposed expansion of the Eagle Mine in Marquette County.

“UPEC’s perspective is broader and more historical,” said Jon Saari, who has served in leadership roles in both organizations. “The U.P.’s extensive public lands are the key to providing the needed core area for nature’s story to unfold. Enhancing the quality of these wild lands and containing the threats to them are UPEC’s goals. If we can do this, the U.P. has a rare chance to demonstrate what it means to be a sustainable place in the 21st century.”

UPEC’s activities have focused on community outreach through its quarterly newsletter, its annual Celebration of the U.P., and its grant programs in environmental education and community conservation. “We awarded $34,000 in grants in 2016 in these two programs,” said President Schmidt, “and going forward we want to enhance our presence and partnerships U.P. wide.”

SWUP has gone through several transformations in its 12 year history, but has always maintained a presence as think-tank for citizens concerned about the environmental and social threats brought by sulfide mining. In recent years its accomplishments have included stimulating impressive public participation in the permitting processes, providing college-level fellowship programs, leading one-of-a-kind outdoor excursions to threatened wild places in Marquette County, and providing intelligent analysis on mining-related permits, and all for the purpose of protecting clean water and wild places.

UPEC and SWUP complement each other, said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP President. “This organizational transformation will enable members of the SWUP Mining Action Group, now organized under the larger tent of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, to refocus on their grassroots work – defending Upper Michigan’s clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining. We’re not getting bigger as a result of the merger, we’re getting better.”

As the groups join and navigate the path ahead, they will speak with “ONE VOICE” for the environment of the U.P.


Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to defending wild places and clean water of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining. For more information contact or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at or follow SWUP on Facebook at or Twitter @savethewildup.

Action Alert – citizens oppose Aquila Back Forty sulfide mine!



Citizen opposition to the Aquila Back Forty project is growing – ADD YOUR VOICE!

Please take a moment to let Michigan’s elected officials know that you oppose the Back Forty open pit sulfide mine, proposed for the bank of the Menominee River. First, click to READ THE LETTER OF OPPOSITION. Feel free to add your own specific concerns to the letter. When you’re ready, click SIGN AND SEND NOW – it’s that simple!

Your letter will be sent to Representative Ed McBroom, Representative John Kivela, Representative Scott Dianda, Senator Tom Casperson, Governor Rick Snyder, Senator Debbie Stabenow, and Congressman Dan Benishek. It will also be sent to Director Bill Moritz (Michigan DNR), Director Keith Creagh (Michigan DEQ), and Joe Maki (DEQ). Additional info is available on the DEQ’s website:,4561,7-135-3311_18442—,00.html

Letter to elected officials, opposing Aquila Back Forty mine application

Thanks, the letter is now closed.

End date: Oct 01, 2016

Signatures collected: 196

196 signatures

Latest Signatures
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Will Michigan DEQ Reject Fraudulent Mine Permit?



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 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.


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.


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.”


“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:

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 or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at on Facebook at or on Twitter @savethewildup.


Environmentalists Criticize Open Pit Sulfide Mine Planned for Menominee River



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.


Public Notice – Concerned citizens are asked to review the proposed Mine Permit Application, now available by following directions on the MDEQ website:,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:

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: – 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 or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at on Facebook at or on Twitter @savethewildup

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


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. 

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.

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 or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at on Facebook at or on Twitter @savethewildup.

SWUP To Host Winter Gala, Fred Rydholm Sisu Award To Be Announced


MARQUETTE— Grassroots environmental group, Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) will hold their Winter Gala at the Steinhaus Market on Saturday, December 5th, from 6pm to 9pm. SWUP kicks off their 12th year of environmental advocacy by hosting an evening filled with locally sourced cuisine, music, keynote speaker Louis Galdieri and a Silent Auction. The Winter Gala is an opportunity for SWUP to update the community on their environmental work, while celebrating the hard work of their supporters, and members of the creative community. Tickets for the event are available at both Steinhaus locations or by calling (906) 235-9251.

During the evening filled with music, food and information, Save the Wild U.P. will announce the Fred Rydholm Sisu Award. Presenting the award will be Fred Rydholm’s son, Daniel.

The Fred Rydholm Sisu Award was previously awarded to educator and environmental activist Gail Griffith. Save the Wild U.P. established the award to recognize the dedication and perseverance of community-minded activists and environmental stewards. “We’ve created this award in honor of the late Fred Rydholm, who wholly embodied SWUP’s environmental values, as well as the yooper term sisu — perseverance, grit, resilience — a concept created by Finnish immigrants to the U.P.,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s Executive Director.

Maxwell, who began her work with Save the Wild U.P. as a grassroots outreach coordinator, running SWUP’s Summer Fellows program, stepped into the role of Interim Director last year, and was recently named Executive Director. “I am honored to serve in this capacity, to take up a torch that so many of our community leaders have carried. Environmental issues desperately need our attention in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and I am grateful to contribute whatever I can to the community and the region that I love,” said Maxwell.

Save the Wild U.P.’s Winter Gala will feature hearty appetizers and desserts from Steinhaus Market, live music from local jazz combo Soul Pasty, a spectacular Silent Auction featuring original work by dozens of U.P. artists, artisans and small business owners, environmental solidarity and issue updates.

The evening’s keynote speaker will be Louis V. Galdieri, writer, filmmaker and co-director of the acclaimed “1913 Massacre,” a documentary film which “captures the last living witnesses of the 1913 (Italian Hall) tragedy and reconstructs Calumet’s past from individual memories, family legends and songs, tracing the legacy of the tragedy to the present day, when the town – out of work, out of money, out of luck – still struggles to come to terms with this painful episode from its past.”

Following the Winter Gala, Galidieri will present his film with a special Q & A session at the Peter White Public Library on December 7th at 7pm in the Community Room, as part of their “DocuMonday Meets the Filmmaker Series.” The event is free of charge, for more information call 226-4318.

“I really look forward to seeing our supporters at the Gala” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president. “Save the Wild U.P. worked hard all year, reviewing permits and mineral leases, making a federal appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency urging them to require a wastewater discharge permit for Eagle Mine that would actually protect the Salmon Trout River, engaging regulators at Public Hearings, leading well-attended hikes to remote wild places and pristine wetlands, and educating a whole new generation of environmental leaders! Critical work remains to be done, of course — but there’s much to celebrate as we enter a new year of environmental advocacy.”

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 or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at on Facebook at or on Twitter @savethewildup.

Louis V. Galdieri and Alexandra Maxwell are available for interview. For more information or to schedule an interview call (906) 662-9987 or write


Photograph of Louis V. Galdieri:


Suggested caption: “Louis V. Galdieri will be the keynote speaker for Save the Wild U.P.’s upcoming Winter Gala on December 5th.”

Bio: Writer and filmmaker Louis V. Galdieri co-produced and co-directed 1913 Massacre, the 2012 feature-length documentary about the Italian Hall disaster and the Woody Guthrie song it inspired. He blogs regularly about the ethics of mining and the new mining around Lake Superior.

Photograph of Soul Pasty:
Suggested caption for band photo:  “Soul Pasty will provide musical entertainment at Save the Wild U.P.’s Winter Gala at the Steinhaus Market. Left to Right, Harry South on bass, Bud Clowers on drums, Travis Swanson on guitar and Zach Ott on keys.”


Bio and Photograph of Alexandra Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P.’s new Executive Director:


Join SWUP’s Wild Summer Events!



Save the Wild U.P. Announces Calendar of Wild Summer Events

Marquette — Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has announced a series of “wild events” for the coming summer. Save the Wild U.P.’s guided outdoor programs are perfect for nature-lovers, concerned citizens, history buffs, hikers, artists and budding environmental activists.

“These are awe-inspiring experiences, intended to lead folks off the beaten track, and out into the Wild U.P.,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s interim director. “With each event, we’re highlighting the intrinsic value of wild and scenic places, clean rivers, and undisturbed wetlands. Folks can check Save the Wild U.P.’s facebook page to learn about about additional events, including summer speakers and concerts.”

Save the Wild U.P.’s 2015 Summer Events Calendar
Available in PDF format:

2nd Annual Grassroots Organizing Bootcamp — Marquette
May 23 and May 24, 9:30am – 5:30pm each day
Become an environmental advocate for your community! This year’s 2-day Bootcamp agenda is packed with engaging information — 9 special guest speakers covering 13 critical topics, including wolves, local geology, the hydrology of the Salmon Trout watershed, indigenous environmental movements, and the regional fight to protect Lake Superior from the dangers of sulfide mining. Weekend wraps up with a guided geology hike around Presque Isle. Lunches are provided, but space is limited. ENLIST NOW:, or call (906) 662-9987.

Guided Hike in the Caving Grounds — Negaunee
May 28, 6pm
Join SWUP for a guided walking tour of the “Caving Grounds” of Negaunee’s Old Town district. Experience ghostly neighborhoods and sunken streets, learn about early iron mining methods, hear stories recorded by Negaunee residents, and see first-hand the social cost of mining: undermined homes and struggling economies. Meet at 6pm Old Town Park in Negaunee. RSVP appreciated:

Guided Hike to Pinnacle Falls — Yellow Dog Plains
June 24, 12:30pm
Enjoy a guided hike to Pinnacle Falls on the Yellow Dog River, truly one of the wild gems of Marquette County. Your guides Cynthia Pryor and Kathleen Heideman will share stories of ecology, geology and local history. Learn how the Yellow Dog River was named, and threats from sulfide mining just upstream. Pack a bag lunch for a group picnic at the falls, bring bug spray or netting, hiking shoes and a camera. Meet at Big Bay Outfitters (Big Bay). Plan to arrive early — group will leave at 12:30pm. SAVE YOUR SPOT:, or call (906) 662-9987.

Attention ARTISTS and HIKERS!
Wildcat Canyon Creek Hike — Michigamme Highlands
July 15, full-day outing
Get off the map – start seeing wild places! Save the Wild U.P. and Painters on the Loose will guide a caravan of visual artists, hikers and environmental activists deep into the rugged, unpaved heart of Marquette County. Our special destination will be Wildcat Canyon Creek, which lies in the path of the defeated but still-controversial 595 road proposal. Artists will set up their easels, while others enjoy a rugged group hike along the Wildcat, which includes delicate waterfalls. To join this special event, please contact by July 12, so carpooling and caravan arrangements can be made in advance.

Threatened & Endangered: Native Plant Hike — Michigamme Highlands
August 1, 12:30pm
Native plants and creeping industrialization — what’s at stake? Search for the answers on this unique botanical hike in the Michigamme Highlands, led by botanist Steve Garske. We’ll explore two remote sites threatened by the route of proposed CR-595: lands near the Yellow Dog River and Mulligan Creek. Sponsored by the North Woods Native Plant Society, Save the Wild U.P. and the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve. Meet-up at Big Bay Outfitters (Big Bay). Plan to arrive early — group will leave at 12:30pm. FULL DETAILS:, or call (906) 662-9987.

Explore Marquette’s lost “Great Swamp” — Marquette
August 22, 3pm
What happened to Marquette’s “Great Swamp”? Join historian Jon Saari for a slideshow explaining how the city’s historic wetlands were drained, filled and lost to residential and industrial development. After the lecture, we’ll follow Jim Koski and Jon Saari on a colorful walking tour to see evidence of the lost swamp! Sponsored by Save the Wild U.P. and the Marquette Regional History Center. Special location: event starts at 3pm in the Wildcat Room of the Superior Dome. RESERVE YOUR PLACE:, or call (906) 662-9987. Suggested donation of $5 for Marquette Regional History Center.


Summer events are offered in conjunction with Save the Wild U.P.’s Summer Fellows program, a dynamic, on-the-ground initiative designed to educate a new generation of environmental leaders. SWUP’s unique, interdisciplinary fellowship  program educates students on U.P. mining history, the hazards and risks associated with sulfide mining, industrial threats to wild places, and practical and effective ways for citizens to “be the change” they wish to see in the world.

Save the Wild U.P.’s 2015 Summer Fellows program is focussed on critical issues related to the controversial County Road 595 proposal. The program begins with an intensive two-day forum on sulfide mining, geology, Upper Peninsula mining history, mining legislation, wolves, hydrology and environmental advocacy, and other topics. Throughout the summer, fellows will learn from experts in their fields, while advocating for environmental justice and transparency in corporate and government relations. Students participate in hikes, lectures and community education on the most pressing issues facing the Upper Peninsula’s wild places.

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 or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at or follow SWUP on Facebook at or Twitter @savethewildup.


Unified Opposition to Graymont ‘Land Transaction’!



Unified Opposition to Graymont ‘Land Transaction’

MARQUETTE — Tribal officials, clergy, local residents and leading environmental organizations of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have joined forces to deliver a letter to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), outlining their collective opposition to the Graymont ‘Land Transaction.’

In a unified letter of opposition sent to the DNR’s Director Keith Creagh on Friday February 27th, they urge him to reject the Graymont land sale “which threatens to sacrifice public lands for the benefit of a foreign mining company, at the bargain price of a few hundred dollars per acre.”

Graymont, a Canadian mining company, first submitted an application to purchase over 10,000 acres of public land from the DNR in November of 2013. Graymont intends to construct surface limestone quarries and, eventually, an extensive underground mine. These lands are currently open to the public for hunting and recreational trails, supporting wildlife, and managed for timber — contiguous forest lands considered some of the most productive forest land in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

The area under consideration includes fragile wetlands and critical ecosystems. These public lands support unique hydrology and biodiversity, including “karst” habitat identified in Michigan’s Natural Features Inventory, limestone features (cliffs, pavement, sinkholes, caves) and special ecologies uniquely adapted to limestone: bats reliant on limestone caves, globally-rare “alvar” plant communities, and limestone wetlands critical to the endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, termed “one of North America’s rarest dragonflies” by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The collective letter of opposition is signed by individual citizens as well as major groups, including the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw’s Board of Directors, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, the Central U.P. Group of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, Save the Wild U.P., the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Students for Sustainability of Northern Michigan University, Northwoods Native Plant Society, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Against the Rexton Project, Concerned Clergy of Marquette, the Marquette Unitarian Universalists Social Action Committee and multiple individual property owners in Trout Lake, MI.

In the letter, the groups enumerate serious environmental and economic concerns, including “…the displacement of existing limestone quarrying jobs, and the loss of sustainable, long-term jobs in the forestry and tourism sectors.” In addition, “the sale of these lands interferes with Indian tribes’ rights by having an adverse impact on fishing, hunting and gathering activities of tribal members under the 1836 treaty.”


“Graymont recently revised the land transaction for the umpteenth time, increasing their proposed royalty payments to 18.75 cents per ton — but only for a short duration,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s president. “That’s a pittance in comparison to current market values and contemporary royalty offers. It all adds up to nothing, really.”

“These are serious and unresolvable objections,” said Alexandra Maxwell of Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), who helped organize the collective letter of opposition. “Our message to Director Creagh is simple: don’t make this deal.” According to Maxwell, Save the Wild U.P. has been following the developments of this project since Graymont submitted its application; SWUP and other groups have consistently attended public meetings and submitted commentary critical of this potential land sale. “Now a majority of environmental organizations and concerned citizens throughout the U.P. have reached a clear consensus–the Graymont project must be stopped.”

The DNR will be accepting written comment from the public concerning the newest revision of the Graymont proposal through March 19th. “We strongly urge folks to review the facts,” said Maxwell, “and then write directly to Director Creagh, asking him to reject the Graymont land deal. Concerned citizen still have time to protect their public lands, in their own words.”

Written commentary may be submitted to:

Comments can also be mailed to the Roscommon Customer Service Center, ATTN: Kerry Wieber, 8717 N. Roscommon Rd, Roscommon, MI 48653.

“A foreign mining company wants to buy 10,000 acres of our public land?” said Heideman. “By my calculation, that’s ten thousand great reasons to reject the deal.”

The group’s letter can be viewed or downloaded here:  Letter of Unified Opposition to Graymont Land Transaction



Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources. For more information or to schedule an interview, contact or call (906) 662-9987.


County Road 595: A bad idea in the wrong place


By Jessica Koski*

Proposed Marquette County Road 595 would irreversibly impact high quality wetlands at the headwaters of several watersheds and foreseeably lead to additional roads that would open up one of Michigan’s last remaining wilderness areas to resource exploitation.

Wetlands are a foundation of our nation’s water resources and are one of the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth, rivaling that of tropical rainforests. Vital to the health of waterways, wetlands recharge groundwater, absorb floodwaters and filter pollution. They provide essential wildlife habitat, agricultural resources (berries, wild rice), timber production and economic activities. Michigan’s economy depends on tourism dollars from hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation businesses enabled by wetlands.

Yet, wetlands are on the frontlines of development and their preservation is vastly underappreciated. Michigan has already lost more than half of its original 11 million acres of wetlands due to filling and draining.

Aerial view of Mulligan Creek, showing the Snowmobile Trail #5 crossing, proposed route of County Road 595. Photo by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.

Before:  Aerial view of Mulligan Creek, showing the Snowmobile Trail #5 crossing, proposed route of County Road 595. Photo by Jeremiah Eagle Eye.



After:  Mulligan Creek fragile wetlands were degraded by Plum Creek Timber's illegal "road improvements" along the 595 route, as documented in 2014.

After: Mulligan Creek fragile wetlands were degraded by Plum Creek Timber’s illegal “road improvements” along the 595 route, as documented in 2014.

From an Ojibwe standpoint, many culturally significant plants, foods and medicines occur in wetlands and within the County Road 595 project area. These resources are an essential part of Ojibwe lifeway; and tribal rights of access, collection and use are guaranteed through treaties signed with the United States.

Threatened (legally protected) with a status of "imperiled" in Michigan.

Protected: Narrow-leaved gentian is threatened (legally protected) with a status of “imperiled” in Michigan. Found along the proposed 595 route.

Last month, the Marquette County Road Commission voted to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its “arbitrary and capricious” objection to County Road 595 over two years ago. In reality, the MCRC failed to submit an application consistent with federal Clean Water Act requirements.**

In EPA’s objection letter, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was given detailed requirements to address inadequate wetland minimization and compensation plans, and 30 days to satisfy the objection or deny the permit. MDEQ denied the permit, although the process could have transferred to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority.

Prior to a decision, EPA heard directly from the public in Marquette on August 28, 2012. Many citizens expressed concerns in opposition to County Road 595, contrary to many government officials.

Wildcat Canyon Creek crossing, along the proposed 595 route, which would require 22 stream and river crossings.

Wildcat Canyon Creek crossing, along the proposed 595 route, which would require 22 stream and river crossings.

The lawsuit’s price tag is $500,000 and road construction is estimated to cost $80 to $100 million, without additional maintenance costs. Eagle Mine says they won’t fund the lawsuit or road. Taxpayers are promised they won’t foot the bill. According to local officials, state Sen.Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, is a driving force behind the lawsuit and an assembly of secret private funders.

Casperson’s road rage is currently attempting to amend Michigan’s Constitution to rob the state’s Natural Resources Trust Fund for timber and mining infrastructure. This is contrary to the opinion of Michigan’s Attorney General and the original intent of the Fund since 1976 to support environmental preservation and enhance outdoor recreation benefits for the public.

Recent Eagle Mine trucking accidents are undeniably a public safety concern. However, even if MCRC is successful, it would be years before County Road 595 could be a reality. Are there alternative actions to more immediately protect the public from ore trucks? Yes.

In June 2013, the Marquette City Commission asked MDEQ to require Eagle Mine to amend its Environmental Impact Assessment regarding transportation. MDEQ denied the request claiming the city is not within the mine’s “affected area.”

Marquette County could object to MDEQ’s unwillingness to enforce the state mining rules. Part 632 states that an EIA shall define the affected area. Because the company significantly changed transportation from rail to truck after receiving a mining permit, the people of Marquette County were never rightfully provided an opportunity during the permitting process to weigh in on transportation impacts and the now inaccurate affected area.

Eagle Mine can also go beyond regulatory requirements and implement best practices. In fact, their original permit included hard cover trailer tops, but switched to soft cover tarps for easier loading and unloading. Is a convenience for Lundin Mining Corp. more important than public safety?

The company could also reconsider its original rail option. This would create jobs, alleviate stress on public road infrastructure and better protect public safety and the environment.

Rail probably could have saved much wasted investment and headache for the local community. Also, imagine if as much political support and energy exhausted into County Road 595 went toward a truck bypass around the city.

Ultimately, local officials are empowered with zoning and ordinance authority to establish more stringent conditions for how, when and where heavy ore trucks travel through the city.

Eagle Mine ore trucks

Note: author Jessica Koski is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). She is an alumna of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and currently serves as Mining Technical Assistant for the KBIC. This article appeared in the Marquette Mining Journal on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Concerns raised about proposed discharge permit for Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill


Concerned citizens from across the U.P., residents of Humboldt township, members of the grassroots organization Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), and others gathered at the Westwood High School in Ishpeming on Tuesday night, to discuss a draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit for Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) held the Public Hearing to discuss a proposed “reissuance” of an expired NPDES Permit, which originally authorized Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill to discharge wastewater into a wetland located between the Humboldt Pit and US-41.

During the hearing, residents raised serious questions and provided critical feedback to the MDEQ. Many believe that draft permit will degrade water quality in the Escanaba River. Unresolved environmental issues plague Humboldt Mill. Tailings produced by Eagle will be deposited into an existing pit, adding to legacy contamination. There is an ongoing investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the mill’s status as a Superfund site. An additional outflow pipe was recently built between the tailings pit and wetlands of the Escanaba River without permits or public involvement.  Residents are especially alarmed by increased discharges— 2.8 million gallons per day (MGD), compared with 0.82 MGD in the first permit. The new discharge pipe (“Outfall 002”) will handle 50% of that discharge.

“As we learned at the State hearing Tuesday night, in addition to problems like flooding the private property of nearby residents, MDEQ’s proposed NPDES permit for discharges at the Humboldt Mill is inconsistent with federal law and it fails to protect the Escanaba River Watershed that once was cherished fishing ground,” said former federal offshore oil regulator and KBIC tribal member Jeffery Loman. “I intend to hold the EPA accountable for these failures. The EPA is responsible for overseeing the Clean Water Act and they are the trustee for treaty-protected tribal resources at stake here.”

During the hearing, Steve Casey, MDEQ’s District Supervisor of Water Resources, seemed uncertain as to why baseline environmental assessment were needed for a wetland receiving NPDES discharges, or why “additive impacts” (such as legacy pollution of wetlands and sediment scouring) must be calculated before a NPDES permit is granted. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Agencies have an obligation to evaluate waters in terms of how they interrelate and function as ecosystems rather than as individual units, especially in the context of complex ecosystems where their integrity may be compromised by environmental harms that individually may not be measurably large but collectively are significant.”

“The MDEQ was obviously unprepared for the level of precision shown in the commentary at this public hearing. But our community has been tirelessly committed to protecting our land and water from mining interests for more than ten years now. We know that regulators aren’t enforcing the rules and are instead relaxing them to benefit multinational mining companies — threatening our clean water as well as our democratic process,” said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s Interim Director.

Residents voiced concerns over numerous changes (deemed “Insignificant Changes” by MDEQ staff) which have allowed Eagle Mine to radically change plans for Eagle Mine and Humboldt Mill, violating Michigan’s Nonferrous Mining Regulations. Under Part 632, Eagle’s permits require amendment. There was no public input or environmental impacts assessment for construction of a pipeline terminating at the newly-constructed “Outfall 002” — this significant structure and related wetland impacts were deemed “insignificant” — yet the draft NPDES permit will authorize use of the outfall, a clear violation of due process. The public was not notified when the location of Humboldt’s Water Treatment Plant (WTP) was switched, and the draft permit fails to mention the WTP’s treatment capacity, 1.44 MGD.  Given the WTP’s design flaws, up to 50% of Humboldt’s wastewater discharges may bypass the treatment plant, sending the mill’s tailings water directly into the environment. “Environmental concerns and due process concerns are one and the same,” said attorney Jana Mathieu.

Richard Sloat was angered by the permit’s failure to require stream monitoring or discharge monitoring.  “Water temperature data is not being recorded for the Escanaba River. This pipe will discharge ‘treated or untreated’ waste into that river. There is only one instance of a recorded temperature at the water treatment plant, documented because of a contamination leak in September, when the wastewater temperature reached 78.1 degrees — they want to discharge warm water into the Escanaba River, a cold-water fishery, in September?!”

“I find it outrageous that MDEQ and Eagle Mine failed to consider the environmental impacts of increased discharges — 240% more! — authorized by this permit!” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president. “No baseline information was provided, either for the wetland or the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River. Eagle Mine’s original permit failed to evaluate these sites, and now they want to dump wastewater into unassessed ecosystems! No wetland hydrology or biology data was included in the draft permit, so there’s no way to calculate the risks, and the certain degradation that will result.”


Water quality will clearly be undermined by this permit, a violation of the Clean Water Act, but Eagle Mine is seeking an exemption in its Antidegradation Demonstration, stating that the lowering of water quality is necessary for “important social and economic development in the area” — however the Humboldt Township Board announced during Tuesday night’s hearing that they were unanimously opposed to the permit. Concerned citizens and representatives of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) raised objections to Eagle’s Antidegradation Demonstration, collectively requesting updated and comprehensive proof of the social and economic benefits.

Residents are concerned about the enormous increase in discharge — from 0.82 to 2.8 million gallons per day (MGD). Both mass limits and concentration limits for pollutants have been increased, allowing more pollution of wetlands, and the Escanaba River. The first NPDES permit allowed discharge from only a single pipe (“Outfall 001”).

Pollutant limits are substantially increased for multiple parameters, according to the draft NPDES permit. Below are two tables showing increased limits for quantity (Figure 1) and increased limits for concentration (Figure 2):


Attorney Michelle Halley, who has worked extensively on Eagle Mine issues, said, “This NPDES permit allows discharges  to the Escanaba River that do not protect the fishery. Because of that, it violates the Clean Water Act.”

“It is important to remember that ore being processed at the Humboldt Mill comes from Eagle Mine, containing valuable copper and nickel — along with dangerous sulfides, salts, and a long list of toxic metals,” said Maxwell. Water monitoring at Eagle Mine has documented more than 100 exceedances of groundwater discharge limits since the permit was issued in 2007, including serious exceedances of arsenic, copper, lead, molybdenum, silver, and vanadium —  and uranium levels in water at the Eagle Mine facility have risen to 103 ug/L, more than 3 times higher than the EPA’s Maximum Concentration Level.  Since uranium monitoring was not included in Eagle Mine’s permit, the mine claims that no permit violation has occurred.

To protect aquatic life, conservative water quality standards should be calculated for all potential contaminants. The draft NPDES permit fails to list limits for many contaminants, including: Aluminum, Antimony, Barium, Boron, Calcium, Chromium, Fluoride, Iron, Lithium, Magnesium, Molybdenum, Potassium, Silver, Sodium, Thallium, Tin, Titanium, Strontium, Sulfate, Vanadium, and Uranium.

“The problem really boils down to a regulatory process focused on permitting rather than preventing pollution,” said Steve Garske, SWUP Board member and western U.P. resident. If contaminants are present in the ore from Eagle Mine, it is reasonable to expect they will also be present in Humboldt Mill’s tailings. It is unclear why discharge limits at the mill do not reflect known contaminants from the mine, and all legacy contaminants previously found in testing of the Humboldt site.

At the hearing, MDEQ’s Steve Casey provided a brief update on Eagle Mine’s Groundwater Discharge Permit, which was considered deeply flawed by concerned citizens.  Casey acknowledged Eagle’s ongoing vanadium exceedances, shared some theories as to why contaminant levels might be increasing in the groundwater — and confirmed that MDEQ has still not approved Eagle Mine’s Groundwater Discharge Permit, which expired two years ago. “You cannot understand the impacts of this endeavor until you understand the water,” said Cynthia Pryor, watershed resident and longtime community watchdog. “Neither the mining company nor MDEQ understand how hydrogeology functions at the Eagle Mine and at the Humboldt Mill.”


View Save the Wild U.P.’s written comments re: Proposed NPDES Permit, MI-0058649submitted to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency on January 16, 2015 (PDF)


Motives questioned on the Yellow Dog Plains


Published in the Mining Journal, November 12, 2014.

To the Journal editor:

So the Eagle Mine has set its eyes on 40 more acres of state land on the Yellow Dog Plains (Oct. 30 article by John Pepin), for geological exploration and supposedly not for a new mine.

This exploration is, as Eagle Mine spokesman Dan Blondeau explains, “part of our commitment to the community,” apparently to grow the mine. At best, this is an odd use of “commitment” and “community,” and at worst an exercise in Corporate Speak.

I have watched this mine develop over the last ten years as a watchful and dismayed observer. It was to be a small remote mine site, a limited, respectful cut into the earth with minimal impact on its wildland setting.

And then the mine portal got pounded into Eagle Rock, a site sacred to the Anishinaabe. The generator-only power system ended up on the grid, with cables laid to the mine site. The trucking of ore to a railhead north of Marquette was forgotten long ago. The “woodland” haul road along the Triple A has turned into a full-blown super highway that has re-engineered the landscape. Lundin Mining Corp., which took over Eagle Mine two years ago, seems to have an eraser for a memory when it comes to commitments.

Eagle Mine seems to be betting that all the “community” wants is economic development that benefits humans. But the Yellow Dog Plains is one of those storied places in our collective imagination. That place, and the larger community we live in, includes rivers, forests, wildlife, rocks and waterfalls, and quiet backwoods camps.

Surface drilling, as Lundin intends on this parcel of state land, may or may not lead to a new mine, but will have impacts right on the edge of the Yellow Dog River floodplain. If this were private land, we would have little say, but this is our land, public land, and the public should have a big say in what happens there.

What would our reaction be if a foreign mining corporation wanted to do exploratory drilling in Presque Isle Park? You would hear the uproar all the way to Big Bay.

We need a public hearing on this proposal. Too much is at stake.

Jon Saari, vice president, Save the Wild U.P

* For detailed information on the proposed mineral lease, see our press release.

SWUP has worked closely with Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve to ensure that citizens have an opportunity to voice their concerns, and protect the wild lands and pristine waters of the Yellow Dog Plains. We’ve created a petition calling on Michigan’s DNR to deny this new mineral lease.

Protect your public lands and clean water: sign the petition here.

Eagle Mine seeks new mineral lease, Save the Wild U.P. demands Public Hearing


MARQUETTE – The Eagle Mine LLC, currently owned by international mining conglomerate Lundin Mining, is seeking a new mineral lease from the State of Michigan for 40 acres of land (NE 1/4 SE 1/4, Section 13, T50N, R29W, Michigamme Township, Marquette County) beside the Yellow Dog River, a federally-recognized National Wild and Scenic River with a status of ‘excellent’ water quality.

According to documents obtained by grassroots organization Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has known about this application since July. The DNR’s announcement of Lundin Mining’s mineral rights lease application was published on Monday October 20th, 2014, commencing a legally-required 30-day public comment period.

SWUP contends the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have institutional conflicts of interest in regulating metallic sulfide mining. Most recently, the organization has found that just one month after Lundin’s Eagle Mine submitted a letter of interest to Michigan’s DNR, the DNR Fisheries Division changed its 2003 recommendation of “Non-development” to “Development, with no restrictions” in August of this year. DNR retains restrictions on the property for a recreational trail, endangered plants, and “neotropical migrants” including Kirtland’s warbler.plat

SWUP encourages concerned citizens to demand a Public Hearing and a transparent, democratic evaluation of the proposed lease by sending an email Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst, Minerals Management, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, at, while copying as the organizations is maintaining an independent analysis of comments received. Comments regarding the mineral rights lease can be mailed directly to Karen Maidlow, Property Analyst, Minerals Management, DNR, P.O. Box 30452, Lansing, MI 48909.

“It’s no surprise that Lundin is seeking to lease more minerals,” says attorney Michelle Halley. “Save the Wild U.P., the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, and others have known that Eagle Mine is just the beginning of a regional mining development strategy. In the long term, the public will pay a high price for mining projects performed with inadequate permitting, monitoring and enforcement.”

Save the Wild U.P.’s president Kathleen Heideman is outraged. “It’s alarming that the State of Michigan is seriously considering this mineral lease request. The land in question is only one hundred feet from the Yellow Dog River’s 100-year floodplain, which means the land is vulnerable to extreme flooding events (King & MacGregor Environmental, Inc., 2011). For me, that’s a giant neon sign spelling R-I-S-K-Y: sulfide ore and water are a dangerous mix! Also, the DNR’s Wildlife staff identified the land as habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler, a state and federally-listed Threatened and Endangered species.”

“Mining activity on this land poses a direct threat to the Yellow Dog River: land disturbance, drilling contamination, groundwater impairment, surface water pollution, you name it. The DNR needs to reconsider their classification of the property’s restrictions. Given the river’s proximity, this land is absolutely too sensitive to allow mining development,” says Cynthia Pryor, watershed resident and dedicated environmental watchdog.

According to SWUP Director Alexandra Thebert, “Leasing mineral rights means drilling, and drilling can quickly lead to a new mine. We must ensure that the enormous liability of mining on State-owned land isn’t a burden shifted to taxpayers while increasing the profits of a foreign mining company.”

“Public lands belong to the public — not private corporations. This is not an isolated parcel of surplus land,” said Jon Saari, vice president of SWUP. “It adjoins another 840 acres of contiguous State Land on the Yellow Dog Plains.” Current recreational use includes camping, fishing, hunting, ATV riding, and snowmobiling. Marquette County’s Snowmobile Trail #5 runs right through the property – as does the controversial County Road 595 route defeated last year.

Gene Champagne, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, sees a pattern of deception and creeping industrialization of the Yellow Dog Plains. “Clearly, mineral leasing leads to surface operations – and the land under consideration in this proposed mineral lease is only half a mile from the freshly-paved Triple A road. We renew our call for a federal corruption investigation concerning the State’s failure to regulate Eagle Mine, fraudulent permitting, bait-and-switch electrical infrastructure, the steamrolling of road upgrades, and total disregard for cumulative environmental impacts.”

“This mineral lease request should be denied,” agreed Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP outreach coordinator. “Metallic mineral lease of this land would serve only the short-term goals of Industry at the immediate and long-term expense of taxpayers. Once again, the State of Michigan seems wholly incapable of serving the public trust. We demand that a Public Hearing be held.”

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is dedicated to protecting our communities, lakes, and lands from the hazards of sulfide mining, which threatens to contaminate nearby watersheds – including Lake Superior – with acid mine drainage. SWUP continues to raise public awareness about mining exploration and development, regulatory errors and conflict of interest issues. More information is available at or by calling (906) 662-9987.

* Note: we’re partnering with the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve to send a unified, clear message to the Michigan DNR: deny Eagle Mine’s application for a mineral lease on the Yellow Dog River!

Protect your public lands and clean water: sign the petition here.


CR 595 – Under Construction?


View CR 595 – Under Construction? in a larger map

CHAMPION – Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has released over 300 geotagged photos of bulldozing and road construction along the previously-defeated CR 595 route which was proposed as a direct route from the Lundin Eagle Mine near Big Bay to the Humboldt Mill along U.S. 41 near Champion in Marquette County, Michigan.

The photos were taken after SWUP was alerted to major road construction taking place at the remote headwaters of the Mulligan Creek by a member of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve’s RiverKeeper program.

Construction along this route included multiple instances of wetlands impacts, including unpermitted culvert installation and wetlands dredging and filling, with no evidence of a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit – a permit required by law to alter or destroy wetlands during the permitting review of the CR 595 proposal.

SWUP President Kathleen Heideman is outraged. “We’ve already been through an administrative process during which three federal agencies determined that the CR 595 development should not occur. If that’s what’s occurring now – if the construction happening out at the Mulligan Creek is just a backdoor for building CR 595 after all – then this is illegal,” said Heideman.

“The EPA’s decision was very clear: no CR 595 route should be constructed. Now the Mulligan Creek and its fragile headwaters are being gouged, dredged, driven-through, filled, and degraded – it is absolutely obscene. We’re demanding that the MDEQ, EPA, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers get involved up here — boots on the ground — pronto,” said Heideman.

In 2011, a Wetland Delineation Report was conducted on the CR 595 corridor for the Marquette County Road Commission, delineating the wetlands boundaries in the area.

“None of the contractors, logging companies, MDEQ, or the Marquette County Road Commission can claim they did not know there are wetlands here. There is a 742 page report clearly outlining the wetlands surrounding the CR 595 route, including the Mulligan Creek,” said retired chemistry professor and SWUP board member Gail Griffith.

Botanist Steve Garske, who also serves as Secretary for SWUP has personal experience with the area, said, “When I traveled through the proposed CR 595 route in 2009, I saw hundreds of narrow-leaved gentian plants beside the road in the Mulligan Creek headwaters area, as well as a population of the rare Farwell’s milfoil in at least one of the streams near the road. At that time, the CR 595 route was a rutted 2-track, a snowmobile trail. This gentian is rare in Michigan – it occurs in only three counties in the state. When they bulldozed this new, unpermitted road they undoubtedly buried, destroyed, or otherwise degraded colonies of this protected species, a clear violation of state law.”

“This is an egregious wetland fill. No attempt has been made to control erosion. The black silt fencing used in every other road construction project is nonexistent here. Already several of the culverts are completely plugged with sand, and sand and silt are washing down into the streams and wetlands – and no evidence of permits exists for multiple poorly-installed culverts,” said Garske.

“Any new roads being constructed in this environmentally sensitive area should be reviewed as part of a network of related actions. We need to stop the creeping incrementalism – a new bridge here, new culverts there, wetland destruction along the way. Cumulative impacts must be considered. That’s precisely what makes the CR 595 proposal a bad deal for taxpayers and environment. We will continue to report on this issue – democracy must not take a back seat solely for a haul road connecting the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill,” said Alexandra Thebert, SWUP executive director.

According to the one current permit granted by the Michigan DEQ (posted at 46.69° N and 87.9° W), only “snowmobile trail”-related bridge work is authorized. Bridge materials are documented in the photographs on the north end of the snowmobile trail near the Yellow Dog River by a site where a contractor is currently “replacing” a series of culverts installed during the late 1990s – no permits are visible for multiple culvert installations.

Save the Wild U.P. was formed in 2004 to protect the U.P.’s unique communities, lakes, and lands from the hazards of sulfide mining, which threatens to contaminate the Lake Superior Watershed with acid mine drainage.


SWUP President to MDEQ: Regulate, don’t facilitate



The following is SWUP President Kathleen Heideman’s letter to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality concerning the proposed Groundwater Discharge Permit at the Eagle project.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Permits Section
Water Resources Division
DEQ Box 30458
Lansing, MI 98909

Attention: Rick D. Rusz, Groundwater Permits Unit
Attention: Jeanette Baily, Project Coordinator

Dear Ms. Bailey and Mr. Rusz:

In writing this letter, I am respectfully submitting my comments to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) on the proposed revision of the groundwater discharge permit (#GW1810162) for mining wastewater discharges and other discharges, as authorized by the rapid infiltration system (TWIS) at the Eagle Mine in Marquette County, MI.

Eagle Mine, currently owned by Lundin Mining (and formerly owned by Rio Tinto) is currently permitted to construct a sulfide nickel-copper mine on the Yellow Dog Plains of Upper Michigan, with direct and indirect impacts to the Yellow Dog River Watershed, the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River, numerous groundwater-spring-fed tributaries of the Salmon Trout, and the groundwater systems underlying the Yellow Dog Plains (which remains poorly understood). The mine is publicly stating that mining operations will begin later this year.

As an adjacent landowner to Eagle Mine property, and given our reliance on several shallow wells used in our cabins, and given the presence of marshy lakes, wetlands and spring-fed ponds on our family’s lands, this groundwater discharge permit is troubling and appears deeply flawed on multiple levels — legal, regulatory, ethical, scientific and practical flaws abound.


Regulatory oversight demands limits and enforcement. We refuse to take Eagle Mine’s “word for it” when it comes to clean water.

In applying to renew this groundwater discharge permit, which it acquired as part of the Eagle Mine purchase, Lundin Mining has the renewed burden of proving that Eagle Mine’s operations “will not pollute, impair or destroy natural resources.” Further, the Eagle facility must comply with EPA and State guidelines for water quality, specifically Michigan’s Part 632 and the Part 22 standards and statutes concerning groundwater, and MDEQ must strictly enforce those limits, and not assist the company to explain away or excuse any violations.


Repeatedly, MDEQ officials and the Eagle Mine public relations team have made statements reassuring the public that this permit is just a formality, something that needs to be renewed every five years, nothing to worry about. This is insulting. A Groundwater Discharge Permit is not a document to take lightly: this is a permission slip, authorizing a global mining corporation to pollute Michigan waters UP TO any and all numeric limits set in the permit. Eagle Mine, in recent interviews and statements to the press, repeatedly downplayed the great volume of discharge authorized by this permit — HALF A MILLION GALLONS A DAY of DISCHARGED EFFLUENT — by saying they are only discharging a smaller amount at this time. MDEQ staff have also repeated this line – reminding the public that the volume of total discharges are currently lower. Nevertheless, 504,0000 gallons of daily discharges are authorized by the permit, because that is what Eagle Mine requested, based on their calculations of total expected discharges. That permitted number, half a million gallons of discharge permitted per day, remains unchanged.

What has changed? Plenty:

  • Ownership of the mine has changed.
  • The mine’s critical permit authorizing air pollution has been changed — to entirely eliminate pollution controls on the MVAR, which has direct impacts on groundwater and surface water quality.
  • This permit includes proposed changes to the Reporting Methods which include numerous “report only” and phone call reports: this will only make it more difficult for citizens to learn about groundwater compliance problems, when violations occur, or performance issues with the mine’s WWTF. The proposed changes to reporting methods serve only to obfuscate. At the public hearing, MDEQ acknowledged that if there was a problem reported (by phone to an MDEQ staff member), “he’d make a note and put it in a file.” This is ridiculously old-fashioned and certainly not transparent. The state’s electronic systems used to report water-quality and WWTF malfunctions need to be comprehensive in scope and consistently implemented.
  • This permit includes proposed changes to Effluent Limits that will degrade water quality.
  • This permit includes proposed changes to the Groundwater Limits for compliance wells which will undermine water quality
  • Finally, Eagle Mine suggests that the site’s “natural conditions” have changed!

MDEQ — on behalf of Lundin — is requesting increased limits due to some unspecified “natural conditions” in soils and groundwater. At the recent public hearing, anecdotally, MDEQ explained that the “new background data” is based on “data gathered between 2008 and 2011 or 2012.” No data was presented to substantiate this claim, no maps or spreadsheets containing dated sampling done by MDEQ has been shared, and there seems to be no third party water analysis or corroboration of this new “baseline” data. This request would establish a dangerous precedent: mines being permitted on the basis of one set of background data, then requesting changes to background data after the permits have been issued.

What are the actual “natural background conditions?” Compared with data from groundwater studies conducted for Rio Tinto by North Jackson, Golder Associates and TriMatrix analysis from 2004 and 2005, the new permit levels authorize exponentially MORE POLLUTION than natural background conditions actually dictate. Many of the initial levels were barely registering any level for monitored pollutants.

Some examples: most recently, in quarter 4 of 2013, chloride levels in an D-level well near the TDRSA registered more than 600 mg/L for chloride. The federal limit is 250 mg/L. By comparison, a bedrock A-level well at Eagle, tested in 2004, registered 18 mg/L for chloride. Something has changed, but it isn’t the natural soil conditions. At the hearing, MDEQ staff acknowledged that the chloride exceedances continue to be upward trending “over 700 mg/L.” And yet, MDEQ has failed to issue a single groundwater quality violation!

If anything — given the large number and recent history of exceedances for salts and metals at the Eagle facility, numeric limits need to be tightened, and the water treatment system should undergo independent certification to prove that it is working as intended. Raising the limits to match a facility’s poorer-than-expected performance is poor science, and fails to be protective of either groundwater or surface water quality.

According to Eagle Mine, we are told that “natural background conditions” have somehow changed — and that the data collected during Rio Tinto’s baseline hydrologic and geologic assessment phase was spotty, not comprehensive in scope, and now MDEQ must raise the limits to accommodate the mine’s recent exceedances, rather than adhere to limits set by the original permit. With the exception of vanadium and uranium, all constituents were defined by the mine’s initial baseline data.

Eagle project was granted their mining permit on the basis of that baseline data — groundwater data, surface water data, rock data, aquifer flow data, etc. During the contested case, the groundwater permit was presented by Kennecott, and the groundwater discharge permit was defended on the basis of that early background sampling. *IF* the baseline data used to determine Eagle Mine’s underlying assumptions about water quality and hydrogeological assessments is now deemed, in 2014, to be untrustworthy or insufficient, then the public must have no faith in the mine’s permitting process, and the mine should be formally required to get a new mining permit which includes ALL AVAILABLE NEW DATA, including water monitoring by all parties, exceedances, etc.


When the first Groundwater Discharge Permit for Eagle Mine was being hammered out, Rio Tinto-Kennecott assured the public that they were investing in Upper Michigan for the long term, and that they shared our concern for clean water. “Your community is our community” they said. “This is where our children play, where we plan on staying for the long haul.” Rio Tinto / Kennecott has since sold the Eagle project to Lundin Mining. So much for the long term and water quality. Protecting water quality is not easy, and not cheap, but the alternative is not pretty. When our water quality is degraded by an industry, MDEQ must issue violations.

Depending on which situations are counted, exceedances related to water quality and water monitoring at the Eagle project total between 45 and 110 violations! The exceedances were not minor – in a recent cases, exceedances were more than twice the EPA’s enforceable water standards. A number of the violations had to do with pH, ironically, since this is a “world class water treatment facility” and pH treatment lies at the core of its many touted features. Effluent exceeded pH limits on multiple occasions, and in several cases they couldn’t close the valve very quickly once they realized what was happening.

Yet none of these violations has produced a single fine from the Michigan DEQ, or an independent verification of the “natural soil conditions” being blamed, or a review of the equipment being blamed at the treatment plant.


Mercury testing mentions a quantification level of 0.5 ng/l unless “higher level is appropriate” due to “sample matrix interference.” Please clarify whether sample matrix interference has been calculated or anticipated? If it has not been calculated or anticipated, why not? The mine’s exemption for allowable mercury should be reconsidered in this groundwater discharge permit. How is this limit protective of surface waters, which are already impaired by mercury? Will the mine’s self-monitoring data for mercury (submitted to the MDEQ via e2-DMR) be made available for public review? Has the direct addition of mercury (air-born deposition from unfiltered MVAR-pollution) been calculated, and that total subtracted from the allowable limits, to remain protective of groundwater and surface water?


The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that drinking water should have a pH between 6.5 and 8.5 (; given the Federal guidelines, the MDEQ would be irresponsible if it raised the allowable pH in Eagle’s monitoring wells. Groundwater tests in the mine area are indicating alkaline groundwater (the bonding and water-transport of heavy metals is impacted by the pH of water). Increasing the allowable limit only increases that problem. The pH limit set for compliance wells in the original groundwater discharge permit already exceeds the EPA’s range for groundwater pH.

According to A Citizen’s Guide to Understanding and Monitoring Lakes and Streams:

“Pollution may cause a long-term increase in pH. The more common concern is changes in pH caused by discharge of municipal or industrial effluents. However, most effluent pH is fairly easy to control, and all discharges in Washington State are required to have a pH between 6.0 and 9.0 standard pH units, a range that protects most aquatic life. So, although these discharges may have a measurable impact on pH, it would be unusual (except in the case of treatment plant malfunction) for pH to extend beyond the range for safety of aquatic life. However, since pH greatly influences the availability and solubility of all chemical forms in the stream, small changes in pH can have many indirect impacts on a stream.”

For this reason, increasing the pH of a discharge which shortly vents to surface waters is not protective of groundwater – and certainly not protective of surface water. A third of a mile away from the compliance wells, groundwater with a higher than natural pH could soon be emerging from the hillside, in the form of springs and spring-fed tributaries of the Salmon Trout River. Water monitoring of these streams, and the Salmon Trout River, has shown consistent surface water pH ranges between 6 and 7.5.

MDEQ limnology data from 2004 supports very low initial natural levels and a natural pH as low as 6.1 in the adjacent Salmon Trout’s headwaters. This is corroborated by data collected by Yellow Dog Watershed and USGS. Raising the groundwater discharge permit’s levels will fail to be protective of the stream’s natural pH, and aquatic stream life.


Given the 2013 confirmation of uranium in waters at the Eagle Mine facility, uranium in effluent exceeding 5 ug/L will now require reporting, and some indication of the “source.” Confirming the source of the contamination — why has this not been done already? No hard evidence was made available to the public to support Eagle’s ‘uranium in imported rock’ theory.

We are reassured that the uranium is being removed during the water treatment process, along with salts and heavy metals. And yet, according to the CEMP website, the “water quality in the TDRSA and Water Treatment Plant is not regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Water quality is covered under Eagle Mine’s Mine Permit and Groundwater Discharge Permit, but neither has requirements or limits for uranium. Accordingly, the detection of uranium is not a violation of any current state or federal permit.”

Given the known presence of uranium in the water at Eagle mine, the lack of concrete evidence provided by either Rio Tinto or Lundin for the uranium’s source, and public discomfort regarding the presence of a radioactive substance that could contaminate water at Eagle Mine, strict numeric limits for uranium MUST be added for groundwater monitoring.

According to an MDEQ statement: “A new standard requires monitoring for uranium in the wastewater produced by the mine. If it ever is detected at even a fraction of the safe drinking water standard, the mine must take steps to (?) reduce or eliminate the source of uranium.” Alas, “taking steps” is not an enforceable action, and it is not a measurable outcome. Reducing or eliminating the source of uranium should be tackled now, not in the future, and all wiggle-language must be removed from this permit.

The Community Environmental Monitoring Program’s announcement about uranium included this statement: “Eagle Mine BELIEVES that the detected uranium is fully contained, will be completely removed by the WTP and poses no risk to the environment.” A groundwater permit is not about BELIEF. If beliefs entered into the permitting process, my Anishnaabe friends would still be able to worship at an Eagle Rock free from fences and hard-hats and a mine portal.

Also, given that Eagle Mine assures the public and MDEQ that uranium is “completely removed by the WTP” this claim must be substantiated by a third party, and the proper “waste classification” and disposal of the WWTF/WTP’s waste products must be guaranteed as part of MDEQ’s regulatory process. It is well known that Eagle Mine’s WWTF/WTP waste is not going to the Marquette County landfill facility, which raises a lot of serious questions.


Proposed changes — testing only for Specific Conductance — may allow the masking of significant changes in heavy metals levels within the discharged water. If the e2-DMR testing for specific conductance is CONTINUOUS and recorded daily, and submitted electronically, why would the mine be given 24 hours to “notify” the MDEQ that the effluent is outside Allowable Operational Range?

In addition, concerned citizens would like access to reporting data Eagle Mine is required to submit into the e2-DMR system.


Part 8 applies to this groundwater discharge permit, as it addresses potentially toxic metals (authorized by this permit), and includes calculations and special considerations for the bioconcentration factor (BCF) and the biota-sediment accumulation factor (BSAF) of the discharge’s’ impacts on aquatic life found in surface waters. Furthermore, Part 8 specifically addresses the potential interaction between multiple toxic substances in the Eagle Mine effluent, identifying 6 critical heavy metal pollutants (cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc) which function as additive pollutants and whose health/toxicity impacts (for aquatic life, and human health) must be addressed cumulatively — which MDEQ has failed to evaluate:

KMH_groundwaterpermit-comments table


Part 22 applies to this groundwater discharge permit, as the statute limits groundwater discharges for heavy metals, which in some cases are specifically noted as being “insufficient to protect water quality where groundwater is known to vent to surface water.”

General Conditions state that “The discharge shall not, nor not be likely to be become, injurious to the protected uses of the waters of the state”. Waters of the state of Michigan include groundwater, lakes, including Lake Superior, rivers and streams, including the Salmon Trout and its tributaries. This is clearly the situation we find at Eagle Mine. In such a case, part 22 clearly states that the standards may be tightened by lowering the discharge limits for groundwater and/or effluent, to achieve a standard protective of the surface water.


Since the first groundwater permit was issued, the underlying conditions of the environment have changed, and permit limits must be adjusted downwards to accommodate the cumulative effects: with MDEQ’s blessing, Eagle project removed the air filtration system planned for installation on the MVAR stack, in spring 2013. No filter, scrubber or bag-house now will capture the mine’s airborne pollutants, which adds a certain, calculable burden of heavy metals and other pollutants to surrounding surface waters: wetlands, streams, rivers, springs and meltwater. In addition, Eagle Mine’s air-deposited pollutants will land on the vegetation and sandy soils of the Yellow Dog Plains, and be flushed by melt/rain events into surrounding streams and wetlands. Toxic salts and heavy metals will be dissolved and carried by surface water (especially likely given the acidic nature of unfiltered air-deposited sulfide particles).

The total burden for the MVAR contamination must be calculated and then subtracted from the allowable pollution limits for Eagle’s groundwater discharges. If MDEQ’s groundwater permit fails to incorporate these known increases, surface waters would be exponentially impaired, as surface water contamination limits are so much lower.

ALL of the original projections and allowable-pollution calculations for groundwater, surface water and soils assumed that the mine’s air vent emissions would be controlled by a filter system. Given the new reality – a sulfide mine vent with no air controls, at an MVAR located a quarter mile upwind from the TWIS site — potential pollution concentrations are now underestimated by a factor of perhaps six.

Airborne pollutants — including a cocktail of chemicals, heavy metals and salts — will be increasingly deposited on the bare soils of the Eagle Mine facility and more importantly, on the lands immediately surrounding the facility, as visualized by multiple airborne dispersal diagrams, presented by MDEQ last spring. Anticipated air-deposited pollution and its impacts to flora/fauna have been previous calculated, presented to the public, and defended by the MDEQ. The proposed groundwater discharge permit fails to adhere to principles of conservatism, as it fails to include any of the expected air pollution burdens to the system; thus it does not sit on the side of sound science.


Reviewing all the original hydrogeological flow models, studies and analysis conducted by Golder, Trimatrix and North Jackson, the term “simulated” occurs repeatedly. The limited flow data gathered from well tests was run through computer simulations to determine the path that will be taken by Eagle’s groundwater discharges, how they will mix and move with groundwater, and where these discharges will emerge from the hillsides in the form of groundwater springs, feeding directly into the Salmon Trout River. These include ridiculous flow simulations that suggest a particle of groundwater will pick the most circuitous, indirect path, following ridge lines and remaining in the ground for many more miles/years than seems realistic to anyone who actually knows the hydrogeology of the Yellow Dog Plains and its terrain.

Given the lack of reliable testing concerning the path and speed of groundwater, and the dearth of monitoring wells beyond the TWIS, we still don’t know exactly when or where Eagle’s discharges, mixing with groundwater, will vent to nearby surface waters. Again, groundwater discharge permit limits must be protective of surface waters, but as the permit stands, lacking flow/path monitoring, that is impossible.

I urge the MDEQ to require Eagle Mine to install and undertake a full tracer field test for the lands surrounding Eagle Mine’s TWIS — ideally, north, northeast, east and perhaps even the southeast sides (as major concerns have been raised concerning redirection of groundwater flow as a side effect of mounding). Based on the tracer data, a set of additional groundwater compliance wells, at a correlating array of depths, should then be added to the system at the half-way point between the Eagle’s TWIS and the proven groundwater-surface water interface. No more simulations.


What is the total annual groundwater discharge permit fee paid by Eagle LLC for permission to pollute our groundwater resources?

Do the fees assessed for Eagle Mine appropriately reflect the volume of discharges, the risks (environmental hazards to a blue ribbon trout stream, Lake Superior, a remote area never impacted by industrial groundwater pollution), or the cost of administering and permitting the WWTF, as compared with other groundwater discharge permits issued for industries, mom-&-pop carwashes, or area laundromats? When asked directly for this information, MDEQ responds that citizens need to submit a FOIA request for the answer! This is incredibly frustrating, given that MDEQ’s public website provides other (inadequate and incomplete) information about groundwater permit fees, including the following files (which fail to mention the Eagle Mine groundwater discharge permit, or sulfide mining WWTF fees):

Given that the Marquette County Landfill has refused to dispose of waste products from Eagle Mine’s water treatment plant (uranium/salts issue raised the need for an expensive, lined facility), where exactly are the materials (filter cake/sludge/precipitates) being disposed of?

Michigan citizens demand to know that Eagle’s filtered materials, including uranium, are being properly disposed of, and not creating a groundwater hazard for another community that is receiving the material. Is the presence of uranium, toxic levels of heavy metals and salts in the waste properly classified, and properly disclosed at the waste’s disposal point?

During the debate over Eagle’s original mining permit included a possible scenario for disposal of sludge and WWTF wastes by entombing them within the mine, during backfill/cementing operation. Is this option still under consideration, and how will groundwater safely impacts (long-term, within saturated backfill materials) be evaluated? Will a decision to use this waste-disposal technique require a groundwater permit? Given that the public is not being notified as to the current destination of waste from the Eagle WWTF, this needs to be clarified immediately.


This flawed permit fails to address the certainty that the wastewater discharged at the TWIS, into the groundwater, will be emerging into groundwater-surface water interface short distance later — the permit dodges this, but MDEQ cannot dodge the issue. By failing to require Eagle Mine to get a NPDES permit to authorize and monitor the surface discharge points, the current groundwater discharge permit is authorizing an illegal discharge. A NPDES permit must be required.


According to Part 22: “Background groundwater quality” means the concentration or level of a substance in groundwater within an aquifer and hydraulically connected aquifers at the site receiving a discharge, if the aquifer has not been impacted by a discharge caused by human activity. Based on the statute’s definition of background groundwater quality, one cannot accept the MDEQ’s undefined reassessment of unspecified “background data” gathered from “2008-2011” — given that exploration activities (underway in 2008), and extensive landscape changes (starting in 2009, impacting groundwater, and diverting/impounding surface waters) took place during these year. For the purposes of “background groundwater quality” no data can be included from years 2008-2012 given that the aquifer had been impacted by human activity.

According to MDEQ: “The department prepared the proposed permit after an extensive review of the mine’s wastewater treatment system, which began operation in 2011. The new permit includes minor revisions reflecting actual water conditions at the site.”

MDEQ has also stated, “Local conditions the DEQ is working to address with the renewed discharge permit include: Independent of any activity from the mine, naturally occurring background basicity and concentrations of vanadium in the groundwater exceeded the original permit standards, according to a recent assessment. Revised, site-specific limits for vanadium and pH were established in accordance with the groundwater quality administrative rules. These revised limits account for the naturally occurring conditions.

Please explain to the public: how was the monitoring and assessment done to establish these “naturally occurring conditions”? Were any new “background wells” installed for data collection? Who conducted the data analysis? Why was the data related to this “recent assessment” not made available for concerned citizens and watersheds to independently review, prior to the permit’s extended public comment period, and/or the public hearing?

“Additionally, copper and lead levels in one well were higher than the permit allowed on three occasions, but the issue has been resolved. The well was disturbed during construction and has since been reconstructed. In the most recent sample, copper and lead levels were in compliance with the permit.”

When effluent limits are compared with surface water standards, I find that Eagle Mine’s groundwater allowable limits are consistently being set higher than what’s protective of surface water – resulting in regular exceedances that are higher than federal enforceable limits. Raising either effluent or groundwater limits to match (or nearly match) the EPA’s MCL value, will certainly not correct this problem, as exceedances are often exceeding the EPA limits!


The public “access” to permit info and the location of the permit hearing was highly questionable. Please understand that this permit hearing was only scheduled after multiple concerned citizens lobbied MDEQ – and the initial public comment period even expired before a decision to hold the public hearing was announced. Moreover, the venue selected for the public hearing (a rural high school located west of Ishpeming, about 50 road miles from the mine itself, and 40 miles from the mine’s nearest impacted community (as defined by Part 632) — Big Bay. For the convenience of the greatest number of the public, most everyone agrees that Marquette is a far better venue choice than West Ishpeming.

Venue of the Public Hearing was a serious hardship: I’ve heard from many people who wanted to attend and could not! Many people set up carpools to reach the hearing. I personally contacted Marq-Trans (the public bus system for Marquette County) about public transit options, especially for college students who have free access to established bus routes, but learned that you’d need to ride three (3!) separate buses simply to get from downtown Marquette to downtown Ishpeming — and none of their fixed routes actually go to Westwood High School, where the permit hearing was taking place, and it didn’t really matter, because all of the busses would all quit running hours before the permit hearing would end! So — it really seems that “public access” to this “public hearing” wasn’t a serious consideration for anyone at MDEQ. That’s really unacceptable behavior for a state agency.

In addition, a “FAQs” file was initially made available online (I probably downloaded it during the month of December 2013). Reviewing info in the month leading up to the public hearing, I discovered that it referenced three other “attachments” which were not attached. When I contacted the apparent author of the FAQs file (Geri Grant, SWP, listed in the file’s “info field”) asking for these files, she contacted MDEQ and was told that these critical attachments would not be available until the night of the hearing.
WHY? — given that the FAQ sheet itself was first made available back in 2013? And why was Geri Grant listed as the author of this MDEQ file?

Why should the public have to submit FOIA requests to get basic information about groundwater permit fees? Why was the Public Hearing not listed on the MDEQ website’s calendar? The process surrounding this flawed permit has been repeatedly dismissive of the public’s right to know, and right to participate. MDEQ owes it to the citizens of Michigan’s U.P. to do better.

“The less information available to the public about the full range of impacts from the proposed mine and the less time and opportunity for the public to counter the false claims of the mining company, the better the chances of permitting.” – Al Gedicks

If you have any questions regarding my criticisms, comments, or requested actions, please do not hesitate to contact me at or by mail:
224 Riverside Road, Marquette MI 49855.


Kathleen M. Heideman
President, Save the Wild U.P.

Mining industry has big plans for the western UP and beyond | Steve Garske


The rush is on for the copper, silver, nickel, and other hardrock minerals of the Lake Superior region, and especially Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One of the latest arrivals to the UP is the recently-formed Highland Copper Company, Inc. This month geologist and Highland Vice President for Exploration, Dr. Ross Grunwald, has been on tour, giving a detailed powerpoint presentation of the company’s activities and plans in Ontonagon, Ironwood, Calumet and Houghton.

Highland Copper Company is a Canadian company based in Longueuil, Quebec. Along with its wholly-owned subsidiary Keweenaw Copper Company, Inc., the company is “focused on exploring and developing copper projects within the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, U.S.A.” Incorporated about 2 ½ years ago, they now have 21 full-time employees. They are currently exploring four deposits – three in the Keweenaw Peninsula, and another near Bald Mountain, north of Ironwood near Lake Superior. They are also in the process of buying the White Pine facility and mineral rights from Copper Range Co., a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals LLC of Canada. Drilling is being done at all these sites. As noted in this January 10th Globe story, the drilling at Bald Mountain was not generally known until Grunwald mentioned it at the Ironwood meeting.

Grunwald explained that at this point the Highland (and Keweenaw) Copper Companies are mining exploration and development companies, not mining companies. If the prospects turn out to be economically viable, they would likely be sold to other companies that would mine them. The company provided a fact sheet with a map of their projects. Their extensive website has a fair amount of information about the company, including the results of drilling done so far.

Grunwald and his partners are not the only ones that believe there’s money to be made from these prospects. Highland has been wildly successful in raising investor funds, bringing in some $25 million since September 30th in a stock offering of 43 cents per share. The money will go to continued exploration, as well as the purchase of the White Pine mine. Grunwald stated that the if and when White Pine is reopened, a new underground mine would be constructed to access the extensive copper deposits northeast of the present mine. The tailings would be backfilled into the old, water-filled mine. While smelting would not be done at White Pine, some concentrating of copper ore could be done there using staged flotation reactor technology. Meanwhile the company’s stated intent is to continue to explore for copper and other minerals throughout the Keweenaw region.

In their online “Corporate Presentation” the Highland Company notes that Michigan has a favorable political climate for mining. Their list of “favorables” includes support from the Governor and local officials, new laws encouraging mining and making Michigan a “right to work” state, and a “supportive” Michigan Department of Environment Quality staff. They state that local citizens favor development but admit that some “have questions.”

When asked at the Ironwood presentation whether Highland Copper Company had any financial ties to billionaire Chris Cline of Florida, Cline’s GTac corporation, or the Houston-based Natural Resource Partners (NRP), in which Cline is a major investor, Grunwald gave a flat-out “No.” A bit of research, mostly of these company’s own website, reveals a complicated web of connections, though.

As mentioned in several places on their website, Highland has entered into a joint venture partnership with an entity called Bowie Resource Partners LLC (BRP LLC). As stated on the website, BRP owned approximately 8.8 million mineral acres in 29 states, including approximately 60,000 gross acres of copper rights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as of 2011. BRP LLC is a joint venture formed in June 2010 between Natural Resource Partners L.P. (NRP) and International Paper (IP). Both companies are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Once mainly invested in coal, BRP’s holdings now include everything from oil, gas, and mineral rights to water rights and cell tower placement rights.

According to one source, Chris Cline owns 31% of NRP. As outlined on NRP’s website and their prospectus, NRP is the managing and controlling partner of BRP with a 51% interest, with IP controlling the remaining 49%. Furthermore, oilman Russell Gordy of Houston, owner of RGGS Land and Minerals LLC, sits on the NRP board of directors. RGGS owns most of the surface and mineral rights leased/optioned to GTAC in Iron County. BRP owns and manages current mineral leases, and manages the development of the more than 7 million acres of former International Paper land. Thus Highland has a joint partnership with BRP, which is controlled by NRP, of which Chris Cline (owner of GTac) is a major shareholder.

There can be little doubt that the descent of multiple mining companies on the UP and states west is a well-planned, well-funded effort by incredibly wealthy investors to turn the Lake Superior region into a major resource extraction zone, similar to the Appalachians of West Virginia (where Cline got his start in the coal industry). The question is whether the citizens of the region will let him.

(For more on the financial connections between Cline, GTac and NRP, check out the well-researched article “Circles of Friends – Spheres of Influence“ posted December 10, 2013.)

Steve Garske is a Board Member of Save the Wild U.P. and can be reached at steve [at]

CR 595 Back among the Living? Not so quick | Jon Saari



When in January, 2013 the Mining Journal headline proclaimed “CR 595 Project Killed,” many opponents were skeptical that this was the last we would hear about it. CR 595 in all its incarnations is like a zombie. It seems dead, but then reappears in new guises.

First it was a private Woodland Road, then a public county road funded by the mining company. Its latest incarnation is as THE LONG-TERM SOLUTION to the trucking dilemma of the City of Marquette and Marquette Township. The City recently proposed a highly restrictive trucking ordinance within the city, thus forcing all parties anew to the negotiating table. A bypass around Marquette is being proposed as the short-term solution, but reviving CR 595 within a regional transportation plan is seen as a long-term solution.

The proponents cheering this revival are a familiar cast – County commissioners Gerald Corkin and Deb Pellow and Road Commission engineer-manager Jim Iwanicki – but there is a new voice among them, State Senator Tom Casperson (R – Escanaba) and his aide Matt Fittante. Fittante mesmerized a group of local administrators, planners, and politicians in Marquette township recently, who were all too eager to see the proposed CR 595 as the solution to their transportation woes — never mind that the mine was permitted without a comprehensive look at its outside-the-fence regional impacts. In the 2006 permit application the ore from the Eagle Mine was to be trucked to a railhead north of Marquette. But when Kennecot/Rio Tinto in 2008 purchased the Humboldt Mill, the transportation route was changed to CR 550 and US-41 through the City of Marquette. Efforts began to promote a direct north-south route from mine to mill mostly through undeveloped wild lands.

It is an intense issue made to the liking of Senator Tom Casperson. He seems to enjoy taking on controversies, such as the first wolf hunt in Michigan. He has championed some of the most anti-science natural resource legislation ever seen in Michigan, including a bill to eliminate biodiversity as a value in state forest planning (SB 78). His interest in CR 595 is to use it as a case study of “bad behavior” by federal regulatory agencies, particularly the EPA, and of over-reaching environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. He was invited to Washington, D.C. recently to make that argument at a House hearing, using CR 595 as an example.

Casperson’s agenda of weakening federal environmental regulation must be taken seriously. But local officials and planners should not be lured into serving his long-term agenda, just because CR 595 appears to give them a solution to a truck traffic problem.

There are good reasons why this latest revival of CR 595 should not, and probably will not, succeed.

First, the collusion of public officials in brokering a haul road for an international mining company sets a bad precedent. It creates an illusion that the road is a multi-purpose undertaking when in fact it is a haul road directly from mine to mill. This repurposing of a haul road did not pass the scrutiny of the Corps of Engineers the first time around, so why should it the second time around when the Corps is the lead permitting agency?

Second, after the DEQ denied the permit, the game changed. The mining company returned to its original permitted route and is investing in improving county roads AAA, 510, and 550, not to mention a Marquette bypass and street improvements within the city. How can anyone with a straight face argue that CR 595 with its significant wetland destruction is still necessary because there is no viable transportation alternative? The route may take longer to travel but it will be an upgraded trucking route ready to use by the time the mine opens.

Third, Rio Tinto/Lundin is unlikely to reoffer $80 million for the constructing of CR 595, now that it has invested over half of that into the “alternative” original route. It needs the other half to pay for the greater energy costs of the longer route. This calculus could change if the period of mining is extended through the discovery of new viable mineral deposits; that is not guaranteed. Using public money for a mine haul road (or a haul road disguised as rural development) would be an affront to taxpayers. So where is the money for CR 595 to come from?

Marquette county residents will be treated to an intense lobbying spectacle around CR 595 over the next months and years. The zombie may get up and start walking again.
But it is hoped that the intact wildness of the area north of Wolf Lake Road will never be fractured by an all-season highway, and that local officials will accept that part of their job is protecting the landscape from such degradation.

Jon Saari is a Board member of Save the Wild U.P. and former President of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition. He has written extensively about CR 595 since 2010. This article first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Marquette Monthly as a letter to the editor.

New highway proposed for Eagle Mine


Looks like Lundin Mining inherited a transportation route mess from Rio Tinto when it bought the Eagle Mine located 30 miles north of Marquette.

The Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) is considering a plan to use eminent domain to seize private property to build a new 55 mph highway from CR 550 (“Big Bay Road”) to the Eagle Mine. The MCRC has said it wouldn’t be making these improvements if not for the Eagle Mine, making it illegal to use eminent domain for the benefit of this multi-national mining company. Area property owners and residents are speaking out against the highway and the threat of eminent domain.

This is not a plan for road upgrades, this is a plan for a brand new highway — and we must speak out! Check out the proposed route changes to the Triple A and CR 510 and responses to questions raised at the recent public hearing. Area residents deserve a new Public Hearing to weigh in on the new proposed upgrades.

The MCRC modified the proposed realignment based on public outcry. But the process is on an accelerated path; as the MCRC approved its plan modifications at the same meeting the modifications were proposed.

Your voice is important! Write a letter to the editor, or call your local Marquette County Commissioner to discuss the proposal for a new highway.

Meanwhile, the City of Marquette is struggling with Lundin Mining’s plan to run ore trucks through the city and Northern Michigan University’s campus. In July, the City Commission’s request to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to have transportation be considered part of the Eagle Mine’s permit was denied, which would have forced the mining company to mitigate environmental impacts of truck traffic in Marquette.

Though the Lundin Eagle Mine says they’ll only increase total truck traffic by a small percentage, these trucks will be filled with ore, increasing the weight on the roadways by an estimated 50%. This poses not only a financial burden on taxpayers for years to come, but, more importantly, a huge safety risk for our communities.

** Update** The City of Marquette Public Hearing was cancelled. We are disappointed that the City of Marquette has chosen to postpone tomorrow’s Public Hearing on a truck ordinance en lieu of private meetings with Lundin Mining Company.

Stay up-to-date with these rapidly-evolving issues by checking out our FB page at — together we will keep da U.P. wild!

Uranium found at mine location | Mining Journal


April 5, 2013

MARQUETTE – Testing by Rio Tinto and the Superior Watershed Partnership has confirmed the presence of uranium in water samples from the bottom of a rock storage area at the Eagle Mine, which exceeds the federal maximum concentration level for safe drinking water.

The finding does not violate any state or federal regulatory permits at the mine, but technicians will continue monitoring and testing to learn more about the uranium.

“The significance largely is that it was unexpected and (yet) there it is, present; and trying to identify the source and is it being contained and removed,” said Jon Becker, a communications and development specialist with the Superior Watershed Partnership in Marquette. “We feel the public is going to be interested in that and we want to make sure that they know that we’re all looking at it and evaluating.”
Article Photos

Superior Watershed Partnership senior planner Geri Grant collects a water quality sample from the Temporary Development Rock Storage Area sumps at Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township during the first quarter of 2013 verification monitoring.

The mine’s Temporary Development Rock Storage Area is designed to be an environmentally secure feature which holds waste rock from mining tunnel excavation until it is later put back underground to fill voids where ore was removed.

The bottom of the storage area has two multi-layered lining systems: a primary contact water sump and a lower secondary lining, called the leak detection sump.

Last month, a laboratory in Indiana determined a water sample taken from the leak sump in February by partnership staff – as part of its ongoing Community Environmental Monitoring of Rio Tinto’s mining activities – was found to contain 72.6 parts per billion of uranium.

Partnership staff was test sampling water quality in the leak sump to compare with previous test results produced by Rio Tinto.
Since December 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been regulating uranium in community drinking water supplies to reduce the risk of kidney disease and cancer.

A Western Upper Peninsula Health Department advisory on uranium said the EPA standards for safe drinking water are based on assuming a person drinks two liters of water each day for 70 years.

The EPA maximum concentration level for uranium under the Safe Drinking Water Act is 30 parts per billion, with concentrations exceeding that level considered unsafe. Consequently, the laboratory was required by law to report the uranium level from the leak sump water sample.

“It’s a reporting requirement of the act because they don’t necessarily know what the source of that water is,” Becker said. “If it was a drinking well, it’d be an issue of concern. This is not drinking water.”

Rio Tinto’s rock storage area and water treatment plant are not governed by the Safe Drinking Water Act, but by the company’s mining and groundwater discharge permits.

Dan Blondeau, a Rio Tinto spokesman in Humboldt, said the estimated 26,000 gallons of water in the leak sump came primarily from rain that fell when the rock storage area was being built three years ago.

Since September 2011, Rio Tinto has removed 2,864 gallons of that water to contact water basins and then to the mine’s water treatment plant for processing.

Blondeau said that process includes ion exchange and reverse osmosis filtration, which are two methods federal regulators recommend for removing uranium from drinking water.

After being treated, water is either recycled back into the mining process or discharged into the ground through the mine’s treated water infiltration system.

“The mine site is designed to collect and treat water that comes into contact with mining activities,” said Eagle Mine environmental and permitting manager Kristen Mariuzza. “We are confident in the system and the methods being used to ensure that only clean water is released back into the environment.”

Becker said the partnership has tested water going into the treatment plant and coming out of it to see if the uranium is being removed. Results are due back from the lab next week.

Until then, Becker declined to speculate on the possible impact.
“Just the word (uranium) is going to be alarming to some people,” Becker said. “It’s helpful to know that the processes that are in place at the water treatment plant are the processes that EPA recommends as the best treatment. But until we have monitoring results that demonstrate the efficiency of that, we don’t want to speculate.”

Meanwhile, Blondeau said tests on solid wastes from the water treatment plant showed uranium levels consistent with Upper Peninsula geology in one waste test and none in another, indicating the treatment plant is successfully removing the uranium.

However, those results have not been substantiated independently by the partnership, which will make new similar tests next week. The solids removed by the process are disposed of at a municipal landfill.
When the initial leak sump water sample results were received from the lab in mid-March, partnership staff quickly returned to the mine to retest the water.

Expedited results from the partnership’s lab showed uranium levels of 61 and 58 parts per billion and no uranium in the contact water sump.
Rio Tinto’s test results from its samples and lab showed 56 parts per billion of uranium in the leak sump and a low concentration of 0.13 parts per billion in the contact water sump.

To help identify the source of the uranium, the partnership requested core samples from Rio Tinto in addition to samples of the waste rock and the aggregate used in the storage area leak detection liner.

Steve Casey, district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s water resources division at K.I. Sawyer, said he thinks the uranium source may be the aggregate. If obtained from a Big Bay area quarry nearby, the material may contain Jacobsville sandstone.
The sandstone is known from several counties in the U.P. and its formation extends along the Lake Superior shoreline, east toward Big Bay.

Casey said the sandstone’s composition is known to include uranium, while the waste rock from the mine portal is not.

One Michigan Technological University study focused on testing bedrock wells in Jacobsville sandstone found 25 percent of 270 wells tested with uranium exceeding the EPA maximum concentration limits.

Casey characterized the uranium detection at the Eagle Mine as “not terribly surprising or uncommon.”

“We’ve seen numbers about three times that high in wells,” Casey said.
Casey said the DEQ tested 419 private wells and 20 percent exceeded the safe drinking water standard for uranium, including one well registering 202 parts per billion.

Western U.P. Health Department materials said uranium occurs naturally in some area bedrock and groundwater, making wells susceptible to contamination. High levels of uranium have been found in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw, Gogebic and Ontonagon counties.

The department said “the amount of uranium in bedrock and well water will vary greatly from place to place and without testing, it is not possible to determine if the water is safe for drinking.”

Health department officials said bathing and showering with water containing uranium is not a health concern.

Construction of the Eagle Mine’s rock storage area began in September 2010. By October, the secondary liner was installed and a leak survey performed. The primary liner, risers and the pumping system was completed by November.

In September 2011, the DEQ approved a certificate of quality assurance for construction of the liner systems. That same autumn, Rio Tinto began monitoring the rock storage area as it began digging the mine portal and storing waste rock.

Becker said early last year, Rio Tinto also discovered elevated sulfate levels, which periodically were above the reporting level and have been trending downward since August 2012.

A mining company investigation did not identify a source, but similar to Casey’s uranium source theory, Rio Tinto speculated a small amount of sulfate material was contained in the aggregate used to build the liner.

Monitoring of sulfates and uranium will continue regularly by Rio Tinto and the partnership, with results reported to the public

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.

SWUP’s Final Comments on Aquila Resources Mining Application

Save the Wild U.P., along with many regional environmental organizations and The Menominee Tribal government submitted extensive public comment on Aquila Resources mining application in February, 2016, including a red-flag review completed by the Center for Science in Public Participation. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) received thousands of comments on the dangers posed by an open-pit sulfide mine on the banks of the Menominee River; so many in fact, that they sent an extensive list of 197 questions to Aquila Resources requesting answers to issues surrounding financial assurances, water treatment plant design, potential harm to state and federally listed species of plants and animals, to name a few. Aquila responded to these questions, offering explanations and justifications of their original answers in the mining application, but no solutions to the significant issues raised by concerned citizens. Save the Wild U.P. had issue with the fact that the answers provided by Aquila resources were inadequate and that the mining application was never edited or revised to reflect the concerns raised by environmental organizations, Menominee Tribal leaders and the Center for Science in Public Participation, so we submitted further questions and concerns to the DEQ during the most recent public comment period.

Here is an example of some of SWUP’s most pressing concerns regarding the mining application, but you can read them in full by clicking here.

“Save the Wild U.P. strongly objects to the State’s proposed “decision to grant a Mining Permit” to the Aquila Back Forty project in the absence of a publicly reviewable Wetland Permit application—

  • The mine proposal conflicts with federal policy protecting wetlands. Based on a review of the draft Wetland Permit, now rescinded, this mining project will result in the direct destruction of regulated and unregulated wetlands, resulting in the impairment and degradation of surface and groundwater.
  • It would irreversibly harm a globally significant and state-endangered oak-pine savanna area.
  • It would harm endangered, threatened and special concern species, including sturgeon, mussels, the Northern Long-eared Bat, dwarf milkweed and the Pitcher’s thistle.
  • It is not in the public interest, would impair tribal resources, and would result in an uncalculated loss of ecological services.
  • Aquila Back Forty wetlands destruction and NPDES-related water quality impairments will have adverse impacts on freshwater fisheries, aquatic life, wildlife, human health and welfare, environmental justice and special aquatic sites.

We formally request that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality reject the Aquila Back Forty Mining Permit Application and EIA as misleading and inadequate. We ask that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reject the proposed land exchange of Escanaba State Forest lands for the Aquila Back Forty project. We further request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency veto and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deny any Section 404 permit that would allow Aquila Back Forty to degrade the Menominee River and the riparian corridor through industrial wastewater discharges and/or wetlands destruction.

We request specific responses to these comments, submitted November 3, 2016, and to the extensive written comments our organization originally submitted on February 16, 2016.”

SWUP Critical of Back Forty’s NPDES Permit

Save the Wild U.P. has submitted extensive written comments to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), concerning Aquila Resources’ application for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permit. In their comments, SWUP outlines numerous objections to the proposed NPDES permit, noting that the discharges pose significant threats to Menominee River. The Back Forty mine proposal would construct an open-pit sulfide mine, mill and tailings basins on the banks of the Menominee River, and treated industrial discharges would be piped to the Menominee:

  • The NPDES permit proposes to use the Flambeau Mine as an example of non-polluting mine, and a model for post-closure remediation. This is a dangerous comparison —  the Flambeau Mine received multiple Clean Water Act violations, had no on-site milling operations, left behind no permanent tailings on the surface, and used no cyanide on the site.
  • The permit fails to provide a longterm treatment plan for acid leachate that will be produced closure produced during Postclosure years; it appears that leachate production will require Perpetual Care.
  • Permit fails to analyze health risks and impacts on communities who rely on fishing for subsistence, including risks from toxic heavy metals, arsenic, methylmercury, use of cyanidation, and acid mine drainage.
  • Permit fails to adequately consider alternatives to minimize environmental harm or reduce polluted seepage from permanent waste facilities.
  • The mine proposal conflicts with federal policy to protect wetlands, and circumvents cumulative review. As of November 2016, there is still NO Wetlands Permit to review in conjunction with this NPDES permit — even though a large portion of the “authorized discharges” will be contact water produced as a result of dewatering (groundwater and wetlands drawdown) at the Back Forty site.
  • The NPDES permit fails to fully evaluate pollution risks to drinking water, fisheries, and threatened species (particularly freshwater mussels).
  • The NPDES permit would harm endangered, threatened and special concern species, including sturgeon, mussels, river fingernail clams and snails. Species-specific limits were not included in the permit. Multiple pollutants have no limit — “Report Only.” 
  • Aquila Back Forty water quality impairments would have adverse impacts on freshwater fisheries, aquatic life, wildlife, human health and welfare, environmental justice and special aquatic sites.
  • The lack of an integrated permit review process, as was promised by the DEQ in January 2016, has frustrated and compromised the work of those offering technical comments on Aquila’s permit.
  • The pollution authorized by this permit IS NOT in the public interest, it degrades the Menominee River, will impair tribal resources, and will result in an uncalculated cumulative loss of ecological services.

To read SWUP’s full comments, click here.

Al Gedicks Letter to Orion Finance: No Social License for Aquila

November 1, 2016

Mr. Oskar Lewnowski, CIO
Orion Mine Finance Group
1211 Avenue of the Americas
Suite 3000
New York, NY 10036
Dear Mr. Lewnowski,

I am writing in regard to Orion’s 19% investment in Aquila Resources’ Back Forty metallic sulfide deposit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Recent events have highlighted growing opposition to the project that may be of great interest to your shareholders.

Have you seen the recent headlines about the recent public hearing that brought over 350 people to the Stephenson high school to voice their concerns about Aquila’s mine permits on October 6, 2016? These headlines reflect deep public dissatisfaction with the proposed mine after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality gave preliminary approval for the permits for the Back Forty project.

“Strong Feelings Erupt at Back Forty Mine Hearing” Peshtigo Times, 10/12/16

“Battle Lines Drawn in Fight Over U-P Mine” 10/7/16

“Emotions about mine run hot” Eagle Herald, Marinette/Menominee 10/8/16

Or are your shareholders aware of the recent demonstrations and public forums organized by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and their supporters protesting the failure to consult the tribe about the violation of sacred sites within the Back Forty mine footprint?

“Menomonee Nation holds rally against Back Forty sulfide mining project” News from Indian Country, October 2016

“Mine plan troubles tribe” Wisconsin State Journal, 10/23/16

I suspect you may be unaware of the significant community opposition to this proposed mine because Aquila’s CEO, Barry Hildred, has misrepresented the local community in an October 3, 2016 presentation before mining industry professionals at the recent Precious Metals Summit and in statements to the local media.

When asked whether there was any opposition to the Back Forty project, Hildred said, “The opposition tends to be small. These were the same groups that opposed the Eagle mine [in the U.P.]. They’re not well-funded and there are no national groups challenging the permit.” (

“There are no bad surprises”

When asked whether Aquila had done its homework to insure that there would be no bad surprises for the project, Hildred replied, “There are no bad surprises.”

No bad surprises? Just a week before Hildred assured his audience of broad community support for the project, the Marinette County Board, by a 28-0 vote, adopted a resolution that “strongly opposes Aquila’s Back Forty metallic sulfide mine and urged the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to deny a permit for the Back Forty project.” Aquila Resources was invited to address the board before the vote but declined to send a representative to the meeting.

The resolution (see the Eagle Herald story on 9/21/16 enclosed) cited concerns over long term leaching of acid-producing wastes into the groundwater and the river, the risk to human health and the environment in Wisconsin as well as Michigan, the threat to the sturgeon population in the Menominee River and the irreversible loss of significant cultural resources of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, including Native American gravesites.

A company that cannot or will not defend its project before elected officials in a community that draws its drinking water downstream from the proposed mine has no social license to operate.

On October 25, an Environmental Protection of Air and Water Quality resolution was stricken from the agenda by the Menominee County Board of Commissioners to prevent a public discussion of concerns about the Back Forty proposed mine.

As the extensive news reports, letters to the editor, op eds, and feature articles in environmental and Native American publications assembled in this packet demonstrate, the characterization of the opposition as “small” and “composed of the same groups that opposed the Eagle project” is wildly inaccurate. Over 2,000 members of the public wrote to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to express serious concerns about the Back Forty project. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, we know that 98 percent of all signatures and comments opposed the project (see report by Save the Wild U.P. enclosed).

While the individual citizens, groups and Indian tribes opposing this project may not be well-funded, this does not mean they are incapable of exercising considerable political influence over the permitting process and whether this mine will ever be built.

If you doubt the power of organized local opposition to defeat controversial mining projects I urge you to Google the defeat of Exxon’s Crandon, Wisconsin project in 2003, Aquila’s Lynne project in Oneida County, Wisconsin in 2012 and Gogebic Taconite’s Penokee Hills project in Iron and Ashland Counties in Wisconsin in 2015. All three cases involved Indian tribes and grassroots citizens groups organized against destructive mining projects.

Barry Hildred may know a great deal about financing mining projects but he appears to know very little about what mining risk analysts like Ernst & Young have termed the “social license to operate” (SLO). According to Ernst & Young, the fourth greatest risk to mining investors comes from “ignoring community voices and their environmental and public health concerns. Mining projects that generate protests and civil unrest are bad for business.” (Top 10 Business Risks Facing Mining and Metals, 2016-2017, p. 4).

“The mining world has changed dramatically,” wrote Wayne Dunn in a special report to The Northern Miner, a Canadian mining industry newspaper. “Projects can be stopped dead by local people and communities, dashing shareholder’s hopes and often destroying executives’ careers. Project management has become exponentially more complex as social issues no longer take a distant backseat to technical issues.” (90:28, 9/3/04, p. 6).

The term “social license to operate” emerged in response to a perceived threat to the mining industry’s legitimacy as a result of environmental disasters in the late 1990s. The Fraser Institute, a mining industry think tank in Vancouver, British Columbia says the social license to operate “refers to the level of acceptance by local communities and stakeholders of mining companies and their operations.” It “is based on the idea that mining companies need not only government permission [or permits] but also ‘social permission’ to conduct their business. Increasingly, having an SLO is an essential part of operating within democratic jurisdictions, as without popular support it is unlikely that agencies from elected governments will willingly grant operational permits or licenses.”

The Fraser Institute warns that “the lack of an SLO is associated with social conflict, loss of machinery due to vandalism, higher financial costs, increased difficulties in hiring skilled labour, costly delays of mine operations, and possible mine shutdowns due to community opposition to the mine.”

Serious concerns about the mine permit application have also been raised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that have forced Aquila to withdraw its wetland permit because it failed to identify regulated resources on the project site and within the proposed impact area. That permit application will need to be resubmitted.

Please review the extensive documentation of community opposition in this packet and make your own judgment about whether this project has a social license to operate.


Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary

Wisconsin Resources Protection Council

Save the Menominee River Speaking Tour and Paddling Trip!


Grassroots opposition to Aquila’s Back Forty metallic sulfide mine next to the Menominee River will sponsor its fourth public forum on the cultural, environmental and economic impacts of the proposed mine in the Wausaukee, Wisconsin Town Hall (N 11856 Hwy 141) on Saturday, July 23rd  at 10:00 am. Save the Menominee River Speaking Tour sponsored previous forums in Marinette, Wisconsin and Menominee and Stephenson, Michigan. The event is free and open to the public.

Speakers from groups including the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the River Alliance of Wisconsin, the Front 40 citizens group and the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council will present information about mining impacts, including the endangered sturgeon population in the Menominee River and invite public comments about the proposed open pit mine.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality is expected to hold a Public Hearing on the Back Forty proposal later this summer (TBA). Citizens can learn how to speak out at public hearings in “lunch & learn” activist trainings sponsored by Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) on Monday, July 18th and Monday, July 25th from 12 noon to 3:00 pm followed by a social hour at the Ore Dock Brewing Company’s upstairs public space in Marquette, Michigan.

For those interested in a closer look at the proposed mine site, the River Alliance of Wisconsin is leading a canoe/kayak excursion on the Menominee River on Friday, July 29 to learn about the mine and appreciate the beauty of this river. Starting at the White Rapids dam, east of Amberg, Wisconsin, and northwest of Stephenson, Michigan, the excursion will visit significant native American archaeological sites and do a “paddle-by” of the proposed mine site. The River Alliance will be joined by officials from the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and the Front 40 citizens group.  The Menominee River takes its name from the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin whose creation stories start at the mouth of the Menominee River. According to Guy Reiter, a Menominee tribal member, “the creator gave us responsibility for watching out for that water thousands of years ago.” For more details and to register, go to htts://

For more information contact: Guy Reiter (715) 853-2776
or Ron Henriksen (906) 563-5766

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


The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced a Public Comment period regarding the Back Forty mine permit application — more than 37,500 pages long. After concerned citizens requested more time to comment on the permit, MDEQ agreed to extend the deadline by two weeks. However, following the Public Comment period, the MDEQ staff person who received those comments refused to answer basic questions like “how many public comments were received?” Not even a rough estimate could be provided.

Alarmed that MDEQ regulators were not being “open and transparent” during the mine permit review process, one concerned citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and forwarded the documents to Save the Wild U.P. for our review.

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!


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98.2% OPPOSED!

Public Comments were expressed through emails, letters, editorials, technical analysis, handwritten messages, and signature petitions.


“I don’t want to show my children and grandchildren (the Menominee River) and tell them about stories when the river used to be a thing of beauty and inspiration.”
- C.J. to MDEQ

“I worked as a Project Manager on Superfund sites. I have seen how companies reap profits and then walk away from their contaminated sites. Please do not approve the permit…”
-B.N. to MDEQ

“As a graduate of Michigan Technological University, in Metallurgical Engineering with thirty years experience in the cast metals industry, I have knowledge on both the positive and negative effects of removal and refining of rock to generate metals. Huge advances have been made -in legislating environmental protection. At the same time the best prevention based approach can’t override the unknown level of natural events, mine processing accidents, or simple human neglect that could wash mine residue and contaminants off the Back Forty site and into the Menominee River.”
-J.R. to MDEQ

“With great concern for the well-being and future of the lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, creeks, wells, marshes, bogs, groundwater and, reality check here… “life in general,” I am speaking from my heart. The Menominee River has been a part of our family for four generations.”
-D.T. to MDEQ

Think about all the mothers and fathers who aren’t going to be able to take their sons and daughters fishing on the rivers and streams after this FOR PROFIT company sucks every dollar out of the ground and put back in its place, runoff and chemicals.”
-C.S. to MDEQ

“After the initial shock was overcome regarding what this mine would look like and how it may affect these streams, wetlands, swamp and the Menominee River- I thought to myself how can the DEQ on one hand offer programs as the one we’ve been involved with for now over 10-years and on the other hand ignore the data that’s been collected by a collective body of persons numbering in the hundreds? Data that shows a wide number of “rare” species. And yes this data is being ignored. (…) We are no experts but these persons (Aquila Resources and their contractors) failed to even note at least 1 stream that runs along their boundary and other locations such as wetlands and swamps that will be negatively impacted should they be allowed to dewater the area.”
-T.B. to MDEQ

“When reviewing the indirect and direct cost estimates for the Back Forty financial assurance, it is obvious that it has been significantly underestimated…”
-Dr. Kendra Zamzow of the Center for Science in Public Participation to MDEQ

“The ARD (Acid Rock Drainage) risk is very high. Most material contains sulfides, and there is very little natural carbonate for buffering. (…) 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.”
-Dr. Kendra Zamzow of the Center for Science in Public Participation to MDEQ

“The tailings analyzed represent only the first 8 years of the life of mining operations. Since tailings are generally piled, the last tailings to be produced are the most representative of what would be near the surface when mining operations cease. Are there any tailings test results for the tailings expected to be produced as the mine is preparing to close operations?”
-Menominee River Front 40 to MDEQ

“I know that the constant argument for mines are to promote well paying jobs. As a young person with student loans and personal experience with small town people having to move to find work, I understand this argument. That being said, I cannot ignore the fact that this may temporarily help local communities, but long term probably will be devastating. A well maintained natural area where my family, myself and hopefully many generations to come will put money into local business promotes a healthy long term economy. Even this may be a small amount of money compared to what this mine could make, but when you combine all of the people in our states and tourists who love the outdoors over generations it will outweigh the immediate benefit.”
-M.S. to MDEQ

“I am writing you to express my concern regarding the Back Forty Mine and its proximity to the Menominee River. As a resident of the Great Lakes Region, as vacationer who brings his family to Harbor Country to enjoy Lake Michigan, and finally as consumer of Lake Michigan drinking water, I have grave concerns over the risks posed by having a mine so close to a river and its conveyance to Lake Michigan. Decisions of those in the entire basin affect all of those who live around these wonderful lakes. We only need to look at the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo oil spill to recognize the dangers.”
-T.C. to MDEQ

“The Assessment states that tests reveal there are no known occurrences of contaminated groundwater or surface water in the Project area and that “This is consistent with its remote location and lack of industrial activity in the surrounding area.” Will this be true when the mine closes after seven years and in the years to follow? Will we be another Flint someday or have an Animas River situation? The potential for damage to Upper Peninsula water and the environment are real. Risks are numerous, unknown and uncertain. PLEASE do not allow Aquila to proceed with the Back Forty Mine Project and deny its Permit Application.”
-K.L. to MDEQ

“Please hear us. We do not want a mine polluting our back yard. Nature is too precious and needs to be preserved for future generations.”
-S.E. to MDEQ

“What will happen when our wells become contaminated from the cyanide, arsenic and other poisons that will end up in the river and the Aquila people be held accountable? What will happen, as has happened before, is that they will go slinking back to where they came from and file bankruptcy. We have been inundated with misleading info and outright lies. We deserve better.”
-N.T. and S.T. to MDEQ

“At another winter meeting, a DEQ official explained the regulation process involved in mining permits. Hew said that mining companies must take care of cleanup, and the Menominee River would be protected from tailings pollution. What he didn’t say however, is that the low wall Aquila might build along the river would not be exempt from ‘Acts of God”. For example mild earthquakes (…) Floods can also occur, washing tailings into the river. So much for the protection of our water supply!”
-P.G. to MDEQ

“As landowners in Holmes Township we are very concerned that the impact of the proposed mine will negatively affect our groundwater, not to mention the quality of the waters of the Menominee River and Shakey Lakes.”
-C.M and J.M. to MDEQ

“Metallic sulfide mining has never been done anywhere in the world without polluting ground and surface waters. Because this is common knowledge other areas have banned the use of cyanide for the extraction of gold and silver. (…) Cyanide poisoning from metallic sulfide gold mining is a far more serious problem (than lead poisoning in Flint). The question is not “if” but “when” this will occur. All the mining company PR won’t help when they are long gone and DEQ gets blamed for allowing them to legally or illegally contaminate our post precious vital resource – water. Water is more precious to life than gold!”
-B.W. to MDEQ

“A spill would create a disaster with chemicals flowing into the bay and eventually Lake Michigan. And what about the liners? How long will they last and who will be responsible. How large will the pond(s) be and what is its capacity? Will the pond be covered and how will you prevent run-off into the river Many have these same questions but we have no answers. From what is on the DEQ website there is no dollar amount required to be held for such a disaster or even a plan should one occur. Many of us who are residents along the river are fearful of the possibility of such a disaster and the contamination of our wells, loss of property values and the loss of being able to enjoy a pristine river, its beauty and the fishing it offers.”
-D.P. to MDEQ

“I am a Native American living in Menominee Township just downstream from the “Back Forty Mine.” I live on land that my Woman’s ancestors homesteaded 143 years ago and it is still in the family and we hope that it will still be in the family for many more generations to come with still the BEST TASTING WATER EVER. I was raised to respect Mother Earth for she provides us with all that we need to sustain life and that we need to protect her for the next seven (7) generations that are coming. Promoting this Back Forty Mine so close to the Menominee River is not a good Idea. Everybody in the area has a well for their water, some are shallow (…). I would not be proud to tell my generations to come that I was part of why they have NO WATER.”
-W.B. to MDEQ

“Totally opposed! Reasons: 1. Disruption of environment 2. Destruction of wildlife caused by 3. Pollution of river and tributaries 4. Harmful to surface water and wells. What are we to do if we can’t use our wells? 5. Many will lose their livelihood. 6. Property values in the area will plummet. We will have to pay property tax on land that will be diminished. It is unbelievable to me how this project could move forward being so harmful to so many, just to line the pockets of a few!”
-ST. to MDEQ

“Even if Aquila meets all the standards required, there is no guarantee that it is safe. It may not happen in our lifetime but sometime in the future, maybe the next generation, the poison will flow into our rivers and wells.”
-M.K. to MDEQ

“We have lived in other areas where mine residue was left from mines long closed with no one responsible for remediation. The danger to the public continues long after such projects come to the end of their productive life.”
-K.M and J.M. to MDEQ

“I have been employed as an environmental affairs manager for a manufacturing firm and am well acquainted with the risks associated with the mining chemicals being proposed, particularly cyanide. With the proximity of the mine to the river there is insufficient mitigation available to acceptably eliminate the risk of contamination to the river. And once released , the results of the contamination cannot be undone. Please do not allow this project to go forward.”
-S.O. and K.O. to MDEQ

“Since the District is charged with assisting County landowners with the management of their natural resources, we feel obligated to address the potential Back Forty Mine project. We identify the proposed mine location as a sensitive natural and cultural area, and the adjacent Menominee River System as a unique, regionally significant water feature. The Menominee Conservation District implores both the Michigan DEQ and Aquila Resources that great care be exercised in the planning, pending authorization, potential development, and final remediation of the site to ensure the quality of our natural resources are not diminished. “
-Menominee Conservation District Board to MDEQ

“We are writing to express our opposition to the proposed Back Forty gold-zinc sulfide mine which Aquila Resources would like to develop next to the Menominee River in the Upper Peninsula. (…) Aquila Resources likes to say that the Flambeau mine of Ladysmith, Wisconsin is an example of a mine operating without causing pollution, but in reality the Flambeau mine has polluted surface and groundwater and that pollution continues today. There is currently no technology or method available to prevent the pollution which this proposed mine will cause. (…) Please do the right thing and think about the long-term future and deny the permit for the proposed Back Forty mine.”
-D.P. to MDEQ

“I was not fully aware of the size or scope of this proposed mine until I attended the meeting (in Stephenson). It will be huge. I do not believe most people living in Menominee County have any idea just how big or even where it will be. This huge open pit mine will literally be on the banks of the Menominee RIver. If there could be a 1-10 list of worst places to put a gold and silver mine, this would be number one.”
-M.T. to MDEQ

“I am 71 years old. I have resided in Menominee County Mich since I was five years old. I am writing this letter to voice my concerns about the mine being planned for our county. I feel that this mine, if it comes in, will ruin Shakey Lakes Park, pollute the Menominee River, pollute all the wells for miles, and ruin all the beautiful land where it will be located. I have a camp and 80 acres a few miles away. (…) I realize that there are a lot of people that are easily lead and easily swayed by big money, and will allow this to happen. But I also feel there are a lot of people in high places who are sincere and honest. I hope they feel as I do and will try to prevent this from happening.”
-T.S. to MDEQ

“Do we really need these natural resources? Look at the prices they are paying for recycled metals, historically low. Why are they low, because they have more than there is a demand for. People are letting recyclable metals go to the landfills because it’s not worth messing with. Let’s slow down on mining so the recycling markets pick up and people can make a little money doing what everyone should always be doing – RECYCLING. The mining companies have written their own history. It’s a dirty business and they can’t hide from all the water resources they have ruined. Let’s not add the Menominee River to the list of water resources that have been compromised.”
-J.M. to MDEQ

“We attended the meeting put on by the D.E.Q. on January 5, 2016 at Stephenson H.S. to learn more about the mine project. (…) I was disappointed at the responses by the D.E.Q. people to some of the questions raised at the meeting: such as what chemicals will be used to treat the tailings? Response, I don’t know! How much money will be held in an escrow account to cover damages after Aquilla pulls out? Again, I don’t know, ask Aquila was a common response. Does not the D.E.Q. have oversight on the mining project? I am afraid we will wind up with another toxic dump as has happened before in other areas. We think it is plain lunacy to even consider digging a pit mine next to the River for the purpose of extracting gold and silver or any ore. The trade-off for jobs is not worth the risk of damaging the environment with sulfuric acid or related chemicals, poisoning area aquifer from which our drinking water comes, and killing all the marine life in the River and Shakey Lakes, ecosystems that evolved over thousand of years, also the archaeological importance of the area with regards to our Native Indian population and features dating back to the Woodland Cultures. We expect our State Government to lookout for these interests and to carefully consider all the ramifications of allowing a pit mine on the banks of the Menominee River. WE ARE AGAINST THE BACK 40 MINE PROJECT.”
-J.N. and J.N. to MDEQ

“It is absolutely not true (as claimed by Aquila) that the Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin has not polluted nearby waters.In fact, it is still polluting ground and surface water today. The WDNR has recommended to the USEPA that a tributary of the Flambeau River be listed as “impaired” due to copper and zinc toxicity. Please take the long view of damages to the environment including major public investment in supporting lake sturgeon populations, and Native American cultural sites. Don’t trade them off for short term (and dubious) economic benefits.”
-K.W. to MDEQ

“Any contamination from the Aquila project will not only affect Michigan waters, but also the Menominee River and water aquifers that feed many families, livestock and agricultural enterprises. My wife and I will go on record with fellow Wisconsin residents to reject and oppose any mining project by Aquila in the Menominee County of Michigan. Our waters and the environment should be our most valuable asset.”
-D.B. and L.B. to MDEQ

“A feeder creek from the mine site flows into the Menominee River and we are objecting to the continued planning for the Back Forty Mine. While mining has been an important part of Northern Wisconsin’s and the Upper Michigan’s heritage and growth in the past century, our current generations have been struggling with much of the waste produced from those efforts. While unintended, they did occur. The risks that the mine carries to the pristine waters of the Menominee, and quite possibly Lake Michigan are too hard to ignore. Successful fishing, recreational use, and clean water don’t happen overnight. But, those uses can all come to an end in ONE night. Is it worth the risk? We say no!”
-Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance to MDEQ

“The Menominee River is considered to be one of the best smallmouth rivers in North America. It also supports, musky, pike, sturgeon, amphibians and many species of birds and mammals. It provides recreational opportunities to thousands of people each year and this, in turn, provides a strong economic boost to the citizens living in this area. To jeopardize all of this for the small return the Back Forty Mine project might produce seems shortsighted at best. I hope you will prohibit this project from moving forward.”
-Badger Fly Fishers Club to MDEQ

“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. There is not enough protection for the Menominee River, the environment around it, the people’s rights, historical areas, air, land, clean-up, waste.”
-M.T. to MDEQ

“The mining permit shows the use of a large amount of Cyanide. Holmes Township, Lake Township and Menominee County have passed resolutions against the use of cyanide in relation to mining. Will the MDEQ take those resolutions into consideration for this permit application? Part 632 does not detail the use of Cyanide- therefore what regulations covers use of Cyanide if any? Will the State of Michigan defer to the Township…?”
-T.B. to MDEQ

“I am sure the company views itself as professional and qualified to take on the project, but it is their first mine! (…) 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.”
-T.D. to MDEQ

“If there is an accident or natural disaster how many people on both sides of the river will be affected by contaminated water. Please don’t allow this project, the jobs and profits created are drop in the bucket compared to the devastation that will happen to the Menominee should something unforeseen occur. All mines pollute.”
-D.D. to MDEQ

“I started out looking at this Mine with an open mind but the more I learn the more I believe the long range possible negative impact on our environment is not worth the short term financial gain. An open pit mine 25 meters from the Menominee River seems to be a problem begging to happen. I believe this is a floodplain area with old dams, ice shoves and a reported earthquake in an area not far from the proposed site. (…)I’m not a tree hugger but believe we have to be stewards for future generations and all the animals and fish that use this watershed. Please err on the side of caution.”
-M.B. to MDEQ

“Our sturgeon fisheries need to be protected. The cultural and spiritual needs of the First Nations in the UP need to be protected. And most importantly, the water quality in the UP’s largest river system needs to be protected. As a UP property owner, and as a fifth-generation Yooper descendant, I beg you to keep our wild wilderness pure.”
-K.T. to MDEQ


Given serious concerns about MDEQ transparency and the fate of public input, we’re making these public comment files available for others to review:

Lundin’s “Eagle East” Undermines Public Process


MARQUETTE — Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is expressing outrage following news that Lundin Mining will begin immediate construction of extensive new tunnels connecting Eagle’s existing orebody with a new target, Eagle East — all without public input, or the permit revisions that should be required under Michigan’s Nonferrous Metallic Mining Regulations, known as Part 632.

“Lundin’s press release states that ‘The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has determined that no modifications are required to Eagle’s Part 632 mining permit at this time,’ which means, if it’s true, that somehow it is acceptable to build a (double) tunnel spanning approximately 1.5 miles, thousands of feet deep, with no knowledge of its stability or the potential impacts to water,” said Michelle Halley, Marquette attorney and Save the Wild U.P. advisory board member.

“Just a few of the obvious questions that should be answered before such a project begins include: Will the rock removed be acid-generating? If so, how will it be handled and stored? What will happen to it post-mining? Will the tunnel need de-watering? If so, will the water require treating? If so, can the existing water treatment facility handle the volume and constituents of the water? Where will it be discharged? Can the discharge aquifer handle that quantify of discharge? Will this tunnel be back-filled, post-mining? Will the tunnel need reinforcing to be stable and safe for workers? How will the need to ensure the safety of this tunnel affect the financial assurance required by the state? If Lundin’s press release is accurate, the Michigan DEQ is asleep at the wheel. It wouldn’t be the first time,” said Halley.

According to Wednesday’s press release (“Eagle Mine provides exploration update on Eagle East”) from Lundin Mining, “A Preliminary Economic Assessment on Eagle East was also released and the company intends to complete a full feasibility study and permit review. If mined, the life of mine of Eagle would be extended by one year.”

“This is bad news for the Yellow Dog Plains. Extending the life of the mine definitely increases the environmental degradations,” said Save the Wild U.P. director, Alexandra Maxwell. “Constructing another underground mine 1.5 miles from Eagle’s current operation will increase the draw-down of groundwater. Marquette County’s trout streams rely on clean, cold groundwater. Is Lundin or the DEQ concerned that these degradations affect not only the Salmon Trout, but its neighboring river, the Yellow Dog? The extension of mining activities will now degrade two beloved Upper Peninsula rivers.”

“Eagle is grasping to survive in a flailing commodities market and is displaying the classic definition of “high grading.” This is right out of the mining industry playbook: “adjust” or “expand” your mining operations, target only the highest grade ores for extraction, make more money in the short-term to stay afloat in uncertain economic conditions. This is a shortsighted risk and a huge gamble with the health of our environment,” said Maxwell.

Lundin’s press release further states: “Access to Eagle East is planned with a spiral ramp from the bottom of Eagle Mine, making use of the existing ventilation infrastructure. Lundin Mining has authorized ramp development to begin in July.”

Targeting a single deep high-grade lobe of the Eagle East orebody is part of a corporate ‘cut-and-run’ strategy. Retired mining engineer Jack Parker’s analysis showed, early on, that Eagle Mine was guilty of high-grading their orebody. Parker stated as early as 2012 that they “plan to leave behind an additional billion dollars’ worth of lower grade ore, which could extend the life of the mine around 16 years” — an irresponsible mining practice.

“All of this will extend Eagle Mine’s operating life by a single year? Seriously? Three years of tunneling to expand Eagle’s mine life by one year? The proposed ramp and twin access tunnels will be far deeper than the existing Eagle Mine operations, and Lundin knows next to nothing about the rock or the hydrology at this depth, so constructing this extensive tunnel exponentially increases Eagle Mine’s risks. The DEQ should recalculate Lundin’s financial assurances immediately — before allowing any new construction to begin,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

Diagram illustrating the miles of new tunnels that will be required to connect Eagle Mine (top left) with Eagle East (lower right), found on page 6 of Lundin Mining’s press release, “LUNDIN MINING ANNOUNCES EAGLE EAST MINERAL RESOURCE, PEA RESULTS AND PROJECT COMMENCEMENT” (June 29, 2016). A complete Technical Report on Eagle East is not yet available.

According to Lundin’s press release: “The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has determined that no modifications are required to Eagle’s Part 632 mining permit at this time.”

Heideman is outraged. “We’re very disappointed that the DEQ has once again circumvented due process for industry’s sake. Each time Eagle Mine’s Part 632 Permit is modified, the public is informed that these changes are “insignificant” and no public hearing is held. Clearly, the DEQ doesn’t have a working definition for “significant change.” The DEQ’s process is not working. The community has significant concerns but is not allowed to participate.”

“Eagle is building a tunnel that would stretch from the US-41 highway roundabout to NMU’s University Center – and back! It will take three years of drilling, through unknown geology, with no hydrological data, and Lundin states they’re unsure if they will mine Eagle East once they’ve finished building the tunnel? Ridiculous. Worst of all – none of this results in a modification to Eagle’s mining permit? This is stunningly egregious. No other industry would be permitted to construct something like this without conducting environmental studies, and securing significant permit revisions,” said Heideman.

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to defending wild places and clean water of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining. For more information contact or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at or follow SWUP on Facebook at or Twitter @savethewildup.

* Eagle East Q & A (PDF)
* Press Release: Eagle Mine Provides Exploration Update on Eagle East (PDF)
* Corporate Press Release: Lundin Mining Announces Eagle East Mineral Resource PEA Results and Project Commencement (PDF)

Aquila Resources: Putting Their Mine Where Our River Mouth Is?


Article by Tyler Dettloff, originally printed in the Anishnaabe News, Spring 2016 issue.

In November 2015, Canadian-based mining company Aquila Resources submitted a mine permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The proposed Back Forty Project would be on the banks of the Menominee River, the origin place of the Menominee people. While Aquila Resources claims to be mainly interested in zinc, copper, gold, and silver, Aquila investors are also interested in extracting other metals via an open-pit sulfide mine.

But precious metals are not the only valuable resources to come from beneath the Menominee River. According to Menominee tribal member and lore expert James Frechette (1930-2006), the river holds the Menominee clan origins. A “Great Light Colored Bear” came up from the earth and traveled up the river. Then, Grandfather granted the bear the ability to change form, into a human, Frechette said, “The bear… became the first Menominee.” This first Menominee goes on to meet Eagle, Wolf, Crane, and Moose who change into humans and form the five clans of the Menominee Nation.

Origin stories create a space that Dr. Henrietta Mann (Cheyenne) would describe as sacred: “These origin stories—that we emerged or fell from the sky or were brought forth—connect us to this land and establish our identities, our belief systems. We have spiritual responsibilities to renew the Earth.” Mann affirms a connection between identity, belief, and origin place in the form of ceremony, and explains the traditional, healthy reciprocity between people and land as “give and take.” Respecting the Menominee River is respecting the sacred origins of the Menominee People.

The Menominee Indian Tribe Reservation, in Wisconsin, is sixty miles from the river. Regarding the Back Forty Mine Project, the tribe has firmly and publicly opposed the mine for both cultural and environmental reasons, and is urging area residents and community members to recognize the cultural significance of protecting the integrity and health of the Menominee River. Two grassroots organizations, Save the Wild U.P. and The Front Forty, have also helped raise community consciousness of the Back Forty Project’s potential negative environmental impacts.

Aquila Resources has released documents that boast their commitment to environmental concerns, community engagement and local economic growth. It’s interesting that in these reports, the word “river” is only mentioned once, and in a non-tribal context. Interested parties—job-creation enthusiasts and environmentalists—may both dispute and regulate the environmental impact of Aquila Resources’ proposed Back Forty Project. Aquila Resources may even be able to comply with environmental and safety regulations in exchange for the promise of public support. But neither Aquila Resources nor any other entities can dispute the sacredness of the site to the Menominee people: origin stories establish and maintain identities and belief systems, as Dr. Mann states. If the Back Forty project can potentially harm the Menominee River, it can harm Menominee cultural identity, a priceless tool against assimilation, for survival.