Prominent U.P. Environmental Groups Merge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:
Alexandra Maxwell, Mining Action Group, info@savethewildup.org (906) 662-9987
Gregg Bruff, UPEC Coordinator, upec@upenvironment.org (906)-201-1949
Horst Schmidt, UPEC President, horsthear@yahoo.com (906)-369-3797

Marquette, MI — Two of the most respected environmental organizations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have joined forces! Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) and Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) completed a year-end merger, resulting in the formation of a Mining Action Group (MAG) within UPEC.

“This merger brings together five decades of leadership and grassroots effort. We are now truly speaking with ‘One Voice’ to protect the environment of the Upper Peninsula. We could not have done it without the dedication of board members of both groups, ” said Horst Schmidt, UPEC president.

“Our goal in this merger was to create an active, far-reaching and inclusive environmental advocacy group for the Upper Peninsula,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s outgoing president. “We are combining our strengths, and building on our cooperative efforts to protect clean water, healthy ecosystems, and wild places.”

Following the merger, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition will maintain its focus on environmental education and advocacy for U.P. wild lands. The Mining Action Group, operating as a semi-autonomous arm within UPEC, will carry on Save the Wild U.P.’s legacy of informed grassroots activism.

Founded in 2004, SWUP has become widely known for leveraging social media and providing hard-hitting public commentary on sulfide mining related permits, most recently on the proposed zinc-copper mine targeting the Menominee River and proposed expansion of the Eagle Mine in Marquette County. MAG activists will continue serving as environmental watchdogs, urging regulators to make wise decisions to protect the natural resources and public lands of Upper Michigan, educating citizens about the risks of sulfide mining and the industrialization of wild lands, reviewing permits for new mineral leases in sensitive areas, speaking out at public hearings, and working collaboratively with regional tribal nations and watershed organizations.

“During the past year, our activism took many forms,” according to Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s outgoing executive director. “From the first hours of 2016 until the last, we worked tirelessly opposing Aquila’s Back Forty proposal for an open-pit sulfide mine and mill on the bank of the Menominee River. We hosted forums to discuss the proposed mine, held trainings for concerned citizens, facilitated a red-flag review by the Center for Science in Public Participation, prepared evidenced-based comments for the DEQ, and more.”

“We also worked to raise awareness about wetlands and wildlands threatened by the controversial County Road 595 proposal; we hosted cultural events and boots-on-the-ground experiences including musical events and poetry readings, opportunities to explore wetlands, waterfalls and native plant habitats; and we participated in a U.P. Environmental Stakeholder Group in order to provide meaningful input on sulfide mining permits to Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality,” said Maxwell.

“By contrast, UPEC’s perspective is broader and more historical,” said Jon Saari, who has served in leadership roles with both organizations. “U.P. environmental groups have vacillated about the best way to do our work. The Hard Power wing pushes lobbying, watchdogging government and industry, relentless pursuit in crisis mode, while the Soft Power wing stresses public education, strategic grant giving, and long term cultural changes.  SWUP is more in the former tradition, UPEC in the latter. Now the two approaches will be combined in one organization.”

As a member-based organization, UPEC has been helping to protect the U.P.’s great places since 1976; activities focus on community outreach through a quarterly newsletter, the annual Celebration of the U.P. event, and grant programs in environmental education and community conservation. “UPEC awarded $34,000 in grants in 2016,” said Horst Schmidt, “and going forward we want to enhance our presence and partnerships U.P.-wide.”

“This transformation enables members of the Mining Action Group to remain focused on the grassroots work of defending Upper Michigan’s clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining. We’re not getting bigger, we’re getting better,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s outgoing president. SWUP leaders Steven Garske, Kathleen Heideman, Alexandra Maxwell, and Jon Saari will form the initial MAG team within UPEC.

Concerned citizens are encouraged to support the work of the Mining Action Group by becoming members of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition. The merger is effective January 1, 2017.

Media:

UPEC-SWUP event – merger announced
Jon Saari speaking at UPEC-SWUP event

Suggested caption: “In September 2016, friends of Save the Wild U.P. and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition gathered at the historic Peter White Camp as the planned merger was announced, creating the Mining Action Group within UPEC. Photograph provided by UPEC.”

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Founded in 1976, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s purpose remains unchanged: to protect and maintain the unique environmental qualities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by educating the public and acting as a watchdog to industry and government. UPEC is a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, call 906-201-1949, see UPenvironment.org, visit our Facebook page, or contact: upec@upenvironment.org.

The UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) is a grassroots effort to defend the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining previously known as Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP). Contact the UPEC Mining Action Group at info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Learn more about the Mining Action Group at miningactiongroup.org or follow MAG’s work on Facebook or Twitter.

Michigan DEQ Permits Sulfide Mine, Imperils Menominee River

Featured

Marquette, MI — Regional environmentalists are expressing outrage and disappointment following news that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has announced the final approval for two of four major permits Aquila Resources Inc. (Aquila) needs for its proposed Back Forty Mine Project in Lake Township, Menominee County, Michigan. The DEQ approved the company’s applications for a Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining Permit (Mining Permit), and the Michigan Air Use Permit to Install.

On December 28th, the DEQ published a press release headlined “Aquila Back Forty project gains conditional approvals by MDEQ; faces significant remaining hurdles; this press release disappeared midday, replaced by a second press release titled “Aquila Back Forty project gains two permit approvals by MDEQ.” The revised press release does not use the phrases “significant remaining hurdles” or “conditional.” 

“I’m disgusted by the process as well as the decision. Key stakeholders were not notified, including neighboring residents, tribal governments and environmental groups who’ve been involved for over a decade” said Kathleen Heideman, outgoing president of Save the Wild U.P. “Financial assurances that should have been established in the draft permit were just added, but now there’s no opportunity for public input as to their adequacy. There’s still no final permit for the mine’s wastewater discharges to the Menominee River which will degrade water quality and impair mussels and sturgeon. And the whole scheme hinges on a land swap between Aquila Resources and the State of Michigan, which has never been discussed in a public hearing.”

“The DEQ is violating its own regulations by issuing this mining permit,” said attorney Michelle Halley. “The permit application is incomplete, contradicts itself, and contradicts other public statements made by the applicant. This again demonstrates the DEQ’s deeply flawed permitting process.”

“Once again, it seems that the Michigan DEQ has set aside the wishes of the people, environmental concerns, and common sense, in order to help special interests pursue their objectives. It is apparent that the DEQ did not thoroughly review the information gathered during the public comment phase of this process,” said Ron Henriksen, spokesman for the Front 40 environmental group.

“No one, including the DEQ’s mine permit review team, was able to consider the project’s cumulative impacts to the Menominee River and wetlands because a wetland permit has not yet been submitted. The rerouting of River Road, still to be determined, promises to further impact riparian wetlands, the floodplain and cultural sites belonging to the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin,” said Heideman. “These are not ‘special conditions’ as the DEQ has implied. These are statutory requirements.”

“The DEQ’s approval is counterintuitive,said Alexandra Maxwell, member of the Mining Action Group. “Considering what will be destroyed – cultural properties and trust resources of the Menominee Tribe, fragile wetlands, water quality and the people’s trust in state government and due process – this decision is a betrayal. Once more, Michigan’s environmental regulators, who are trusted to enforce and protect the environment, have fallen far short of the mark.”

“This mine poses a grave threat to the water and land in the area. The edge of this open pit will come within 100 feet of the Menominee River. The DEQ is operating under the assumption that nothing catastrophic can occur. When there is a flood, acid mine waste will end up in the river and ultimately Lake Michigan. What will happen to recreational fishing? What will happen to the lake sturgeon, which have been rehabilitated through a $7 million project? What happens to the drinking water for downstream communities?” asked concerned citizen Nate Frischkorn.

“Shakey Lakes savanna, adjacent to the Aquila Back Forty mine site, is the largest and most intact oak savanna left in Michigan, and home to numerous rare, threatened and state-listed species. At the time of European settlement oak savanna was one of the most common habitats in the upper midwest, covering some 30 million acres. With less than 0.02% left, savanna is now one of our rarest landscapes. In 1990, this area was recommended for designation as a National Natural Landmark. The DEQ’s shortsighted decision to grant a mining permit here will further degrade one of Michigan’s rarest and most unique places,said botanist Steve Garske.

“The DEQ has a strange understanding of stewardship. Risky mining ventures, under and next to U.P. rivers, get permit approvals, in the face of widespread opposition from residents, Native American tribes, recreationists, and concerned citizens. Will the DEQ ever interpret a mining proposal as inadequate? Instead, we see more public land and waterways held hostage to industrial projects, more cuts into an already wounded landscape,” commented historian and Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition board member Jon Saari.

Environmentalist claim the Back Forty mine permit application was fraudulent. According to Heideman, “Aquila lied to regulators about the extent of their planned mine, to streamline the process. Aquila applied for a 7 year open pit mine and told the DEQ that NO underground mining would take place. But Aquila is promising something very different to international investors and local business leaders, saying the Back Forty is “two mines” — an open pit and an underground mine, with a combined life of 16 years. It is illegal and fraudulent to lie in a permit application. The Back Forty application should have been denied a year ago, on that basis alone.” Aquila’s corporate press release, published on December 29th, once again describes the Back Forty project as having a “16-year life of mine, of which 12.5M tonnes will be open-pit and 3.6M tonnes will be underground.” The mining permit granted by the State of Michigan is for a 7 year open pit mine only.

Two key permits are still needed before the Aquila Back Forty project can proceed: a NPDES permit authorizing the discharge of the mine’s industrial wastewater to the Menominee River, and a wetland permit, regulating the impairment and destruction of wetlands. The NPDES permit is “under consideration” according to the DEQ, given unresolved concerns raised by concerned citizens and the Environmental Protection Agency. Oddly, the “revised” DEQ press release states that a Wetlands permit application is also “under consideration,” despite the fact that the original application contained numerous errors and omissions and was rescinded, and a new application has not yet been submitted.

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Founded in 1976, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s purpose remains unchanged: to protect and maintain the unique environmental qualities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by educating the public and acting as a watchdog to industry and government. UPEC is a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, call 906-201-1949, see UPenvironment.org, visit our Facebook page, or contact: upec@upenvironment.org.

Previously known as Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), the UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) is a grassroots effort to defend the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining. Contact the UPEC Mining Action Group at info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Learn more about the Mining Action Group at miningactiongroup.org or follow MAG’s work on Facebook or Twitter.

Message to Friends and Supporters!

Dear friends,

Success! As many of you know, Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) has joined with the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) to create within UPEC the Mining Action Group (MAG). MAG is a 100% volunteer, grassroots effort defending the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining. MAG is a new semi-autonomous arm of UPEC; the leadership team includes Alexandra Maxwell, Kathleen Heideman, Jon Saari, and Steve Garske.

As activists, MAG will continue to build on Save the Wild U.P.’s legacy. We serve as environmental watchdogs, urging regulators to make wise decisions to protect the natural resources and public lands of Upper Michigan, educating citizens about the risky business of sulfide mining and the industrialization of our wild lands, reviewing and objecting to permits for new mineral leases in sensitive areas, speaking out at public hearings, and working collaboratively with regional tribal nations and watershed organizations. During the past year, SWUP activists achieved many noteworthy accomplishments, including:

  • Opposing Aquila Resources’ Back Forty proposal to construct a large open-pit sulfide mine and mill on the bank of the Menominee River, the U.P’s largest watershed:  hosting forums, training activists, facilitating a red-flag review of the mining permit by Center for Science in Public Participation, and preparing evidenced-based comments.
  • Objecting to the County Road 595 proposal which threatened fragile wetlands and watersheds, and the Marquette County Road Commission’s lawsuit against the EPA.
  • Hosting cultural events and boots-on-the-ground experiences including inspired musical events and poetry readings, opportunities to explore wetlands, waterfalls and native plant habitats.
  • Participating in the U.P. Environmental Stakeholder Group in order to provide meaningful input on sulfide mining permits to Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Your active involvement and generous support has always made our work possible, and we ask you to help us continue defending the U.P.’s clean water and wild places!

As a member-based organization, UPEC has been helping to protect the U.P.’s great places since 1976. We ask you to support the Mining Action Group by becoming a UPEC member. For a minimum donation of $25, you’ll receive an annual UPEC membership, a year’s subscription to UPEC’s quarterly newsletter, Mining Action Group updates, and a free invitation to attend UPEC’s annual “Celebrate the U.P.” event.

* If you prefer mailing in a donation, click here to download this letter and print the donation form (pdf).

Join us! With ONE VOICE Working Together to Protect the Upper Peninsula,  

Kathleen Heideman, Mining Action Group

Horst Schmidt, UPEC President

Sing the Wild U.P.

Featured

Welcome and thank you for your interest in our Sing The Wild U.P. songwriting competition! Sing The Wild UP is a video submission based songwriting competition sponsored by The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition/The Mining Action Group. Songs must be inspired by a love for the Upper Peninsula or make a statement about the importance of conserving our land’s natural beauty and resources. These songs may be written in protest to environmental issues and threats or may simply give a voice of appreciation for our land. This competition is open only to residents of The Upper Peninsula. Please view the links below for more information.

Contest Rules and Guidelines – these are important!

Submission Form – can’t go far without this one!

Pay Entry Fee – certainly can’t go far without this one, either!


Meet our Judges!

Kim Parlato and the Nerdfighters

The Marquette Senior High School Nerdfighters are a group of service-minded students inspired by the activism of brothers John and Hank Green, who – as the VlogBrothers on YouTube and as themselves in real life – have been speaking out for truth, justice, and decreasing world suck. Musicians, writers, artists, and overall good human beings, the MSHS Nerdfighters organize the MSHS food drive for local food pantries and celebrate the talents of their peers by hosting “Music in the Mornings” in the MSHS Library, which provides attendees with free coffee and inspired entertainment by school music groups. This year, the group also collected books for the Marquette-Alger Reading Council’s Gift of Reading program and is working toward establishing a mural proposal protocol to ensure the walls of MSHS become covered in student art. These Nerdfighters are advised by English teacher and Marquette musician Kim Parlato, who fancied herself a singer-songwriter in one of her (many) former lives before she dedicated herself to the education of the Upper Peninsula’s amazing young people.

Ben Weaver 

Be outside – Protect the land and water – Sing while you do it. Songwriter/Poet Ben Weaver travels by bike crafting human powered musical expeditions. Recently Ben’s expeditions have taken him down the length of the Mississippi River, around Lake Superior, across the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska and throughout the Netherlands. Ben has released eight albums of original music and four books of poetry. Given the choice, he will side with the animals, the lakes, the streams and the trees.

Michael Waite

Michael Waite’s songwriting is thoughtful Americana without any glitz, both brutally and joyously honest. A classically-trained singer, he lives with his family in Michigan’s Huron Mountains and enjoys a repertoire of hundreds of songs ranging in style from Irish folk to bebop. His delivery of his own songs and original interpretations of others is influenced by his first musical exploration, the jazz trombone.


Prizes
First Prize:
The winning song will be performed live at the Ore Dock brewing Company on Friday, March 24th at the kickoff event to the Annual Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Celebration! Then, you’ll get to record your winning song at Da Yoopers Studio! The top song and artist (or band) will get to work with local musicians/sound engineers Jesse DeCaire and Jim Bellmore of Da Yooper Studio in Ishpeming, Michigan. If the additional recording of songs is desired, a package price can be worked out at the time of recording. Mixing and a basic master of the winning song are included in the prize and a CD copy will be provided of the song at the end of the session. While a specific amount of recording/mixing time is not stated in the prize and will be very flexible and will depend on the availability of all participants, we ask that the scope of the recording be kept to a reasonable time frame (unless as stated above additional studio time was purchased).

Second Prize:
The second place song will be performed live at the Ore Dock Brewing Company on Friday, March 24th at the kickoff event to the Annual Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Celebration! Second place winners will also receive a $200 cash prize.

Third Prize:
The third place song will be performed live at the Ore Dock Brewing Company on Friday, March 24th at the kickoff event to the Annual Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Celebration and the winner will receive a gift card to Jim’s Music of $50.

Honorable Mention:
We will also celebrate an honorable mention for outstanding performance! This song will be performed live at the Ore Dock Brewing Company on Friday, March 24th at the kickoff event to the Annual Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition Celebration and the winner will receive a musician’s gift basket, all the goodies a budding musician needs!


 Have Questions?

Contact Alexandra Maxwell at miningactiongroupUPEC@gmail.com or Rebecca Rucinski at rebeccalrucinski@gmail.com

Dancing for the Earth

Don’t miss Dancing for the Earth – a benefit to support the work of Save the Wild U.P. / Mining Action Group! Join Carrie BiOLO and Maria FormOLO as they explore the elements of the Upper Peninsula winter wonderland through dance, sound, movement, and visual imagery in Dancing for the Earth. The first performances will take place next Wednesday, December 21 – the Winter Solstice – near the Gazebo on Presque Isle in Marquette, MI. Two performance times: 4:45-5:15pm (sunset), and 7-7:30pm. Suggested donation $10.00 or what you can give. Performances are tailored to the environment and the weather. THIS EVENT WILL NOT BE CANCELLED. No matter the weather, the dancers will celebrate the wild splendor of Lake Superior and Winter Solstice!

OLO has teamed up with local like-minded organizations like Save the Wild U.P. and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition for a season of special nature benefit events:

December 21 Wed. Winter Solstice: Save the Wild UP, near Presque Isle Gazebo. 4:45-5:15pm & 7-7:30pm
January 12 Thurs. Full Moon: Cedar Tree Institute, Presque Isle pavilion. 7pm- 8pm
January 28 Sat. New Moon: tba
February 11 Sat. Full Moon: OLO performing at Rhino Fest in Chicago performing a new version of Superior Elements first premiered in Marquette on Lake Superior Day and other works.
February 26 Sun. New Moon: Percussive Attack Camp, near Presque Isle Gazebo. 5pm-6pm with young percussionists
March 12 Sun. Full Moon: tba
March 18 Sat.: Van Riper Snowshoe Hike see DNR website for location off 41 near Michigamme, 7-9 pm
March 21 Tuesday.: Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, at the Presque Isle Park Pavilion, 7-8 pm

Additional pop-up performances are scheduled around full and new moons in surprise locations. Contact cbiolo@sbcglobal.net for more details on dates/times/locations and how you can be involved in the pop-up performances!


Curious about their work? Check out this video from last winter’s performance, Running Toward the Light, part of a 100-day project. Carrie and Maria performed a series of outdoor weekly events from Dec. 21, 2015 – March 21, 2016. Each event ran around 30 minutes with the exception of a 3-hour continuous event with the music of gongs, bells and a tuned ice xylophone made by Carrie and dance by Maria at Glacier Glide. The performers were costumed spectacularly and well underdressed. Each event was tailored to the environment and the weather.

See carriebiolo.com for video clips and information on Running Towards the Light Project

Testimonials by those who attended Running Toward the Light:
It was marvelous. . . Glad we saw and heard you! Felt like in some exotic land! – Christine Saari
Wonderful Creativity! Looks beautiful, magical, and coooold! – Dort Schlientz
I loved it!!!! – Gray Louise Phillips
Talent, beauty and mystery! – Elizabeth Yelland
We were in awe of your music last night. Thanks! – Cathy Church

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” wsau.com 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.” (http://www.gowebcasting.com/events/precious-metals-summit-conferences-llc/2016/09/15/aquila-resources-inc/play/stream/20256)

“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.”
(http: www.miningfacts.org/Communities/What-is-the-social-licence-to-operate/).

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.

Sincerely,

Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary

Wisconsin Resources Protection Council

Public Comments from DEQ Hearing on Aquila – IN FULL (10-6-16)

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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

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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 genec_nsa@yahoo.com 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.