Monday, January 04, 2016

Environmentalists criticize proposed open-pit sulfide mine near Menominee River; MDEQ to hold Public Hearing Jan. 5

Save the Wild U.P. joins the Front 40 environmental group in opposing the proposed "Back 40" sulfide mine adjacent to the Menominee River. (Image courtesy Save the Wild U.P.)

From Save the Wild U.P.
Posted on Dec. 21, 2015
Text and images reprinted with permission

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 open-pit 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."

MDEQ to hold Public Meeting Jan. 5 in Stephenson

Concerned citizens are asked to review the proposed Mine Permit Application, now available from the MDEQ website.*

The MDEQ will hold a Public Meeting concerning Aquila’s Mine Permit Application from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, at Stephenson High School, W526 Division Street in Stephenson, Michigan. Public comment is due Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. Concerned citizens and other interested persons are urged to submit written comments by mail or e-mail until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. Email comments to Joe Maki: or mail comments to MDEQ Back Forty Mine Comments, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, Michigan, 49855.**

Steve Garske, biologist and Save the Wild U.P. board member, notes the Menominee is the U.P.’s largest river system. It has a watershed of 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.

"It supports large populations of smallmouth bass, walleye and northern pike, and provides spawning habitat for sturgeon," Garske says. "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."

Watercolor painting of the Menominee River courtesy Save the Wild U.P.

Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director, says she questions the wisdom of digging an open pit mine on the edge of a river.

"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," Maxwell says. "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."

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 Permit.' 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."

Marla Tuinstra of Lake Township adds, "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."

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," notes Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president. "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."

This photo shows how close the proposed open-pit sulfide mine could be to the Menominee River. (Photo courtesy Save the Wild U.P.)

SWUP, Front 40 to hold informational forum Feb. 17 

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 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016 in the Shiras Room of the Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

"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.

* Click here for MDEQ information and links concerning the Back 40 Project.
** Click here for details on the public meeting and public comment.

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