Friday, January 19, 2018

Red-Flag Review finds big holes in Back 40 Mine’s Wetland Permit application; DEQ Public Hearing to be Jan. 23, 2018

Information from UPEC's Mining Action Group, Front 40 and Menominee Tribe 

Sixty Islands section of the Menominee River, riparian wetlands located approximately 200 feet from the proposed Project Boundary of the Aquila Back Forty Mine site. (Jan. 9, 2018, photo by Kathleen Heideman, Mining Action Group.)

STEPHENSON, Mich. -- The Front 40 Environmental Group and the Mining Action Group (MAG) of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC), working with regional environmental allies and fishing organizations, have secured an independent red flag review of Aquila Resources’ Back Forty Wetland permit application. The Back 40 is an open-pit sulfide mine for gold, zinc and other metals, proposed for the bank of the Menominee River, 10 miles west of the town of Stephenson, Mich. The review was provided by the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2) which analyzes mining applications and provides objective research and technical advice to communities impacted by mining.

A Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Public Hearing for the Back Forty’s Wetlands, Lakes and Streams permit application will be held at 6 p.m. (Central Time) on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, at Stephenson High School, located at W526 Division Street, Stephenson, MI 49887. Note: due to public interest, the hearing has been moved to the school’s large gym. In addition, the hearing will be live-streamed by the IndianCountryTV Livestream studio, beginning at 6 p.m. (CT) and running until the hearing ends. The deadline for submitting written comment is Feb. 2, 2018.*

A youth-led Water Walk at 3 p.m. (CT) to Stephenson High School and a Press Conference at 4:30 p.m. (CT) will precede the hearing.

Poster announcing Jan. 23, 2018, Public Hearing and related activities in Stephenson, Mich. Click on poster for larger version. (Poster courtesy Paul DeMain)

The Wetland application includes technical information regarding wetland hydrology, direct and indirect impacts to wetlands from the proposed sulfide mine and the on-site milling operation, a compensatory wetland and stream mitigation proposal, and more.  CSP2’s technical review was completed by Dr. Kendra Zamzow (Ph.D., Environmental Geochemistry) and Dr. David Chambers (Ph.D., Geophysics).**

CSP2’s report flags significant omissions in Aquila’s permit application, especially concerns related to the Feasible and Prudent (Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable) Alternatives analysis, the fundamental test of any wetland permit, as follows:
  • "An environmental analysis needs to be conducted comparing the new proposed facility siting impacts on wetlands with the siting approved in the mining permit. The proposed single mine waste storage area is now two areas, and is much larger. The description of what is to be contained in each is inadequate and there is no description of the protections to be put in place."

  • "The former site plan was discarded in part because waste would be 'less dense' than anticipated. There is no explanation for what is behind the anticipated change in waste material density that drove the need for the greater area required for waste disposal...."
  • "Given the terrain, direction of water flow, and proximity of valley wetlands and the River, this poses risks to wetlands -- and aquatic resources in the River -- that have not been analyzed."
  • "Although there is no formal proposal for underground mining, it is reasonable and foreseeable. Therefore the full potential life of the mine should be considered when evaluating feasible and prudent alternatives that are the least damaging to wetlands."

  • "An economic analysis needs to be conducted to determine the feasibility of moving the mill out of wetland areas."
  • "It appears that most of the stream and wetland impacts might be avoided if the mine facilities could be moved further upland to a dryland site, possibly on other state lands."
Under Michigan regulations, Aquila bears the burden of demonstrating that either (a) the proposed activity is primarily dependent upon being located in the wetland, or (b) there are no feasible and prudent alternatives, and they must show they are using all practical means to minimize impacts to wetlands. According to CSP2’s review, "The mining permit and wetland permit are inextricably linked. The location and size of proposed mine site facilities as presented in the November 2017 Wetland Permit Application are different from those presented in the Mining Permit Application, and pose risks to wetlands that have not been analyzed."

MAG member Kathleen Heideman said, "This red flag review underscores our existing concerns. Aquila's Wetland permit application is shoddy. It is mired in untested assumptions about wetland hydrology, and the whole scheme hinges on a facility design which nobody has reviewed, much less approved."

Heideman noted wetlands are protected by both state and federal laws. In order for a permit to be granted, the Michigan DEQ must find that the proposed activities described in the Public Notice meet certain criteria set by Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, Part 303 Wetlands Protection, and Part 31, Water Resources Protection of Act 451.***

"Before wetlands can be destroyed, the company needs to demonstrate that wetland impacts are unavoidable," Heideman added. "They’ve failed that test. I don’t see how this permit will pass muster with environmental regulators."

A large crowd, with many people standing along the walls, attended the Oct. 6, 2016, public hearing at Stephenson High School on mining, wastewater and air quality permits for the Back 40 mining project. Despite much opposition, DEQ granted those three permits. The remaining permit for Wetlands, Inland Lakes and Streams will be the subject of the Jan. 23, 2018, public hearing. (Keweenaw Now file photo courtesy Horst Schmidt)

Horst Schmidt, president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, said, "This mine threatens cultural and natural resources of the Menominee people, and the Shakey Lakes Savanna, a globally unique habitat. The Menominee River is the worst possible place for an open-pit sulfide mine. Aquila’s plan for on-site milling is especially dangerous, and needlessly destroys wetlands."

Front 40 and the Mining Action Group will deliver CSP2’s review to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at the Public Hearing on Jan. 23rd, and ask that key findings and recommendations be incorporated into the Wetland Permit review process.

"As soon as we saw the extent of the facility modifications, we asked the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals to immediately require Aquila to apply for an amendment of the Back Forty Mine permit, or review the facility changes along with the Wetland permit -- but they’ve refused to consider these questions until after the Wetland permit review is done," Heideman explained. "Aquila seeks to destroy 28.4 acres of wetlands in order to build a sulfide mine on the bank of the Menominee River. It is an alarming proposal, given the proximity of wetlands to the river, and concerns about the company’s plan to follow the orebody deeper underground. This site is complex, hydrologically, with wetlands on all sides, flowing in different directions. And the total wetland impacts may be significantly underestimated, since additional years of underground mining would greatly increase the groundwater drawdown."*

MAG member Steve Garske asked, "How many wetlands will be destroyed or impaired by the Back Forty? These wetlands are just in the way -- Aquila will mine them out, or fill them in, or the surface water will be diverted, or they’ll be buried under mine waste tailings and waste rock storage areas. Are all of these wetland losses unavoidable? That’s the big question."

Nathan Frischkorn, a Fellow with the Mining Action Group, added, "Our goal is to identify errors and inconsistencies between data and Aquila’s predicted impacts to wetlands. We want to ensure that concerned citizens, stakeholders and environmental regulators are fully informed as to the true impacts of this permit."

Ron Henriksen is a spokesman for the Menominee River Front 40 -- an environmental group in Menominee County, Mich., dedicated to ensuring that metallic sulfide mining operations are not allowed to adversely impact rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands. The Front 40 name is in direct response to the "Back Forty" venture that was created by the mining interests.

"Local residents are very frustrated, understandably," Henriksen said. "Aquila is using a bait-and-switch strategy. Since the facility’s impacts on wetlands are at the heart of the review, it would have made more sense to scrutinize all the proposed changes to the design first, before submitting the Wetland permit application. Aquila does everything backwards."

A broad coalition of fishing groups, residents, tribal members and environmental groups are united in their opposition to the Aquila Back Forty project. Downstream communities are concerned about potential impacts to drinking water and tourism, and have passed resolutions against the project. Marinette County unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Back Forty; additional resolutions have been passed by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Oneida Nation, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, Amberg, Peshtigo, Porterfield, Sister Bay, Wagner, the City of Marinette, Door County, Oconto County, Outagamie County, Shawano County, Menominee County, and Brown County, which includes the city of Green Bay. After concerned citizens levied significant pressure on local officials, Menominee County became the first county in Michigan to pass a resolution opposed to the Back Forty mine.

For the Menominee Indian Tribe, the area near the Menominee River, including the mine site, is their sacred place of origin and includes sacred sites and burial grounds. In addition to cultural reasons, the tribe opposes the proposed Back 40 project because of their commitment to protect the water, as they state on their Web site: "Much like our brothers and sister in the NODAPL movement we also know that water is essential to life. The Menominee River is, in fact, the very origin of life for the Menominee people. It also provides life to Michigan and Wisconsin residents and the natural wildlife within the Great Lakes ecosystem. The harmful threats to this area and all who depend on it far outweigh the corporate interests of a Canadian exploratory company and justify the denial of the necessary permits for the proposed mine."****

This ancestral burial mound is among the archaeological sites that could be impacted by the proposed Back 40 mine. (September 2017 Keweenaw Now file photo)  

"The Menominee River is my friend," said Dick Dragiewicz, an avid fisherman. "It gives me and my fishing friends a lot of excitement when those bass, especially the big ones, are seen and when they strike at our flies. The Menominee is a valuable resource that shouldn’t be damaged or destroyed, which is why I’m working to protect it from the problems the proposed Back Forty mine would cause. I don’t want to lose the river to a polluting metallic sulfide mine."

Scenic view of the Menominee River, not far from the proposed Back 40 mine site. (September 2017 Keweenaw Now file photo)

If fully permitted, the Back Forty will be a large open-pit sulfide mine on the bank of the Menominee River, the largest watershed in the wild Upper Peninsula of Michigan, only 100 feet from the water. Milling, using cyanide and other chemicals, and mine waste will be stored at the mine site, with some tailings waste remaining permanently. Most of the rock will be "reactive" or capable of producing acid mine drainage (AMD) when exposed to air and water. AMD devastates watersheds: it is difficult and expensive to remediate, and may continue leaching from the tailings for hundreds or thousands of years. American Rivers named the Menominee River to their list of "America’s Most Endangered Rivers" in 2017.

Fundamental objections to the Aquila Back Forty project remain unresolved, and two contested case petitions have been filed: one by an adjacent landowner, and another by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. The Back Forty Wetland application is currently under review by the public, tribal stakeholders, environmental groups, Michigan DEQ, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Independent review of the Aquila Back Forty Wetland permit is made possible by the generous support of groups and individuals concerned about the future health of the Menominee River. Working collaboratively, the Mining Action Group of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition and the Front 40 secured small grants and donations from Freshwater Future, Superior Watershed Partnership, the Western Mining Action Network, DuPage Rivers Fly Tyers (DRiFT), Northern Illinois Fly Tyers (NIFT), Badger Fly Fishers, M and M Great Lakes Sport Fisherman, Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance, Fly Fishers International, Great Lakes Council of Fly Fishers International, the Emerick Family Fund, and individual fishing enthusiasts throughout the Great Lakes area.


* Written comments may be submitted to Upper Peninsula District Office, Re: Back Forty Comments, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, MI, 49855. You can also submit written comments here.

** (Updated) Here are direct links to the Wetland permit documents:
 Sections 1-4:  1 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Sections 1-4 rev Dec 2017.pdf

Sections 5-7:  2 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Sections 5-7 rev Dec 2017.pdf

Section 8: 3 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Section 8A.pdf

                4 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Section 8B.pdf

                5 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced Section 8C.pdf

Appendix A1:  6 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced App A1 rev Dec 2017.pdf

Appendix A2:  7 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced App A2 (1).pdf

Appendix B:   8 R-Wetland Permit Application Nov 2017 reduced App B.pdf

*** Click here for the DEQ Public Hearing statement.

**** Visit the Menominee Tribe Web site for more info on their opposition to the Back 40 project.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

SAUNA: DIVINE COMEDY exhibit by Onni Nordman opens at Finlandia University Gallery Jan. 18

The exhibit SAUNA: DIVINE COMEDY, by artist Onni Nordman, opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Finlandia University Gallery in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock. (Photos courtesy Finlandia University)

HANCOCK -- Finlandia University Gallery will present a series of artwork by Finnish-Canadian artist Onni Nordman. His exhibit titled SAUNA: DIVINE COMEDY will be on display at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock, from Jan. 18 to Feb. 17, 2018.

An opening reception for the public will take place at the gallery from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18, with an artist talk beginning at 7:20 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Onni Nordman’s Sauna: Divine Comedy is a series of paintings that set Dante’s Commedia, the 14th century Italian narrative poem, in the sauna.

Finnish-Canadian artist Onni Nordman.

"The Commedia, for all its world-building, is also an interior drama," notes Nordman. "The sauna is a pressurized space coequally infernal, purgatorial, and paradisiacal, built on three levels, housing figures who are naked and vulnerable, as well as serene and exalted. The Sauna: Divine Comedy series has emerged as a continuing response to the possibilities of splicing together fertile ideas."

Dante’s Divine Comedy describes the poet’s travels through the nine circles of hell, seven terraces of Purgatory and journey to paradise. Rather than illustrate the Commedia poem, Nordman’s paintings use it as a matrix to tell a story with a cast of figures, all set in the heat of the sauna.

Sauna: Divine Comedy, Purgatorio No. 2.

Nordman’s creative process is fluid, moving quickly to manipulate the painted surface while the paint is still wet, but any given work can be the product of months of strategy. Colorful, textured and dynamic, Nordman’s paintings speak both on the surface and below the surface.

"My job as a painter is to find a pattern, to create abstract loveliness and order, to find a design with which to create a dynamic, satisfying flatness," says Nordman.

But his fluid working method is not without risk: "Failure is necessary. If you don’t fail, you’re not doing something organic. I’m sitting on a mountain of failures," Nordman says, almost impatiently, before adding, "But the good stuff I’m willing to stand with."

Onni Nordman currently lives on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. His home and studio are on the cliffs of South Bar, overlooking the mouth of Sydney Harbour, the watery highway to the Cabot Strait and Newfoundland.

Onni is the only child of Finnish immigrants Aulis and Toini Nordman. Aulis was born in Nuoramoinen, Sysmä, Toini in Sortavala, Rauta-Lahti. They came to Canada in 1951, were located to Cape Breton, the only Finnish speakers on the island. Onni’s first language was Finnish and says he and his parents learned English together. The Nordmans adapted to their new country while maintaining strong ties to family in Finland, proud of their heritage. Nordman’s exhibit at Finlandia is an extension of this pride.

"I am very interested in showing my work at Finlandia University as it represents the heart of Finnish culture in North America," says Nordman.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursdays 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 906-487-7500.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

L.A. Theatre Works to present THE MOUNTAINTOP Jan. 23 at Rozsa Center; Michigan Tech commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. with banquet, discussion, more

Michigan Tech invites the public to commemorate 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in their 29th year of celebrating his legacy of social justice and inclusion. (Poster courtesy Michigan Tech University)

HOUGHTON -- This year, in conjunction with Michigan Tech’s 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Martin Luther King Jr., the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts and Michigan Tech’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion are proud to present L.A. Theatre Works' brand new production of Katori Hall's play, The Mountaintop.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated outside room 306 of The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. What happened inside room 306 the night before the killing is a mystery. In her internationally acclaimed play, playwright Katori Hall imagines what may have transpired in the overnight hours between the legendary civil rights leader and a seemingly inconsequential hotel maid.

See The Mountaintop at 7:30 p.m. at the Rozsa Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Immediately following the play, join a panel discussion and Q and A with student members of Michigan Tech’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), L.A. Theatre Works' The Mountaintop cast, and staff from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in the Rozsa Lobby, with beverages and dessert served.

According to L.A. Theatre Works, "Beginning January 12, L.A. Theatre Works commemorates the anniversary with a touring production of the internationally acclaimed play, The Mountaintop, written by Katori Hall, directed by multiple award-winner Shirley Jo Finney and starring Gilbert Glenn Brown (CBS TV’s The Inspectors, upcoming feature film The Best of Enemies) and Karen Malina White (The Cosby Show, A Different World, Malcolm and Eddie). The production will travel to 38 cities across the United States."

Recipient of London’s 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play, Hall’s gripping re-imagining of events is rife with humanity and humor as the celebrated Reverend reveals his hopes, regrets and fears to a seemingly inconsequential hotel maid.

"It was really important for me to show the human side of King," said playwright Hall. "During this time, he was dealing with the heightened threat of violence, he was tackling issues beyond civil rights -- economic issues -- and was denouncing the Vietnam War. So I wanted to explore the emotional toll and the stress of that. King changed the world, but he was not a deity. He was a man, a human being like me and you. So it was important to show him as such: vulnerable."

The Mountaintop received its world premiere in London at Theatre 503 before transferring to Trafalgar Studios in the West End. The 2011 Broadway production starred Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.

This performance is supported in part through funding from the Arts Midwest Touring Fund, a program of Arts Midwest, generously supported by the National Endowment for the Arts with additional contributions from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Crane Group. It is also sponsored by WGGL, Minnesota Public Radio, and Michigan Tech’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

Tickets are on sale now: $22 - Adult, $10 - Youth. No Charge for Michigan Tech Students with the Experience Tech Fee. To purchase tickets in advance, please call (906) 487-2073, go online at, or visit Ticketing Operations at Michigan Tech’s Student Development Complex (SDC). Tickets will also be available at the Rozsa Box office the evening of the performance. The Rozsa Box Office opens two hours before event times.

29th Annual MLK Banquet to precede L.A. Theatre Works performance

In Michigan Tech's 29th year of MLK celebrations, the university invites the public to reflect on Dr. King's vision of inclusion. 2018 marks 50 years since we lost one of the most influential visionaries and impactful social justice advocates of United States history. The public is invited to celebrate Dr. King by attending a free, reserved banquet at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23, in the Rozsa Lobby preceding the L.A. Theatre Works performance of The Mountaintop. Please arrive at 5 p.m. CLICK HERE to reserve your space.

More MLK Week events:

Monday, Jan. 15: Michigan Tech students, faculty and staff will volunteer time reading books about Dr. King's life and legacy to students in local schools. Participating schools include Houghton Elementary, Barkell Elementary and Dollar Bay School.

Tuesday, Jan. 16: BSA Poetry Slam, 7 p.m. in DHH Ballroom. Join BSA (Black Student Association) for a night of entertaining, emotional, intellectual and thought provoking pieces performed.

Thursday, Jan. 18: NSBE Rap Game Night, 7 p.m. in DHH Ballroom. Do you like to rap? Wanna showcase your skills? Come join NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) and compete in the MLK Rap Game Night. Winner will get a prize.