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Friday, February 15, 2019

New technical report finds fault with Aquila Back 40 sulfide mine plans

This photo shows the Menominee River near some historic garden sites not far from the proposed site for Aquila Resources' Back 40 sulfide mine. (Sept. 2017 file photo by Keweenaw Now)

From: Mining Action Group and Front 40 Environmental Fight
Posted Feb. 12, 2019*

MARQUETTE -- A new technical report from the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2) identifies serious faults with Aquila Resources’ Back Forty Mine Permit Amendment application, now under review by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The technical review of the Back Forty permit was conducted by Dr. Kendra Zamzow, an environmental geochemist, and Dr. David Chambers, an internationally-known expert on tailings dam safety. CSP2 analyzes mining applications in order to "provide objective research and technical advice to people impacted by mining."

The Back Forty project proposes to excavate an 800 foot deep open-pit sulfide mine on the banks of the Menominee River, 100 feet from the water. Milling will also take place on-site, using cyanide leaching, mercury recovery, and flotation. Aquila claims to be "minimizing impacts" but the footprint of the facility has ballooned to 440 hectares (1087 acres), largely due to a larger tailings management facility. Most of the mine site would be covered by waste rock, ore storage, milling facilities and tailings storage. Environmental groups claim that the Back Forty’s environmental impacts could be significantly reduced by using feasible, common-sense alternatives -- but Aquila has rejected these options.

This map from the Back 40 Mine Permit Amendment application shows a plan for the mine site, including the proposed Tailings Management Facility (large rectangular structure) and the open mining pit to the left of it and very near the Menominee River. Click on map to see full image.(Screenshot from the Back Forty Mining Permit Amendment provided by Mining Action Group.)**

Nearly all of the Back Forty rock is reactive -- capable of producing Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) when exposed to air and water. AMD pollution devastates watersheds and lasts hundreds of years. Tailings and waste rock will be stored on-site during mining, and the tailings will remain on the surface forever. Aquila has told their investors they will pursue underground mining as a "second phase" of operations, but this is not acknowledged in any permit. Underground mining could extend the mine’s life from 7 years to 16 years, greatly magnifying the risks. During closure, the open pit will be backfilled with waste and tailings. Once this takes place, groundwater contaminated with AMD is predicted to seep into the river.

This map, including the "former mine pit" and "closed Tailings Management Facility," shows some of Aquila's plans for reclamation after mining. Click on map to see full image. (Keweenaw Now's screenshot from Back 40 Mining Permit Amendment)**

CSP2’s technical report evaluated the Back Forty mining permit, including updated environmental impacts, feasible alternative designs, financial assurances, and Aquila’s proposed use of an "upstream" tailings design, the same risky construction method that has resulted in catastrophic tailings dam failures around the world.

"This report only underscores the fact that the original Mining Permit should not have been granted," said Ron Henriksen, spokesperson for the Front 40, an environmental group opposed to this mining project. "Aquila continues to provide inadequate applications with missing information. The DEQ should rescind this entire permit, have the applicant revise their mistakes, and refile it, properly formatted, with all material in one complete, organized application package."

Kathleen Heideman, a member of the Mining Action Group of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC), said the State of Michigan needs to hold a consolidated hearing on this Mining Permit Amendment, the Air Permit application, and the Dam Safety Permit application, since their environmental impacts are interrelated.

"We need a thoughtful, consolidated hearing to discuss these permits," said Heideman. "Nothing less than the future of the Menominee River is at stake."

Technical review of the Back Forty Mine Permit Amendment was made possible by a collaborative effort of the Mining Action Group, the Front 40 Environmental Fight, the Coalition to Save the Menominee River, a 2019 grant from Freshwater Future’s Great Lakes Network, and a 2019 emergency mini-grant from the Western Mining Action Network.

The deadline for submitting written comments on the Aquila Back Forty Mine Permit Amendment has been extended until 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 (EST). Email comments to with "Back Forty Mining Permit Amendment" as the subject.

*CLICK HERE to read this complete article, which includes the key findings of the CSP2 technical report and links to more information.

 ** We have edited these screenshots slightly to fit this column.

Editor's Note: See also Keweenaw Now's Jan. 23, 2019, article, "Environmental groups, Menominee Nation, community residents oppose Back 40 mining permit amendment, seek technical expertise."

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Local women showcase fishing stories from the Keweenaw and beyond in new Carnegie Museum exhibit

By Michele Bourdieu

Emila Downes displays a fish she caught in a local stream near Skanee. Downes participated in the new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw, "Connections: Stories From Women Who Fish." An opening reception will be held this Thursday, Feb. 14. (Photo courtesy Emila Downes)

HOUGHTON -- Local anglers are sharing photographs and stories in a new exhibit, "Connections: Stories from Women Who Fish," at the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw in Houghton.

The community is invited to an opening reception for the exhibit from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, at the Carnegie Museum, located at 109 Huron Street in Houghton. The exhibit and reception are free and open to the public, and the women who created this exhibit will be in attendance to share their fishing experiences. Refreshments will be served.

While only one in every five fishing licenses sold in the state of Michigan is purchased by a woman, recent research shows that women’s fishing participation is slowly increasing. "Connections: Stories from Women Who Fish" was created by a group of local women who took photographs and shared stories about why they fish and what fishing means to them.

Keweenaw area project members share their photographs and fishing stories during a "photowalk," part of the project process. (Photo courtesy Erin Burkett)

Project group member Emila Downes explained the importance of the group interaction.

"Everyone has an idea about what fishing means to them, but as a community or group, what does fishing mean? It facilitates the connection to everything around us from people to nature," Downes noted. "For some it is a break from the world and for others it's a connection to the world. Whatever fishing means to you, it is a way to connect everyone across generations, nationalities, lifestyles, and occupations. It's what brings us together!"

Project participant Emila Downes displays a crappie she caught during the Otter Lake fishing derby. "I love fishing!" Downes said. "River fishing is where my heart lies, but when the streams and rivers are frozen, it's time to head out on the ice to continue doing what I love." (Photo courtesy Emila Downes)

Erin Burkett, Michigan Tech Environmental and Energy Policy PhD student, who received a Graduate Research Fellowship from Michigan Sea Grant to fund the project, described the activities.

"Project members took part in a community-driven research technique called photovoice that uses a combination of individual photography, group discussion, and storytelling," Burkett said. "I wanted to use photovoice because it is community-driven and ideal for highlighting groups that we don't typically hear from. Only about one of every five Michigan anglers are women, and, in the past, women have been largely absent from studies asking who fishes and why."

Downes said the storytelling is essential to the project.

"This project is really about women telling stories," Downes explained. "It is not just about why we fish, but each picture tells a story about us and what fishing means to us. This project highlights our commonalities and our differences in a very positive way. We hope our stories will help inspire others, men, women and children alike, to get out and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of fishing as well. It is a great past-time that reaps more benefits than meet the eye."

Emila Downes is pictured here setting up the "Connections: Stories From Women Who Fish" exhibit at the Carnegie Museum. (Photo courtesy Erin Burkett)

Project member Amber Voght said for her the project is about more than just catching fish.

"Fishing has taught me to appreciate everything more each day," Voght explained. "I am constantly awestruck by the beauty of the outdoors and the power of nature, especially in the Keweenaw. Being near the water makes me feel at home; the water is where I have learned to truly connect to what is important to me."

Amber Voght displays a lake trout she caught while fishing with two friends. One was Travis White, who runs Keweenaw Charter Fishing Co. and is also Co-Founder of ProNav Marine. "This photo was taken in the spring and all of us caught great fish," Voght said. "There was hardly any time when we didn't have any fish on. The thrill of the catch is what keeps me going back -- whether it's on the big lake or in a small stream." (Photo courtesy Amber Voght)

"It's never been all about catching fish," Voght added. "The fish are a bonus. I have learned things, seen places, and met people that I would not have otherwise if it were not for fishing. Connecting with other people, places, and nature -- that is the true catch."

Amber Voght shared this photo of her experience fishing on an unseasonably warm November afternoon on Lake Superior. (Photo courtesy Amber Voght)

Voght has also enjoyed fishing for salmon in Alaska and for brook trout.

Amber Voght, right, and a close friend display salmon they caught in Alaska. (Photo courtesy Amber Voght)

Amber Voght shows off the beautiful colors of a brook trout she caught. (Photo courtesy Amber Voght)

The exhibit "Connections: Stories from Women Who Fish" will be on display at the Carnegie Museum through April.

Editor's Note: Asked if the group participants considered Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fish advisories as part of the project, Erin Burkett said, "The project didn't focus on fish advisories in any detail, but we did invite local DNR staff to attend the opening."

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion hosts inspiring speakers at MLK Banquet, sponsors coming Black History Month events

By Michele Bourdieu

At Michigan Tech's 30th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet, keynote speaker Donzell Dixson challenges the audience to be "FEARLESS Like Dr. King." (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated.)

HOUGHTON -- At Michigan Tech's 30th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet on Jan. 21, 2019, students, faculty, staff and community members were inspired by the young keynote speaker, Donzell Dixson, a 2014 Michigan Tech graduate who has, in a few years, become a talented motivational presenter. Dixson spoke on being "FEARLESS Like Dr. King."

The Banquet was also an occasion for presenting Michigan Tech's first Bayard Rustin award -- to Darnishia Slade, a 1998 Tech graduate, who presently serves as manager of Global Engagement Programs for Tech's Pavlis Honors College. In addition, Kamara Taylor, Michigan Tech lecturer in Cognitive and Learning Sciences, presented a dramatic reading of "I Too Am America." The Banquet kicked off Martin Luther King Jr. week, with related events sponsored by the university's Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).

Black History Month Events

UPDATED: Ilyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, will speak at 7:30 p.m. on TUESDAY, FEB. 26, in the Rozsa Center. The event is part of Black History Month at Michigan Tech. Please note change of date. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

This month CDI will sponsor at least three events for Black History Month at Michigan Tech: "A History of Whiteness," presented by Rachel Jones and CDI, from  12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12, in the MUB Ballroom; "Is Our Campus an Island? Exploring Diversity and Inclusion with the Keweenaw Culture Project," presented by Josh Loar and CDI, 4:05 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27, in Rekhi Hall G05, Jackson Active Learning Center; and Ilyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, who will speak at 7:30 p.m. TUESDAY, Feb. 26, in the Rozsa Center. (Please note date change for Ilyasah Shabazz.)

Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet

As a welcoming introduction to the Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet, Kamara Taylor, Michigan Tech lecturer in Cognitive and Learning Sciences, presented a dramatic reading of "I Too Am America." Taylor said she composed the piece, a derivative of the poem "I Too" by Langston Hughes, during her visit to the Lorraine Motel -- now a museum, the place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.*

Kamara Taylor, Michigan Tech lecturer in Cognitive and Learning Sciences, presents a dramatic reading of "I Too Am America." (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

This year Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion, for the first time, gave a "Bayard Rustin Award" named for Martin Luther King's behind-the-scenes African American advisor on non-violence and civil rights. Rustin was also an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King gave his historic "I Have A Dream" speech.** The winner of the award, Darnishia Slade, told the audience why she returned to work at Michigan Tech:

Darnishia Slade, manager of global engagement programs for Michigan Tech's Pavlis Honors College, accepts the university's first Bayard Rustin award, a new tradition that recognizes an influential advisor and behind-the-scenes advocate for civil rights and equity. Slade, a 1998 graduate of Michigan Tech, explains how she hopes in her work to help under-represented students.

Betty Chavis, left, now retired, who recruited Darnishia Slade for Michigan Tech -- and who, in addition to working with many student groups, developed Black History Week at Michigan Tech to showcase African American accomplishments in the United States -- is pictured here at the MLK Banquet with Slade and Chris Anderson, retired special assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity.

Keynote Address: "FEARLESS Like Dr. King," by Donzell Dixson

Addressing this year's theme for Michigan Tech's Martin Luther King Jr. week, "Living Fearlessly," Donzell Dixson gave examples of Dr. King's fearlessness on many occasions during his life. Dixson also spoke of his own fears -- how he overcomes them and how Dr. King's courage inspires him to speak out.

Donzell Dixson, a 2014 Michigan Tech University graduate, begins his keynote speech at the 2019 Michigan Tech Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet. Dixson speaks about overcoming his own fears as a student at Michigan Tech and later -- as a public speaker.

During his speech, Dixson showed a video clip of King speaking shortly before he was assassinated and photos of King in prison. Dixson noted King's selfless fearlessness in the face of threats, prison and death during the Civil Rights Movement.

Noting King's fearlessness and moral courage, Donzell Dixson shows a video clip of King speaking shortly before he was assassinated.

Dixson then gave examples of his own experience -- learning about the courage to speak out, not for himself alone, but for others.***

Donzell Dixson, a 2014 Michigan Tech graduate, concludes his presentation, "Fearless Like Dr. King," during the 2019 Michigan Tech MLK Banquet. Kellie Raffaelli, assistant dean and CDI director, who invited Dixson, leaves the audience with some inspiring quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.

Betty Chavis commented positively on Donzell Dixson's presentation.

"It was excellent," she said. "I think he did a marvelous job. I was impressed."

Gloria Melton, retired Michigan Tech Dean of Students, was also pleased to hear Dixson's talk at the Banquet.

"I didn't know him as a student," Melton noted, "but I'm very encouraged to see in him the fruits of the efforts at Michigan Tech for diversity and inclusion."

Betty Chavis, left, and Gloria Melton were both happy to attend the MLK Banquet and very impressed by Donzell Dixson's presentation.


* Click here to read Kamara Taylor's account of her reaction to visiting the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

** Read about Bayard Rustin here.

*** Learn more about Donzell Dixson on his Web site.