Back 40 mine map

A map of the area affected by the proposed Back 40 Mine. 

Michigan regulators have issued the final permit needed for a proposed open-pit mine in the Upper Peninsula near the Wisconsin line.

“I am very disappointed in the State of Michigan’s approval of the Back Forty Mine  that will be located just 150 feet from the Menominee River,” said Wisconsin state Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality granted a wetlands permit to Canada-based Aquila Resources, which is targeting primarily gold and zinc in an underground sulfide deposit discovered in 2001. The company also expects the mine to produce copper, silver and lead.

The agency’s decision was “a major milestone” for the project, according to company spokesman Dan Blondeau.

Hansen said Michigan’s decision “flies in the face of the large majority of residents in Wisconsin and Michigan who live near the mine or who will be negatively affected by its operation.”

He added, “Allowing a mining process that involves the use of industrial acids so close to the Menominee River and the Bay of Green Bay … represents a danger to the health of the river, the bay, our economy, our families and our quality of life.”

Meanwhile, the Menominee Indian Tribe and others who oppose the mine on ecological and cultural grounds pledged to continue the fight.

“People who love our land and water — including our indigenous brothers and sisters — and those who have raised their children here and want to see their grandchildren grow up in this area, are the same people who will stand firm in total opposition to the proposed Aquila mine,” said Dale Burie, president of the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River.

The Menominee tribe filed a suit in January aimed at blocking the project. It contends the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers erred by letting the state of Michigan handle permitting under the federal Clean Water Act.

The proposed mine is within a cultural landscape that includes tribal burial grounds and ancient farming and ceremonial sites.

 

Wetlands snag

Michigan earlier approved permits for mine construction and operation, air quality and wastewater treatment and discharge.

The wetlands permit hit a snag in March when the EPA said Aquila’s application lacked information about how the mine would affect sensitive waters. The EPA also questioned the adequacy of sites selected for preservation to offset wetlands damage.

In a letter to the state agency in May, the EPA’s regional office in Chicago said talks with the company resolved some of its objections and that others could be worked out by adding requirements to the permit. 

The head of the EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago is Cathy Stepp, a close ally of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who served as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from 2011 to 2017.

WiG writer Lisa Neff contributed to this report. For more about the campaign against the Back Forty Mine, visit www.noback40.org. 

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