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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Professor Details Risks of Mine, Says "No Chance" for Back Forty

Issue Date: May 31, 2017

The elected officials originally supposed to attend a Marinette and Menominee joint city council meeting may not have shown Wednesday, May 24, but their constituents still showed up in large numbers.

Over 100 people came out to listen to a presentation regarding concerns about the proposed Back Forty Mine along the Menominee River after a joint Marinette and Menominee City Council meeting fell through.

Originally, the two councils were supposed to meet to hear Joe Maki of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) discuss the mine and answer any questions, but he and the Marinette City Council pulled out of the meeting. Only two members of the Menominee City Council attended the meeting and were able to ask questions of speaker Dr. Al Gedicks, professor emeritus of sociology at the Universtiy of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Maki was unable to be reached for comment.

Mayor Jean Stegeman and City Manager Tony Graff attended the meeting, along with City Council Members Steve Fifarek and Frank Pohlmann. Council Members Nick Malone, Heather Nelson, William Plemel, Josh Jones, Dennis Klitzke and Doug Robinson were not in attendance.

Gedicks gave a 40-minute presentation to those in attendance, during which he detailed the specifications of the mine, gave his concerns regarding it, and compared it to the Flambeau open pit copper-gold sulfide mine near Ladysmith.

The mine would be owned by Canadian company Aquila Resources, which claims it would receive 40 percent of its earnings from gold, 40 percent from zinc, 14 percent from copper, five percent from silver and one percent from lead. So far, three of the four necessary permits have been granted for the mine, including the nonferrous metallic mineral mining permit, the air use permit to install and the pollutant discharge and elimination system permit (NPDES). The final permit needed is a permit regarding the area wetlands.

Gedicks claimed that metallic sulfide mining has contaminated 12,000 miles of rivers and streams in the United States. He also mentioned that in April, American Rivers, a conservation group, listed the Menominee River as one of America's most endangered rivers due to the potential of the mine.

Gedicks said that Aquila has been touting the mine as a seven-year project, but has been telling investors the project will be for 16 years. Aquila Resources CEO Barry Hildred responded to this, saying the mine would be in use for seven to eight years, with the mine taking two years to construct.

Hildred said the company has intentions of further drilling the underground to do more work on underground resources and potentially transitioning to an underground mine in the future, however. This change would require an additional permit amendment with the MDEQ. Construction would not start until "well into next year," Hildred said.

Following Gedicks' presentation, he received a full standing ovation from the crowd for about 40 seconds, before making way to questions from council members.

After the meeting, both council members in attendance said they were opposed to the mine. "I'm just doing what I believe in my own heart. I wasn't for this from the start" I grew up here. I retired out of the service and I came back here" I don't want a chance, or a threat of any chance of destroying my homeland," Fifarek said. When asked if the council even had any say in whether the mine moves forward, Fifarek wasn't sure, responding "I would like to think so."

"I think that from the get-go, the risks of the project are significant and the gains of the project, which are mainly financial gains for the investors, will not really impact our local community," Pohlmann said, adding that every businessman needs to weigh risks against rewards when making a decision. "This potential reward is very small for the local community. The jobs will be temporary and probably occupied by specialists who are not living in the community right now, the burden on our infrastructure will be significant and the ultimate risk" will be significant. Just as a businessperson, I would clearly have to say with huge risks and small reward, I can't support the project.

Pohlmann asked Gedicks after the meeting about the potential job creation by the project. Gedicks responded, saying that the jobs needing to be filled would be "highly skilled" and he thought they would be filled by workers coming from Marquette, Mi.

Pohlmann also said he thought every council member should have been at the meeting. "I think all the council members should attend city council meetings, because regardless of whether they are in favor or opposition, because we are basically elected to address issues that concern the public"I think every council member should be at these meetings," Pohlmann said, referencing the large crowd in attendance, as opposed to an estimated 20 people who attend the average council meeting.

"I have been to meetings where Aquila resources presented when they had their first introduction of the project. Everybody should be at meetings of this nature," Pohlmann said.

"I would hope that in the future, they don't boycott every council meeting, because that'll be hard to get things done in the City of Menominee," Mayor Stegeman said.

A total of 26 people used their three allotted minutes of public comment to address concerns with the mine, including issues with potential impacts on the environment, Menominee River, drinking water for area residents and Menominee Nation sacred lands.

Some opposed to the meeting passed out signs saying "NO MINE," while others gave pins and brochures detailing their opposition the mine.

One speaker during the public commentary period was Marinette City Alderman and Marinette County Supervisor Ken Keller, who, as a member of the county board, passed a unanimous resolution in opposition to the mine, 28-0.

Keller said that everyone should be grateful to the Menominee Nation members who attended the meeting and opposed the mine. "They've put on many miles and spent many hours in regards to this," he stated. "Their dedication to this is overwhelming."

Keller ended his address by thanking the council in attendance and saying "I do believe Marinette will be addressing this issue."

Representatives from the Menominee Nation Tribe spoke. The Menominee Nation has made a Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act Claim.

Gary Besaw, Menominee Tribal Chairman was granted the first word at the beginning of the public comment period. Besaw thanked the members of the council and the mayor "for having the intelligence and the wisdom to ask for information." He continued, saying "You need to hear all sides. You need to hear all the information and show us that you care, that you're trying to find that for the constituents. You're looking ahead to the future. I applaud you for that, and the Menominee Tribe applauds you for that."

Besaw asked the council if he could be put on a future agenda to address the full council. "You have a pearl sitting up along that river. Nobody has those. You need to help protect those," Besaw said about the burial grounds along the river. "In our creation stories, we're also told we're to protect the wild rice, the sturgeon, those maple trees, the waters. We have a responsibility to those animals and plants. It's not fake. It's what we live. It's not pretend. It's real."

Stegeman said that having Besaw on the next city council meeting was "absolutely" a possibility.

Burton Warrington, who was born and raised on the Menominee reservation and is an attorney by trade with a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law and a present Governor of the Kansas School of Law Alumni Board of Governors, told the crowd to think about who is telling them that opposition to the mine won't matter.

He told them, "you have to ask yourself, "who's saying that?' Somebody wants you to believe that, to silence you" It's in the law that you have a say-so on that."

"We're in no position to tell people to be against the mine, but what we encourage people to do is learn yourself and if you end up making the decision that you're for the mine, that's fine," Warrington said. "That's everybody's right to make that decision, but we're fairly confident that once people get the real the information, most people will take the side that the reward isn't worth the risk."

Aquila began talking to the Menominee and other Native American groups in 2009, Hildred said, although he admitted the Menominee Nation had not supported the project. "We've had continued correspondence with them" We've shown them where cultural resources are or potential resources are, and they are not impacted by the project at all," he said.

When asked about the chances of the mine making it to reality, Gedicks offered some hope for those opposed to the mine. "There's no chance this is going to go through. When you have overwhelming public opposition to a project, investors are going to be very careful about risking their finances on projects that are going to be challenged in court, for which there are going to be demonstrations, protests, lawsuits," Gedicks said. "Even if the lawsuits don't succeed, if they extend the challenge to the permit process, that costs the investors a lot of money and that's not something they want to risk."

"What we're doing is legal," Hildred said. "Michigan is probably, if you look worldwide, it's one of the strictest mining laws in the world, in terms of environmental protections under which you have to operate. What we're doing is a legal activity."

Gedicks said that while the MDEQ may issue all the permits for the mine, "that does not mean it's going to be built."

Hildred responded to claims that the mine had little support, saying, "we do have a lot of support as well" We certainly understand there are some concerns. We'd like to address those concerns as best as we can. The way to address those concerns is to engage in constructive dialogue and help educate people about what we're doing."

Aquila Resources and multiple joint venture partners have invested over $75 million exploring and advancing the Back Forty Project over the past 10 years, according to the company's website. Hildred said it would cost an estimated $300 million in additional capital to build the mine.


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