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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Environmental Groups Pledge To Continue Back Forty Fight

Issue Date: June 14, 2018

Environmental groups opposed to development of the controversial Aquila Resources Back Forty Mine in Stephenson, Mich. are crying foul over last week's decision by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to approve a Wetland Permit for development of the mine near the banks of the Menominee River. Local residents opposed to the mine have pledged that their fight is not over.

In a joint statement, the Mining Action Group (MAG) of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC), the Front 40 Environmental Fight, and numerous other local and regional environmental groups say they are outraged by what they claim is an unwarranted approval and are calling on DEQ Director Heidi Grether to explain her decision.

"This smells rotten," declared spokesman Kathleen Heideman. "Director Grether's approval of the Aquila Back Forty Wetland permit was a political act, directly contradicting the recommendation of DEQ's own Water Resources Division. This permit is inconsistent with the clean Water Act!"

She and others said the Wetland permit should have been denied, according to the agency's own "Findings of Fact", and quoted, "After due consideration of the permit application, on-site investigation and review of other pertinent materials, the Water Resources Division finds that the project does NOT demonstrate that an unacceptable disruption to the aquatic resources of the State will not occur and that the activities associated with the project are NOT consistent with the permitting criteria for an acceptable impact to the resources regulated under Parts 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, and Part 303, Wetlands Protection."

Even the DEQ's decision letter is not an endorsement, they said, again quoting: "We have determined that the (Back Forty) project as proposed could not be permitted without additional supporting documentation because the hydrologic modeling provided does not define the anticipated impacts to aquatic resources."

Ron Henriksen, spokesperson for the Front 40 Environmental Fight, said he was stunned. "Against the findings of Water Resources staff, Director Grether of the DEQ granted a permit with 28 pages of "Special Conditions.' Why wasn't this permit denied? The serious hydrological concerns we've raised remain unaddressed. Aquila's mine will harm wetlands of the Menominee River and aquatic resources shared by Michigan and Wisconsin, yet these concerns were somehow overruled. The Menominee River certainly deserves better."

The news release charges that, "Overlooking the application's gaping holes, DEQ issued Aquila's Wetland permit "conditionally' and has required "submission and approval' of key additional information including revised hydrologic modeling, an adaptive management plan, a comprehensive monitoring plan, and requisite wetland and stream mitigation."

There were comments that under the Clean Water Act this information must be provided before a wetland destruction permit is granted, not after, and accurate hydrologic modeling, monitoring, and compensatory mitigation based on real data are the foundational requirements of a wetland permit application, not special permit conditions. Steve Garske of the Mining Action Group said by law, Aquila should have provided this information at least two years ago.

Opponents say the application suggests that if impact exceeds estimates the mine operators can simply pump water from the Menominee River into the wetlands.

They accused Grether of making a hasty political decision and ignoring the independent reports commissioned by anti-mine groups and repeated contentions that the Back Forty mine "is a disaster in the making."

They cited EPA objections in a March 8, 2018 letter to the Michigan DEQ: "The applicant has not provided a complete description of the project, including a final site plan identifying the final location of key project features, including storm water and waste management features. The proposed site layout is not consistent with the approved state Permit to Mine. Nor are all impacts of the project identified in the application, including impacts caused by any planned underground mining, a power plant, and mining water management systems. Without this information, the reviewing agencies cannot adequately assess the extent of the proposed mine's impact on aquatic resources as required by the CWA, and or determine whether the applicant has minimized and avoided aquatic resource impacts, as required."

They go on to say that the EPA letter pointed out that while Aquila states that the project will not adversely affect water quality of the Menominee River they do not explain how the project will be managed to ensure discharges will meet water quality standards, including sufficient monitoring locations, minimization measures, and adaptive management procedures to prevent leaching of toxic compounds from mine storage facilities and from the mine pit into the River.

The release states the EPA found the application "lacks information regarding the extent of wetlands that will be impacted by the project and how these wetlands will be affected by the proposed project's Menominee River drawdown of some 125,000 gallons per day," and directed the DEQ to resolve those and other concerns within 90 days or deny the permit for the mine, and then the permit was issued although the DEQ and Aquila did not resolve these concerns.

Garske said there is no finalized site plan or acknowledgement of planned underground mining facilities, no approved plan to prevent leaching of toxins into the Menominee River, no accurate hydrological model for the mine site, and the Back Forty wetland impacts remain unknown, and added, "The federal objections were mysteriously rescinded," and described the decision as "a stunning example of big-money politics taking precedence over the public good."

"I'd like to say I was surprised by the approval of the Back 40's wetland permit, but actually was not," said Deb Skubal of the Front 40 anti mine group. "This whole outcome is consistent with how the DEQ has operated thus far.  The Director went so far as to write "the project as proposed could not be permitted without additional supporting documentation".

Heideman described Aquila's Wetland permit as "" the most inept, shoddy heap of paperwork I've ever seen. When the permit is held up to the light of legal scrutiny, light will shine in through a thousand holes!"

"A sulfide mine on the shores of the Menominee River endangers the health and way of life of the entire region to profit a foreign owned corporation. Michigan DEQ's approval of the wetland permit an injustice to all of us," declared Raj Shukla, Executive Director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin.

"I pray for the wild rice people while I take note of the names of each and every federal and state official approving every single aspect of this 800 foot deep open pit mine less than 100 feet from the great Menominee River. Every single one of them must be held accountable when this fails and harms the fishery, the drinking water for millions of people and more. Accountability is a predominate conservative principal. They must all be held accountable in full measure," said Jeffery Loman of the L'Anse Indian Reservation.

"DEQ's approval of the wetlands permit obviously ignored the opposition to this mine by thousands of people. Why were we ignored?" asked Dick Dragiewicz, who describes himself as an avid Menominee River fisherman.

"This certainly is not the end of our opposition; it is the resurrection of government 'of the people, for the people, and by the people.'  We stand united with organizations all across the state of Wisconsin and Michigan, and we are in it for the long haul," promised Dale Burie, of Wagner, president of the Coalition to Save the Menominee River, Inc.

Carl Lindquist, Executive Director of Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust (SWP), said: "The fact that eight Native American tribes have fought this mine should have been enough. Or the fact that the Menominee River was selected as one of the ten most endangered rivers in America. Or the amount of local opposition. An open pit mine on the edge of a river that flows directly into the Great Lakes - SWP staff can't imagine a worse location."

Bob Allison, deputy director of Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said the DEQ approval "" represents yet another fundamental failure by the agency to safeguard Michigan's precious water resources. We continue to see the DEQ give preference to polluting industries, in this case allowing a mining company to make fortunes while polluting the pristine waters of the Upper Peninsula. The impact of this reckless decision will be felt for generations, with negative impacts on waterways in both Michigan and Wisconsin."


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