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Back 40 Mine Arguments In Federal Court Aug. 1

Issue Date: August 2, 2018

Judge William C. Griesbach in U.S. Eastern District Court in Green Bay will hear arguments for and against issuance of permits for the controversial Back Forty Mine at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 1. The hearing is one of the steps in settling a lawsuit brought by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin against the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At issue is Aquila Resources,Inc. proposal to build a large, open-pit mine and minerals-processing facility near the banks of the Menominee River in Stephenson Township, Mich., on land that tribal spokesmen say should be protected. The site reportedly is an area of historic significance to the Menominee Tribe, and among other things, once contained raised garden beds built by the Menominee Tribe when it was their homeland.

Opponents of the mine say the sulfide mine operation will adversely affect wetlands next to the Menominee River, as well as the river itself, and also will adversely affect numerous sites of cultural and historic significance to the Tribe.

The mine site is about 15 miles upstream from the cities of Marinette and Menominee and the mouth of the river into Green Bay.

 Represented by Earthjustice and tribal attorneys, the Tribe filed suit in January of 2018, charging that the federal agencies have abandoned their obligation under the Clean Water Act to exercise jurisdiction over wetland permits for the mine.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued the needed permits and plans to construct the mine are in progress.

The Tribe asserts that by allowing the State of Michigan to oversee what should have been a federal permitting process, the federal agencies are violating requirements of the Clean Water Act.

Both federal agencies and Aquila Resources, Inc. have asked that the Tribe's lawsuit be dismissed. In the proceedings on Wednesday afternoon Judge Griesbach will hear oral arguments on the dismissal requests.

Those representing the Menominee Tribe's interests include Earthjustice Attorney Janette Brimmer; Attorney Lindzey Spice, for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, and Melissa Cook, intergovernmental affairs manager for the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. 

 Menominee Tribal Chairman Doug Cox and other members of the Tribal Legislature are expected to attend Wednesday afternoon's proceedings  in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, Jefferson Court Building, Room 102, at 125 S. Jefferson Street in Green Bay.

There has been strong local opposition to the mine, particularly from the Wisconsin side of the Menominee River, which is also the border between Michigan and Wisconsin.

On June 4, Michigan DEQ announced that it had issued a wetlands permit for the mine, which was the fourth and final permit required from the DEQ before Aquila could begin the project.  The DEQ had previously issued mining, air, and surface water discharge permits.

The news release issued by MDEQ in June states that "based on the advice and guidance from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it has issued a wetlands permit for the Aquila Resources Back Forty (Aquila) mining project in the Upper Peninsula."

It went on to say that under the terms of the permit, the DEQ had required Aquila to develop an enhanced groundwater modeling and monitoring plan consistent with industry best-practices for the proposed open-pit mine before permitted mining operations could begin. The site-specific plan must include a wetland water budget model; collection of existing baseline groundwater and wetland data; and annual monitoring data to guard nearby wetlands against potential adverse impacts. The wetland plan must also be adaptive, with additional protective measures required if adverse water or wetland impacts are detected during the life of the project.

Aquila was being required to develop state-of-the-art controls aimed at spill prevention and response to potential pollution releases from the mining operations including, chemicals used and stored on site, and the storage and disposal of waste rock, and develop a closure plan for the mine which includes a plan for returning the waste rock to the pit in a way that eliminates future impacts to surface and ground water.

In May the EPA and Aquila had resolved several objections the EPA had raised about the project, an created an EPA-supported framework which the DEQ followed in drafting the permit.

"Issuance of the permit complies with the statutory required permitting deadline, while allowing Aquila to continue to collect the data necessary to develop improved site-specific models and plans that must be approved by DEQ prior to beginning mining operations," the DEQ news release concluded.

In its own news release issued from company headquarters in Toronto, Canada in June, Aquila announced that it received its wetlands, lakes, and streams permit from the Michigan DEQ for its zinc-and gold-rich Back Forty Project in Michigan. The news release noted the Wetlands Permit was issued inclusive of specific conditions, including those requested by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA). There reportedly were 51 pages of conditions listed by the EPA.

"With the issuance by the MDEQ of the Wetlands Permit and the objections of the EPA resolved, Aquila has now received all State and Federal permissions required for the construction and commencement of operations at the Back Forty Project. The Company has already received the three other required State permits which include the Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit, and the Air Use Permit to Install," the news release stated.

"This is a very significant milestone for Aquila and substantially completes a robust environmental permitting process in Michigan," said Barry Hildred, President and Chief Executive Officer of Aquila. "We can now focus the Company's resources on the pre-construction phase at Back Forty while considering funding alternatives to complete the development of the mine. I want to thank our entire expanded team for all of their efforts in helping us achieve this significant milestone, and we look forward to building a world-class project in Michigan."

The news release continues,"Aquila will continue its efforts with the State of Michigan and local communities to demonstrate our commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainable resource development that benefits all stakeholders. The Back Forty Mine will be a safe, disciplined operation that promotes and supports local community socio-economic development and is protective of the environment.

"With the receipt of the Wetlands Permit, Aquila will commence certain pre-construction activities immediately. The Back Forty open pit Feasibility Study is nearing completion, and the Company anticipates publishing the study in the coming months," the news release stated.

It said Aquila's" flagship Back Forty Project" is an open pit volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit with underground potential located along the mineral"rich Penokean Volcanic Belt in Michigan's Upper Peninsula which contains approximately 1.1 billion pounds of zinc and 1 million ounces of gold and repeated that Aquila had received all State and Federal permissions required for the construction and commencement of operations at the Back Forty Project.

Aquila sources have previously said the proposed Back Forty mine is expected to produce 721 million pounds of zinc, 74 million pounds of copper, 21 million pounds of lead, 4.6 million ounces of silver and 532,000 ounces of gold.

The company and supporters say the mine would provide jobs and an overall economic boost to an area that has depended on mining jobs for generations.

Opponents, who have pledged to continue their opposition, say the open pit sulfide mine will ruin the values of properties in its immediate vicinity on both the Wisconsin and Michigan sides of the river, disrupt tourism, and threaten water quality down river and possibly into Green Bay and Lake Michigan should a breach occur.

Marinette and Oconto County boards, along with numerous other area county and municipal boards and city councils in Wisconsin have adopted resolutions opposing the mine.


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