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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Michigan Judge Hears Evidence On Back 40 Mine Permit Appeals

Issue Date: August 15, 2019

Presentation of evidence before Administrative Law Judge Dan Pulter in a contested case hearing in Lansing, Mich. involving Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issuance of wetlands permits for the controversial Back 40 mine may conclude today (Wednesday, Aug. 14), according to Dale Burrie, spokesman for the local Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, which is a party to the appeal.

Burrie owns property on the Wisconsin side of the Menominee River, near the area where Aquila plans to develop its mine on the Michigan side. Tentative permits for the mine granted in 2018 are being appealed. He is a founder at the anti-mine coalition.

Burrie said since Monday, Aug. 5 he and his wife Lea Jane have been in Lansing along with their attorney, Ted Warpinski, of Green Bay, who is also a member of the Davis and Kuelthau Law firm of Milwaukee. Attorney Jeanette Bremmer, of Seattle, Wash. attorney for the Menominee Indian Tribe, is also with them.

Burrie said they were in court in Lansing for two full weeks in June, all of last week, and three days so far this week for hearings on the wetland permit appeal.

According to Burrie, and recent Associated Press stories, testimony at the hearings has brought to light numerous concerns expressed by EPA and DEQ experts in regard to safety of the mine and impact of its operations, and despite those concerns the permits were issued.

Burrie said even though the water resource division of Marquette DEQ recommended denial of the permit, Director Heidi Grether signed the permit. "That's what our case is all about...there were many inconsistencies that needed to be addressed."

Burrie said their days in court generally start at 9 a.m. and run until 5 p.m. He feels today will end this round of evidence presentation, but there's a distinct possibility it could be extended into future months. "There have been many expert witnesses brought in on this round of testimony," he declared.

He said once all the evidence is presented and testimony is heard attorneys for each side will be given time to prepare summary briefs and file them with the court. Only after they are presented will the Administrative Law Judge make his decision, Burrie said. He explained that the current hearings are on the wetlands permits, which have to do with hydrology - actions and reactions that result from disturbing a wetlands. The testimony all involved very technical information, he said.

Burrie said he has been told this is one of the toughest cases ever to face the Michigan Appeals Court. He believes that the recent publicity in the Detroit Free Press is a sign that the proceedings are being watched by everyone.

Meanwhile, Burie's group, as well as the Menominee Tribe of Indians, is involved in a federal lawsuit pending in Green Bay.

He said they have received briefs in that case, but so far they have not received a docket number and no date has been set.

A Tuesday, Aug. 13 story in the Detroit Free Press declared:

"Over and over, Michigan environmental regulators sounded alarms as they reviewed a proposed large, open-pit ore mine in the Upper Peninsula near the Menominee River, prized for walleye fishing and a major tributary to Lake Michigan. The mine would send acidic mining wastes into the river and surrounding waterways, which would then spill into the Great Lake, staff said. More acres of wetlands would be harmed than the mining company was projecting, evaluators found.

"Then the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and then-Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved the mine anyway," the article continued.

"At stake in whether the Back Forty Mine proceeds is the potential endangerment of one of the most important rivers in Michigan, part of a system that drains more than 4,000 square miles of the U.P. and northern Wisconsin, and a river culturally iconic to the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin, whose creation story includes that they come from the river's mouth. Sacred burial grounds of the tribe are potentially threatened by the mine.The tribe is now among those appealing wetlands and surface water permit approvals for the mine." 

The story referred to "more than a little concern and sometimes frustration on the part of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality over issuance of permits for the controversial Aquila Resources' Back 40 Mine in Stephenson, Mich."


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