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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Aquila Withdraws From Wetland Fight; Studies New Mine Permit

Issue Date: May 12, 2021

Plans by Aquila Resources to construct its controversial open pit "Back 40 Mine" on the banks of the Menominee River near Stephenson, Mich. are in the process of being changed. A news release issued on Tuesday, May 11 announced that Aquila has withdrawn its appeal of a judicial decision rejecting its wetlands permit and has engaged consultants to look at a new plan that would incorporate an underground mine and reduce the size of the initially proposed 750-foot deep open pit mine.

Aquila's decision to withdraw its appeal of the Wetlands permit decision was hailed as good news by Dale Burrie, president of the local "Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River."

Burrie said they are pleased that the decision of the Administrative law judge (Pultzer) will stand "...and our hard work and efforts have contributed to the protection of the Menominee River and the surrounding wetlands from the detrimental effects of the proposed Back Forty mine.  While we expected to prevail before the review panel, it is a welcome development."

 Burrie continued, "... as is always the case, the fight goes on.  Aquila indicated in its request to abandon its appeal of Judge Pulter's decision, that it will be submitting a new mine application, later this year, that will for the first time include underground mining. Of course, we always expected going underground to be part of Aquila's long-term plan."

He concluded, "While Aquila will try to spin this as a new strategy to avoid or minimize wetlands impacts, we intend to remain diligent in our efforts and have significant concerns that extensive underground mining and the corresponding groundwater drawdown will have as much or even more impacts on the watershed and could be an even greater threat to the health of the Menominee River. Our Coalition and our partners remain steadfast in our resolve and will continue to fight to protect the Menominee River for all to enjoy. "

Tom Boerner, another staunch opponent of the Aquila mine, stated the e-mail received that morning from Aquila's attorneys announcing that the firm is withdrawing from the environmental review panel means it is over for the Wetlands permit aspect o the mine.

"This e-mail makes it official," Boerner declared. "Through their attorneys Aquila finally admits they are going to submit a new mining permit application that includes an underground mine. Anyone who has read Aquila's reports knows this is what they intended to do from the beginning. In my opinion Aquila felt they could mislead EGLE and get a permit and after the fact add an underground portion - as the SOM has very little restraint in denying a going concern anything they ask for if they paint it as being "a good thing.' Thankfully EGLE water review team had integrity and were unbiased...Now we prepare for the underground permit application," Boerner concluded.

Aquila's May 11 news release announced their company had hired Osisko Technical Services ("OTS") "to lead an optimized feasibility study for the Back Forty Project," and stated, "Aquila is leveraging OTS' combined engineering, permitting, construction and operating expertise to unlock value and advance the Back Forty Project through its next phase of development." It goes on to say that the key objective of the optimized feasibility study is to reflect feedback from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy ("EGLE") and the local community since the original Back Forty permits were issued, and adds, "By incorporating the underground mine plan in the Feasibility Study and modifying the Project footprint, the Company expects to demonstrate substantially reduced surface impact, including wetland impacts, and a longer mine life for the benefit of all stakeholders."

The news release states their objective is to complete the feasibility study during the final quarter of 2021, but money may be an issue, since the news release goes on to stipulate that its plans are "subject to securing additional funding."

Guy Le Bel, Aquila President & CEO, commented, "We are committed to advancing the Back Forty Project with a collaborative approach that integrates feedback from the community. Our goal is to design, build and operate a 21st century mine in sync with American values of safety, quality work, leading-edge technology, and environmentally responsible mineral extraction. The resulting mine will offer over a decade of net benefits to local and regional communities while being protective of the environment."

The news release goes on to say, "Given the enhancements to the Project and the ability to demonstrate substantially reduced environmental impact by incorporating the underground mine plan, Aquila believes the most efficient path to shovel-ready status is to focus efforts on successfully permitting the optimized Feasibility Study design."

It goes on to state that the company has decided not to proceed with its appeal of the January 2021 decision by Michigan Administrative Law Judge Daniel Pulter to deny the prior issuance of the Wetlands Permit, and says the new Feasibility Study team is focused on a design seeking to avoid direct impacts to wetlands. Even if a Wetlands Permit is required, Aquila expects that it will be able to secure a re-issued permit from EGLE based on the fieldwork already completed under the existing Wetlands Permit and progress on the groundwater modeling that would be used to support any estimates of indirect wetland impacts.

The Menominee Tribe of Indians also hailed withdrawal the Wetlands permit appeal, and was pleased by an April 22 decision of Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Wanda Stokes granting the tribe's request to find Pulter's decision was relevant to the mining permit as well as the Wetlands Permit and send that too back or reconsideration.

The tribe considers the river the birthplace of the Menominee people, and maintains the mine threatens the river and its historic and cultural resources, including burial mounds. 

"We are encouraged by the news that the mining permit must now be reconsidered," said Menominee Tribal Chairman Gunnar Peters in a statement. "And we will not stop fighting until these waters, lands and sacred sites are protected for good."

Gussie Lord, an Earthjustice attorney representing the tribe, said Judge Pulter had issued an order in 2019 that upheld a decision by Michigan environmental regulators to grant a mining permit for the project.

According to report on Michigan Public Radio, Lord said that after Judge Pulter ruled against the Wetland Permit, "We appealed the mining permit to the circuit court and said, "Look, this is the same information that the judge relied on to deny the wetlands permit. You need to look at that and make sure that's right.'"

In her April 22 decision, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Wanda Stokes granted the tribe's request, finding Pulter's decision was relevant to the mining permit. "So, the (administrative law judge) is getting another chance to look at that evidence that he found convincing enough to deny the wetlands permit," said Lord.

According to Aquila's May 11 news release, "The Company has also determined not to proceed with the contested case of the amended Mining Permit. As the amended Mining Permit only contemplates the open pit portion of the Project, there is no benefit to continuing to dedicate resources to a permit under which the Company does not plan to proceed. Following the completion of the Feasibility Study, the Company will submit an application for a Mining Permit that reflects the optimized design, including the underground mine plan. Should a Wetlands Permit and Dam Safety Permit be required, the Company will submit applications for these permits concurrent with the Mining Permit application. A key benefit of this approach is that it should facilitate a consolidated review process and, compared to a sequential process, compress the timeline to permit issuances."

The news release concludes, "The Company is maintaining its Air Permit and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit in good standing and will proceed with timely renewals of these permits, as required.


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