Back 40 Mining Company Responds to Water Protectors

protesters in Marinette, WI
Source: Photographer

If you’re read our article from the Fall 2017 Green American, “The Back Forty Mine: Is It the Next Standing Rock?”, you’re likely familiar with what’s going on in Upper Michigan. Briefly, Aquila Resources, a Toronto-based company, is trying to site a sulfide mine 150 feet from the banks of the Menominee River.

While Aquila Resources did not respond to repeated attempts by Green America to contact them as we were writing our article, we did receive a response to the published piece on March 28, 2018. Aquila’s letter to us is below, followed by a rebuttal written by Menominee Nation community organizer Guy Anahkwet Reiter and Dr. Al Gedicks, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, who has been assisting the Menominee and the rest of the local community in their fight against the mine.   

To recap, local activists are fighting against the Back Forty Mine for three reasons: 

  1. Experts say that sulfide mines are much more polluting than conventional mines. When you bring sulfide ore (sulfur combined with enough of a mineral like gold, copper, or nickel to make the ore worth extracting) out of the ground, exposure of that ore to air or water can easily turn it into sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is highly corrosive and toxic, so any leakage from the mine would wreak havoc on the local environment and on the river. 

  2. The Menominee River runs into Lake Michigan, which provides drinking water to millions in the upper Midwest. Contamination of the river from the mine could poison drinking water and irrigation water in the region. 

  3. The site is located on traditional lands of the Menominee Nation, and is the site of their origin story. The Menominee have worked with the University of Michigan to document that the area contains sacred cultural and historical sites, including burial sites, dance circles, raised agricultural beds, and village sites. While Aquila says it conducted its own archeological survey and the mine will not encroach on these cultural sites, the Menominee say Aquila did not consult with them and did not obtain their free, prior, and informed consent. The Menominee do not trust that the Aquila survey was as thorough as an independent survey in which the Menominee themselves took part would have been.  

—Tracy Fernandez Rysavy, Green America editor-in-chief 

Aquila Resources Responds to Green American Article

Hello,  

I have a number of concerns with the story regarding the Back Forty Mine. While I respect Mr. Reiter's concerns, the story doesn't paint the entire picture. Several archaeological studies were conducted on the project site, and the Back Forty Mine will not disturb any identified cultural resources. Our permit also includes an Unanticipated Discovery Plan in the event that cultural resources are encountered during operation. We are committed to respecting and protecting these important cultural resources. As for water protection, all water that comes into contact with mining activities, including rainwater and snowmelt, will be collected and sent to one of two contact water basins. From the basins, the water will be sent to an on-site water treatment plant. The quality of treated water will meet or exceed drinking water quality standards before being discharged into the Menominee river. In fact, the water treatment plant that will be used at the Back Forty Mine in Michigan uses advanced technologies that far surpass most typical municipal water treatment plants. The Eagle Mine in Marquette County, Michigan, is also a sulphide bearing deposit and it has been in operation since 2014. The mine is roughly 10 miles away from Lake Superior and there has been no impact to nearby rivers, streams, or the lake. We welcome dialogue from anyone about our operations. If you have any questions, please let us know. 

—Daniel Blondeau, Aquila Resources 

Response to Daniel Blondeau from Dr. Al Gedicks and Guy Anahkwet Reiter 

Daniel Blondeau’s claim that the Back Forty project will not disturb the cultural resources of the Menominee Nation or pollute groundwater or surface waters next to the Menominee River has no basis in science, law or common sense. 

The archaeological studies referenced by Mr. Blondeau are not a complete inventory of all the cultural resources on the project site. Aquila has never consulted the Menominee Nation about their historical and cultural resources or allowed a comprehensive archaeological survey in accordance with the provisions of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).  The late Cliff Nelson, Aquila’s vice president, told a reporter that there was no need to make concessions with the Menominee Tribe regarding threatened cultural resources at the Back Forty proposed mine site. 

Aquila has ignored Menominee treaty rights and is in violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that requires all extractive resource projects to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples. Furthermore, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has affirmed that the sacred natural sites of Indigenous peoples should be “No-Go Areas” for destructive industrial activities like mining and for corporations to permanently withdraw from such areas. 

Mr. Blondeau’s assurance that all water from the mine site will be treated to exceed drinking water quality standards before being discharged into the Menominee River lacks scientific credibility. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recently objected to Aquila’s wetland permit application noting that Aquila “states that the project will not adversely affect water quality of the Menominee River but does not explain how the project will be managed to ensure discharges 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.” 

Aquila’s lobbyist recently worked with Wisconsin State Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) to repeal Wisconsin’s landmark Prove It First Mining Moratorium Law. The law requires that before the state can issue a permit for mining of sulfide ore bodies, prospective miners must provide one example of where a metallic sulfide mine had been safely operated and closed without polluting the environment. To this day, the mining industry has not documented a single proven example. If Aquila was confident that they could mine a metallic sulfide deposit without polluting the Menominee River, why did they put so much time and money into repealing a law that simply asked for an example of where such mining has been done without polluting the water?  

—Dr. Al Gedicks, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council
and Guy Anahkwet Reiter, Menominee Nation

From Green American Magazine Issue