Pending Menominee metal mine decision stirring controversy
Posted on: July 5, 2016

A pending metal mine dubbed ‘the Back Forty’ is stirring up controversy in the Upper Peninsula on the border between Wisconsin and Michigan. Michigan officials are weighing whether or not to let the mine be built on the bank of the Menominee River, which locals, indigenous groups, and environmental groups fear could pollute the river itself and surrounding watersheds.

The mine proposal has been in the works for over a decade and objectors are scrambling to have their concerns heard as the company, Aquila Resources Inc., makes its final presentations to Michigan officials. If it were to be approved, the open-pit, 83-acre mine would be built on the Wisconsin/Michigan border, 150 feet from the Menominee River. It is supposed to pull gold, zinc, copper, and silver out of the ground, which will be used to fuel the tech industry and make products such as cell phones, computers, cars, and other products. Aquila promises an economic boost of 450 mine jobs, 1330 construction jobs, and royalties of over 16.5 million.

As part of the Great Lakes basin, the Menominee empties into Lake Michigan, and opponents of the mine have several complaints about its proposed location. The proposed mine site borders a Native American burial ground and raised gardens. Resident retirees feel it will disrupt their quality of life, and other opponents claim it would threaten bass fishing populations and lake sturgeon conservation efforts. In addition, the mining methods use to extract metals from sulfide ores are raising particular alarm from locals and environmentalists, who fear acid mine drainage into the river and its connected lakes and groundwater sources.

The Upper Peninsula is no stranger to mining operations and their effects. Copper mines littered the area from the mid-1800s to the 1960s, churning out billions of tonnes of copper. Mining efforts have since experienced a resurgence in the area. North of the proposed Aquila site is the Eagle Mine, an underground sulfide operation close to Lake Superior that faced similar backlash in its inception.

For a detailed look at the Menominee Mine and its surrounding issues, click here to view an in-depth article by Brian Bienkowski with the Environmental Health Network. 

Menominee River, photo credit River Alliance of Wisconsin.
Menominee River, photo credit River Alliance of Wisconsin.

Though the mine straddles the Wisconsin/Michigan border, Michigan officials have final say in issuing a permit for the mine’s building and operations. The River Alliance of Wisconsin recently brought attention to the mine in an update lamenting that “Wisconsin citizens are limited in what actions they can take to express their displeasure with or influence the development of this mine.” It also stated that the Wisconsin DNR would review Aquila’s permit application, but had little say in its decision.

The update reported that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality would be holding a public hearing in August, likely at Lansing, MI,  to review all the permits Aquila is requesting for its operations at Menominee. According to the River Alliance, the MDEQ sent 200 questions to Aquila, seeking explanation and accountability for gaps in the analysis it submitted with its permit applications.

The River Alliance states that it joins the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin (MITW), Front 40 Citizens Group, and Save the Wild UP in raising awareness among Wisconsin citizens about the pending mine. As part of these efforts, the River Alliance invited the public to an event aimed at appreciating and celebrating the Menominee River. “On July 29, we are hosting a paddling excursion on the Menominee River, with help from our friends the Menominee Indian Tribe and the Front 40 citizens group.”

To see the River Alliance of Wisconsin’s update, click here. The update includes a link for anyone interested in the paddling excursion.

This year’s Mother Earth Water Walk was dedicated to raising awareness about the pending Back Forty Menominee mine. The walk is an annual advocacy event dedicated to raising awareness about water issues. For more info, click here to visit the Mother Earth Water Walk site here. 

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