December 2016 Newsletter
December 21, 2016
Dear WRPC Member and Friends of the Menominee River,
The much-anticipated final mining permit decision on Aquila’s Back Forty mine proposal that was supposed to be announced by December 1, 2016 came and went. Instead, the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) asked Aquila for a delay until December 29 “to coordinate the final decisions” on the mine, air and water permits. The DEQ had already announced that it was going to approve the mine permit over the Labor Day weekend. Why the sudden delay?
Mine opponent: “I did not move here to witness a civil war over this mine.”
Over 300 people showed up at the DEQ’s October 6 public hearing at the Stephenson High School to express their concerns about Aquila’s proposed Back Forty open pit metallic sulfide mine. Over 100 people signed up to speak. The vast majority of speakers were opposed to the mine project and raised numerous examples of deficiencies in the mine permit applications, including the likelihood of pollution that will put human health and the environment at risk.
The public notice for the hearing said that speakers would be limited to five minutes. However, when the public arrived at the hearing, they were told that because so many wanted to speak, everyone would be limited to three minutes. Halfway through the hearing, Steve Casey, the hearing officer, limited public comments to two minutes.
Many speakers had carefully prepared testimony drafted to meet the five minute limit that had been previously announced. Joe Maki from the DEQ had urged people to provide technical comments to show where the DEQ had overlooked something or ignored a fatal flaw in the mine plant. But when speakers were not allowed to voice their concerns the crowd expressed their anger and frustration at the hypocrisy of the hearing.
Disrespecting the head of a Sovereign Tribal Nation
By the time that Menominee Tribal Chair Joan Delabreau was called, she had two minutes to express the concerns of the Menominee Nation with Aquila’s proposal that would poison and destroy the Menominee River and desecrate the tribe’s traditional and cultural properties. She said the Menominee Nation was never consulted by the state of Michigan regarding their cultural properties within the mine footprint. When her two minutes were up, other speakers offered to give up their time so she could finish her prepared statement but Steve Casey refused to allow this.
The audience, which included many Menominee tribal members and their many supporters, was visibly and audibly outraged at this insult to the head of a sovereign tribal nation. “This typically illustrates the lack of respect for Native Americans,” she told Mr. Casey.
Marinette County Board Opposes the Back Forty Project
On September 20, just prior to the October 6 public hearing, the Marinette County Board, by a vote of 28 to 0 adopted a resolution opposing the mine. Aquila had been invited to address the meeting but chose not to send a representative to defend its project. In public testimony prior to the vote, Dale Burie said the draft permits given preliminary approval by DEQ authorizes an increase of pollutants going into the Menominee River and “gives Aquila the right to destroy our water, reducing our property values while pitting neighbor against neighbor to give huge profits to a Canadian company” while providing no benefit for Wisconsin. Marinette County Board Chair Mark Anderson read the entire resolution against the proposed mine at the DEQ hearing (see enclosed article from the Eagle Herald).
“We are all tied to the water.”
Following the Marinette County Board resolution, the Menominee County Board struck a resolution calling for environmental protection of air and water from its agenda. At the end of the meeting, when public comments were allowed, Lenny Allgeyer of Menominee complained about the lack of democracy regarding discussion of the proposed mine. “With this mine that’s set to go through, there is no social license for this. People don’t want it and people are against it. I just urge you guys to represent us and speak up about it. We are all tied to the water.” (for more on the lack of a social license to operate, see: savethewildup.org/…/al-gedicks-letter-to-orion-finance-no-social-license-for-aquila/)
How can DEQ issue mine permits when all the information has not been submitted?
The DEQ’s request to delay a final mine permit decision until December 29 ignores the fact that all the information necessary to assess the impact of the mine on wetlands and the Menominee River has not yet been collected, let alone submitted to the DEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Aquila withdrew its wetland application (Part 404 of the Clean Water Act) on its 780-acre site in September after the DEQ discovered that it was based on outdated state maps that didn’t identify all of the environmentally sensitive areas.
Aquila announces discovery of a new mineral zone and early plans for an underground mine
Aquila’s November 10, 2016 notice to its shareholders mentions the discovery of a new mineral zone and preliminary drill results showing an extension of known mineralization close to the known resource at Back Forty. The notice also states that the company’s mine plan will incorporate “earlier development of the underground resource.” The underground mine alone would change all of the predicted impacts of the project but are not at all addressed in the present mine permit.
The DEQ and Aquila have a vested interest in trying to convince people that will be directly affected by this project that public opinion has no influence on the mine permit decision. The evidence suggests otherwise. The outpouring of public opposition at the October 6 hearing, the Marinette County Board resolution opposing the mine and the Water Walks and tours of the cultural resources within the footprint of the mine by the Menominee Tribe all upset the mine permit timetable by raising both technical and political objections to a mine disaster waiting to happen.
Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary