Back Forty Mine

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The Back Forty Mine is a proposed gold and zinc mine that would be constructed at the Penokean Volcanic Belt in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It would be built relatively close (within 150 feet) to the Menominee River which brings interest in the project from the states of both Wisconsin and Michigan. It is expected to bring in over 721 million pounds of zinc and 532,000 ounces of gold, creating a lucrative economic cashflow.[1] However the project is extremely controversial and has received severe backlash due to the likely environmental degradation that would occur from the mine construction.

Aquila Resources

Aquila Resources is the company that proposed the construction of the mine and will be its sole owner and operator if it is accepted. They have invested more than 75 million dollars on this project and expect large returns. The company is based in Toronto, Canada and has dug over 500 diamond drill holes and has "drilled over 125,000 in which polymetallic ore mineralization has been intersected from the surface to depths exceeding 700 meters."[2]

Proposed Timeline

On November 7, 2013, Aquila Resources and REBgold Corporation combined and expressed 100% interest on the Back Forty Project.

On January 16, 2014 Aquila Resources and REBgold Corporation announced closing of the business merger and completion of the Back Forty Acquisition.

On November 26, 2015 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality determined Aquila Resource's permit for the Back Forty Project was administratively complete.

On November 12, 2015 Aquila Resources submitted a mine permit application for the Back Forty project with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

On April 5, 2017, Aquila Resources received the NPDES (The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Permit for the Back Forty Project in Michigan.

Currently, Aquila Resources has three of the four required permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to begin construction of the mine. These permits include the Nonferrous Metallic Mining Permit - which was approved on December 28, 2016, the Air Use Permit to Install also on the 28th of December in 2016, and the Pollutant Discharge & Elimination System Permit on April 5, 2017.[3]

Sulfide Mining

Sulfide mining is the practice of extracting metals from sulfide ore. The process begins with the excavation of the area to find a mineral cache and obtain an estimate of the geologic makeup. The information found will help determine if the mine is going to be an open pit mine or an underground mine. An open-pit mine is a mine that is out in the open air, making maneveurability easier for workers and machines. An underground mine is a mine that typically tunnels into the Earth and needs special support to prevent cave-ins. Once this is done, mining begins with drilling to get at the ore. Then the leftover waste material from the ore is washed out with water, and the sulfur dissolves out of the rock. The ore is then shipped out to a refinery to be processed.[4]

An open pit mine being drained of acid

Back Forty Mining Process and Structure

The Back Forty Mine will utilize the process of sulfide mining to mine the ores. It will largely use open-pit mining with 12.5 Mt being open- pit and 3.6 Mt being underground. The mine would have a width of 2000 feet, and would be over 850 feet deep.

Local Governance

The mine is situated in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near the boundary between Wisconsin and Michigan and may effect the Menominee River which goes through both states. As a result the local governments of both states have commented and enacted ordinances on the subject based on possible economic benefits and environmental damage.

Michigan

As stated in the timeline section, the State of Michigan is approving various permits requested by Aquila Resources. The MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) appears to be welcoming the mine and claims that the mine will be regulated. In response to comments made about the mine affecting wildlife during a public forum the MDEQ responded that "The MDEQ found in its review that the Mining Permit application meets the requirements of the NREPA with respect to wildlife impacts." They have also said that, "The mine will be required to adhere to the strict environmental limits outlined in the permits. MDEQ staff will conduct regular inspections of the facility to confirm compliance." [5]


Wisconsin

The Wisconsin 2017 Assembly Joint Resolution resolved that the Back Forty Mine Project would have "negative impacts on the natural resources, public health, and economy of Northern Wisconsin, and urges the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to deny a mining permit for the project", while expressing concerns for species like lake sturgeon and freshwater mussels.[6]

On December 11, 2017 Governor Scott Walker signed Assembly Bill 499 which "repealed a nearly two-decade-old state law that essentially barred companies from extracting minerals besides iron because of pollution concerns". Governor Walker also tweeted, "If there's anywhere in the world that should be able to conduct safe and environmentally sound mining, it should be the Badger State (Wisconsin)", expressing an interest in attracting mining businesses in Wisconsin.[7]

Controversy

The construction of the mine has drawn the ire of several groups for many different reasons, including possible environmental degradation resulting from the mining and the desecration of sacred spiritual sites to indigenous groups like the Menominee tribe.

Environmental Damage

Many environmental groups like the Sierra Club oppose the construction of the mine because it will utilize sulfide mining. One of the largest fears environmental-preservation organizations have of the mine is the possible sulfide waste that would be produced. The waste could potentially contaminate ground water and the crushing of ores could lead to hazardous materials being thrown into the air, deterring air quality. The biggest worry concerning the sulfide waste is that it could become sulfuric acid when exposed to water and air. Another potential problem environmental groups have with the proposed mine is the fact that the surrounding land will have to be cleared to make way, potentially disrupting the local ecology. The Menominee river is famous for being a spawning ground for Wisconsin's sturgeon population and damage to the river could kill off a large amount of the population.

The Menominee

Members of the Menominee tribe engaged in a Pow Wow

One of the biggest opposition groups to the development of the proposed Back Forty Mine is the Menominee tribe. The Menominee tribe reservation would be about sixty miles southwest of the proposed mine and the mine would intrude upon their land. The Menominee believe the Menominee river is a sacred place, and even have a creation myth on how human life began from the river. The tribe worries that the mine's waste products will contaminate the water supply of the sacred site. Menominee burial sites are also located near the area, and there is a fear that the mine would intrude on the burial sites and desecrate them. Joan Delabreau, the Chairwoman of the Menominee tribe, said ""she was "sickened" by the DEQ's decision and promised that her tribe "has and will continue to fight to protect any land within our ancestral territory that contains the remains of our Ancestors and our cultural resources.""[8]

Reaction

As mentioned previously, there is a lot of debate and outrage over the development of the mine, especially among environmental groups. The Sierra Club has publically condemned the Back Forty Mine project on the grounds that the sulfide waste may contaminate the local environment and is particularly worried about the contamination of water. "Metallic sulfide mines in the United States will pollute up to 27 million gallons of fresh water per year. The main reason is acid mine drainage which occurs when mineral deposits containing sulfides are exposed to the air and water during excavation".[9]

References

"No Back 40 Mine" The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. Accessed 12/18/2017. http://www.noback40.org/

"Back 40 Proposed Mine Project" Fox Valley Group (Sierra Club). Accessed 12/18/2017. https://www.sierraclub.org/wisconsin/fox-valley/back-40-proposed-mine-project

"Back Forty" Aquila Resources. Accessed 12/18/2017. https://aquilaresources.com/projects/back-forty-project/

"News" Aquila Resources. Accessed 12/18/2017. https://aquilaresources.com/investors/news-events/

"Michigan Mine threatens Menominee Nation's Sacred Sites" News from Indian Country. Accessed 12/18/2017. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1836573539?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo

"2017 Assembly Joint Resolution" Wisconsin State Legislature. Accessed 12/18/2017. http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/related/proposals/ajr69

"What is Sulfide Mining?" Water Legacy. Accessed 12/18/2017. waterlegacy.org/sulfide_mining

"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs measure clearing way for copper and gold mining" Journal Sentinel. Accessed 12/18/2017. https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2017/12/11/wisconsin-gov-scott-walker-sign-bill-monday-clearing-way-copper-and-gold-mining/940017001/

"Compiled Responses to Public Comments Regarding the Permit Applications and Related Regulatory and Administrative Concerns about the Proposed Back Forty Mine Project" MDEQ. Accessed 12/18/2017. https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-oogm-Mining-AquilaBack40-responsecomments_547561_7.pdf

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