Environmental Justice

JOSHUA Leadership has developed a team to plan around the issue of the Back Forty Mine and help guide JOSHUA and our congregations into the issue, education around it, and potential actions. Not yet involved? Come to our next meeting and join in the fight of the Back Forty Mine. (go to our calendar to find the next meeting date and time)

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Back Forty Mine Facts and Threats

Issue Overview:

In late 2015, Aquila Resources submitted a mining permit application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for their “Back Forty Project,” a metallic sulfide mine proposed for the bank of the Menominee River, 10 miles west of the town of Stephenson, MI. This stretch of the Menominee River is also known as “Sixty Islands.”

According to the permit application, Aquila intends to construct an 800′ deep open pit mine adjacent to the river, with a “cut-off wall” (to limit the movement of groundwater) less than 100′ from the river, dangerously close to the “flood line.” In addition to mining activities, the Back Forty calls for on-site crushing, milling, and refining through the use of floatation/separation, mercury, and cyanide-smelting. Two different tailings basins will be constructed to contain the waste-rock slurry, (“mine slimes”).

The Back Forty would be a sulfide mine; tests show that most of the ore and surrounding rock is “reactive” – that is, it forms sulfuric acid when exposed to air and water. After mining is completed, Aquila proposes to backfill their deep pit with waste-rock and tailings slurry. Some tailings basins will remain as permanent features of the landscape.

Aquila Resources is an exploration-stage Canadian mining company with no previous mining experience, traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Aquila has hired several outside contractors to prepare the Back Forty permit applications, collect baseline data, analyze geochemistry, evaluate the site, etc.


Facts and Threats

  • Aquila’s Back Forty “open pit mine” would be constructed ~100 feet from the Menominee River. Because this is a METALLIC SULFIDE MINE, the mine’s proximity raises serious flooding and inundation risks.
  • Any mine-related water contamination would threaten the health of the Menominee’s fish populations and recreational fishing, especially Lake Sturgeon. Millions of dollars have been invested in the recovery of sturgeon in the Menominee River, where they are threatened but “stable” after years of collaborative sturgeon habitat restoration efforts by Michigan and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, with assistance from federal agencies, fishing clubs and nonprofit environmental groups such as the River Alliance of Wisconsin.
  • The Back Forty mine targets a section of the Menominee River considered a world class smallmouth bass fishery – one of the best in North America! Fishing clubs are deeply concerned about the future of Smallmouth Bass Fishing on the Menominee River, as are the small businesses, including river guiding companies, that depend on the health of the river.
  • The Back Forty project is poised to destroy cultural resources of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, including archaeological sites considered by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin to be important cultural properties, related to the tribe’s Origin Story. The mouth of the Menominee River is the origin place of the Menominee people and forms the basis of Menominee origin stories, traditions and tribal identity.  Menominee tribal archaeologist Dr. David Overstreet and Dr. Marla Buckmaster, Northern Michigan University professor emeritus of Archaeology, have extensively studied the garden mounds of the Menominee people along the river. The loss of this “northernmost occurrence of ridge field agriculture” wouldn’t just be a loss for the Menominee, it would be a loss for human history.
  • The proposed mine threatens natural resources of the Menominee River, an interstate waterway jointly managed by Wisconsin and Michigan. The Menominee River is the state boundary line, and is the largest watershed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council is actively opposed to this sulfide mine proposal.
  • The Center for Science in Public Participation conducted a red-flag review of Aquila Resources mining application and found multiple issues of concern, serious omissions and miscalculations, including specific recommendations and technical actions regarding Aquila’s plans for Water Management, Tailings & Waste Rock Management Facilities, Pit Backfill Metal Leaching, Water Treatment Post Closure, Financial Assurance, and other topics. According to their report:
    • “Monitoring wells need to be placed to ensure the tailings facility embankment is not contributing acid or metal leaching to groundwater.”
    • “Given the potential for antimony, selenium, and arsenic to mobilize under neutral conditions, monitoring will need to occur at the TWRMF (tailings waste rock management facility) leachate sumps and at monitoring wells on and around the backfilled pit until hydrology and chemistry have stabilized.”
    • “The TWRMF cap is designed to reduce infiltration, but given the extremely acidic nature of the material that will be enclosed, the cost of a WTP (water treatment plant) should be included in financial assurance for at least the 20 year post closure monitoring period.”
    • “When reviewing the indirect and direct cost estimates for the Back Forty financial assurance, it is obvious that it has been significantly underestimated, especially with regard to the indirect cost calculations(…) the direct costs should be reviewed by a qualified party to correct assumptions that underestimate the cost of reclamation that would need to be conducted by a regulatory agency.”
  • The entire planned Back Forty open pit mine and Tailings Waste Rock Management Facility basins (TWRMF) hinge on a single underlying assumption: that the State of Michigan will agree to a proposed LAND SWAP with Aquila Resources.The proposed land exchange threatens critical habitat, including threatened and endangered species. The mining proposal’s open pit mine, contingent upon the land swap, would disturb or destroy tribal archaeological resources, treaty protected natural resources, and Menominee River fisheries.
  • Shakey Lakes: The Escanaba State Forest’s Shakey Lakes Oak-Pine Barrens Ecological Reference Area (ERA) and a proposed Biodiversity Stewardship Area (BSA) are adjacent to the proposed mine site. A mine next to this ecological reference area will degrade the ERA, endangering rare habitat, and jeopardize the state’s Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for sustainably-harvested timber.
  • Aquila has made fraudulent “Life of Mine” statements! When reviewing any mine proposal, one basic question must be answered: “what is the proposed Life of Mine (LOM)?” In order to correctly calculate a mine’s risks, benefits and cumulative environmental impacts, an accurate LOM estimate is essential. According to Aquila’s permit application, “The (Back Forty) Project will be an open pit mining operation” and the “Life of Mine (LOM) operation is planned to be approximately 7 years.” This is misleading. Elsewhere, Aquila describes the Back Forty project as having a “16 year life of mine (LOM), of which 12.5 million tonnes is open-pit and 3.6 million tonnes is underground.” Back Forty is described as a 16 year mine in Aquila’s press releases, in communications with the Menominee Indian Tribe, and in letters to investors and local community leaders. According to their Project Fact Sheet: “we support a transparent process(…) visit our website at aquilaresources.com/projects/back-forty-project for more information.” Visitors to Aquila’s website find a 16 year mine described.
  • The design of the Back Forty Project (an open pit sulfide mine on a river) is described as comparable to Wisconsin’s Flambeau Mine (another open pit sulfide mine on a river). Does the Flambeau Mine prove that riverside sulfide mining can be done safely? Absolutely not — get the facts: https://deertailpress.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/flambeau-mine_gauger_jun2016__final_l.pdf
  • Because the Back Forty would be a sulfide mine, it threatens to leach sulfuric acid, which is extremely hazardous to freshwater rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater. Again, the Center for Science in Public Participation warns that the mine’s “ARD (Acid Rock Drainage) risk is very high. Most material contains sulfides… (…) All tailings are expected to generate acid, with the exception of tailings produced in year 3 of mining. Additionally, over 75% of the waste rock is expected to generate acid.” Sulfide mining could pollute groundwater or devastate the Menominee River, which drains into Lake Michigan.


Taken from http://savethewildup.org/issues/aquila-back-forty-facts/