Aquila Gets Fourth Permit for Back Forty Mine, Opponents Say Fight is Far From Over

Local News

Aquila Resources received its fourth and final permit needed to green-light its Back Forty Mine project, but opponents of the open-pit sulfide mine say the fight is far from over. 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved the four permits, and also attached conditions Aquila must meet to open and run the mine.

Among the conditions, many relate to water quality assurance. 

A representative at Aquila says that is the company’s priority.

“Our goal has always been to protect the environment,” Dan Blondeau, manager of communications at Aquila Resources said. “So to both construct, build, operate and close the Back Forty Mine with minimal disturbance to the environment and to protect water quality, both ground, surface, including the Menominee River.”

The open pit will be 150 feet away from the Menominee River.

Opponents of the mine say that the conditions don’t go far enough. 

“What really irritates me is, they’re proposing to put the holding pit 50 yards from the edge of the Menominee River,” Jeff Budish of Peshtigo said. “How can you even fathom putting a permit 50 yards when I cannot even build a cottage or put a septic system 50 yards from the edge of a river system?”

Aquila explained how they plan to test the water used on site that will go back into the river. 

“The water will be tested on-site in a laboratory at the water treatment facility and then those results will be sent to the DEQ,” Budish said. “The DEQ representatives are able to come on site at any time and inspect the facility and the testing equipment, so they can inspect and test the water as well.”

When Aquila leaves, Jeff Budish wonders what will happen to the waste that is dumped back into the pit and sealed up. 

“They’re gonna fill that in with all the acid mine drainage and all the tailing and all the chemicals that are in there,” Budish said. “They sit there and they fester for thousands of years, they just don’t just dissipate. A lot of it is going to be leaking into our Menominee River.”

Opponents of the Back Forty Mine say they will do whatever it takes to stop Aquila from starting the project, even if it means taking legal action. 

“They can tout all they want about having four permits well, they’ve got four pieces of paper,” Mary Hansen of Peshtigo said. “That’s about all I have to say, good luck Aquila, but you know, see ya.” 

The Menominee Tribe did not return our request for comment.

The tribe is suing both the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers for delegating oversight of the permit approvals to the MDEQ when the project affects Wisconsin as well.  

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