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Threat To The Menominee River

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The Menominee River is being threatened by an open pit mine

By Dick Dragiewicz

Photo By Paul Melchior
Photo By Paul Melchior

If you are a smallmouth bass fisherman you probably know that the Menominee River is a terrific fishery. The river is a major part of the border between NE Wisconsin and the western edge of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, ending its 116 mile long journey when it flows into Lake Michigan at Marinette, WI/Menominee, MI.

This is a world class smallmouth fishery, a must stop for any angler interested in top quality bass fishing. It’s also a scenic river with mile upon mile of untouched shoreline, beautiful wildflowers and abundant wildlife from bald eagles to deer, even black bear.

This exceptional river fishery is facing a horrific threat: The possible construction of an enormous open pit metallic sulfide mine that would be located dangerously close to its eastern shoreline. The mine would be located downstream of the White Rapids Dam in an area known as “60 islands “, one of the Menominee’s most prolific trophy smallmouth sections.

A typical Smallmouth Photo By Paul Melchior
A typical Smallmouth
Photo By Paul Melchior

Aquila Resources Inc., a Canadian corporation, filed an application for a mining permit in November, 2015. This would be Aquila’s first attempt at mining. The application for their Back Forty Project is being reviewed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Photo By Paul Melchior
Photo By Paul Melchior

The Back Forty Project mine would be situated on approximately 865 acres that are immediately adjacent to the river. Some of the mine site is only 150 feet from the river’s shoreline. The open mine pit would measure approximately 2,500 feet by 2,100 feet (5,250,000 square feet) and be about 700 feet deep. This is equal to 91 contiguous football fields. In addition, there would be an underground mine area that’s not clearly defined in the permit application.

Excavated ore that has been crushed would be chemically processed using sodium cyanide and other comparable chemicals to extract zinc, copper and gold. Groundwater from the site and rainfall would be used in the processing. The chemicals and water mixture used to process the ore is supposed to be cleaned and then poured into the river at the rate of more than 1,000,000 gallons a day. This would occur every day, year after year, for the life of the mine.

A major concern about this water discharge and other water flowage from the mine site is that there has NEVER been a metallic sulfide mine that has not polluted local water resources. Aquila Resources will be self inspecting and reporting the mine operations. Since Aquila’s primary focus is on making a profit and not on protecting the river and the environment this creates a situation for a potential major disaster.

Another fat one to hand. Photo By Paul Melchior
Another fat one to hand. Photo By Paul Melchior

In addition, there is also a significant chance that the handling of the excavated ore/tailings will produce acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage happens when water and oxygen come in contact with excavated sulfide ore.

Photo By Paul Melchior
Photo By Paul Melchior

Just one mining misstep, accident, or the next 100 year rainstorm that floods the mine site (rain storms that seem to occur much more frequently than every 100 years) could severely damage the river, not to mention drain millions of gallons of toxic water into Lake Michigan. The destruction of a terrific smallmouth fishery would be certain plus the negative impact to the local economy and homeowners down the length of the river. The spawning and growing areas used by the smallmouth bass, sturgeon, insects, etc., will be adversely affected by this mining operation.M

Boogle Bug Love! Photo By Paul Melchior
Boogle Bug Love!
Photo By Paul Melchior

Another observation is that the mining permit application never says with certainty that the Menominee River, Lake Michigan and area environment won’t be contaminated by the mine. It uses terms/words like: “Minimize”, “could generate acidity”, “reduce the potential for environmental impacts”, ”impacts from spills are minimized”, the entire application if filled with these kinds of vague terms…nothing is guaranteed to protect the river and surrounding environment. And if a major problem occurs it’s likely that Aquila Resources Inc. would file bankruptcy and give us all the clean up costs.

The Back Forty Mine should not be allowed to be created. It presents too many risks to the Menominee River, Lake Michigan, and the local environment.

Public feedback plays an important and influential role in approving or rejecting these types of projects. Just a few sentences in an email or a letter can make a difference. Please take the time to share your thoughts with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Submit written comments by email or mail to: Mr. Joe Maki, District Geologist, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality makij3@michigan.gov

Mr. Joe Maki, DEQ Back Forty Mine Comments, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, MI 49855

Access to the mine permit application at this website:
http://www.deq.state.mi.us/documents/aquila/

Be sure to also send your comments to your state and federal legislators.

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