Return Forty Mine in Michigan UP Could Endanger Wisconsin Waters and Sacred Sites

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A coalition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous environmental activists is rallying against a proposed new project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that they believe could lead to activities that could pollute Wisconsin’s waterways.

The Coalition to Save the Menominee River formed in April 2017 to oppose the Back Forty Mine project, which is a proposed open-pit sulphide mine that would operate on 83 acres and mine zinc, gold, copper, lead and silver.

Many fear that when sulphide ores are mined from the earth and exposed to air and water, they undergo chemical reactions that create sulfuric acid which adversely affects water quality and is toxic.

The Back Forty mine project was the subject of a major roadblock Earlier this year, a Michigan judge denied a wetland permit submitted by Aquila Resources, a Canadian company, because it did not provide a reliable identification of impacts to wetlands and found the application incomplete.

The president of Aquila, in response, said the company had worked diligently to limit impacts to surrounding wetlands and only directly impacted 11.2 acres of regulated wetlands and the Back Mine Forty will be a safe and disciplined operation.

Now a company called Great Lakes Exploration, Inc., owned by Tom Quigley, who previously worked for Aquila Resources, has applied for direct metallic mineral leases to the State of Michigan for mineral rights in the Townships of Faithorn and Holmes in Menominee County, covering over 1,600 acres.

A public hearing on the matter had been scheduled for September 1, but was postponed due to capacity issues at one venue due to the number of people opposed to the project planning to attend.

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said the meeting will be rescheduled in a virtual format, but no date was set for Monday.

A pro-mining sign on a residential property on the Michigan side of the Menominee River.

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The Coalition to Save the Menominee River includes many citizens of the Menominee Nation, as the Upper Peninsula was once Menominee land and any pollution could affect the Menominee River, which is the border between Wisconsin and Michigan, and plans to water from the current Menominee reserve and elsewhere.

The Menominee River near the site of the mining site proposed by Aquila Resources.

Guy Reiter, whose Menominee name is Anahkwet, said the land where proposed mining projects are located includes several sacred sites, such as three known burial mounds, prehistoric garden beds and at least 24 other identified archaeological sites.

“This place (the Menominee River region) is at the center of who we are as a people and it has been forcibly taken from us,” he said.

Speaking for himself, not the tribe, Anahkwet said he believes sulphide mining is the dirtiest type of mining that creates so much waste for so few mined resources and that its mining would irreparably destroy the earth and pollute the waters forever.

“Now we have to go to the settlers’ meetings and plead with them,” he said. “He drives me crazy.”

Neither Quigley nor anyone from Great Lakes Exploration responded to the Press-Gazette’s requests for comment.

Frank Vaisvilas is a Report for America member of the body based at the Green Bay Press-Gazette covering Native American issues in Wisconsin. He can be reached at 920-228-0437 or fvaisvilas@gannett.com, or on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank. Please consider supporting the journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible giveaway to this reporting effort at GreenBayPressGazette.com/RFA.



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