Menominee Tribe Addresses Mine Project Wetland Issues

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Published December 18, 2017

KESHENA, WISCONSIN – The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin is urging people to make their views known as the Back Forty Mine proposal enters the wetland permitting phase.

The Tribe has been vocal about its objection to the open-pit mine project, and to the State of Michigan exercising Clean Water Act jurisdiction over the permit that would allow mine developers to fill and excavate Menominee River wetlands.

On Friday, December 8, 2017, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) determined that mine developer Aquila Resources, Inc.’s Michigan wetlands permit application was administratively complete – despite the fact that components of the application previously deemed necessary are still missing or incomplete.

MDEQ has allowed minimal time for the public to review the voluminous application, or to raise issues and make comments – with a single public hearing on the permit scheduled for January 23, 2018, at 6:00 pm, at Stephenson High School, W526 Division Street, Stephenson, Michigan, in the small gym.

Following the public hearing, the record will remain open for 10 days for additional, written comments. For its part, the Menominee Tribe is thoroughly reviewing the application and preparing both written and verbal testimony. “It is the Menominee Tribe’s position that the MDEQ lacks jurisdiction and authority to oversee or issue the wetlands permit required by the federal Clean Water Act,” said Gary Besaw, Chairman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. “Thus, any action taken by the MDEQ can only be done to satisfy applicable Michigan requirements, and a separate, federal wetlands permit for the project is required under the Clean Water Act.”

The Tribe has made its objections clear at every step of the permitting process for this open-pit mine and large, industrial minerals-processing facility. The proposed site borders the Menominee River. The Back Forty Mine project would destroy wetlands and forestland, and is located within a Menominee cultural landscape that includes Tribal burial grounds, ancient agricultural sites and ceremonial sites of cultural significance to the Menominee Tribe.

RELATED: Menominee Tribe Requests Government to Government Consultation with the EPA and Army Corps on the Back Forty Mine Project

Menominee Files Petition to Stop Back Forty Mine; Cites Sacred Sites

The wetlands permit is of great concern because, under the current proposal, the mine pit would span 84 acres and be 750 feet deep, reaching far beneath the river’s natural waterline. According to the mine developer’s own statements in the environmental assessment, it has the potential to negatively affect hydrology throughout the area for years.

The Menominee Tribe’s view is that the Clean Water Act makes it clear that the Menominee River and its adjacent wetlands are federal waters which cannot be legally controlled solely by the State of Michigan, making MDEQ the wrong agency to determine the future of this permit.

On November 6th, the Menominee Tribe, represented by Earthjustice, provided the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a 60-day notice of intent to sue the agencies for their failure to take responsibility for this portion of the permitting process.

The Clean Water Act’s 60-day advance-notice requirement is designed to allow the parties to work through issues prior to engaging in litigation. The federal agencies have until early January to act, or the Menominee Tribe is prepared to pursue federal litigation on these critical wetlands issues.


Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) single public hearing on the Back Forty Mine permit to enter wetlands


Tuesday, January 23, 2018; 6:00 p.m. – local time


Stephenson High School
W526 Division Street
Stephenson, Michigan

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