STEPHENSON —  After a citizen reported locks had been removed from monitoring wells at the Back Forty Mine project in April, it was reported this week the locks have been replaced by Aquila Resources.

Pictures of monitoring wells with the locks removed were taken by Stephenson resident Tina Lesperance on April 29. She contacted the EagleHerald by letter, reporting a “concerned citizen” had found the wells with locks cut off and had told her about them. 

After looking at the wells herself, Lesperance said she had found about 20 wells owned by Aquila Resources without locks. The locks appeared to be cut off with tools, and were left on the ground around the wells. She said the locks appeared to have been rusted over.

Lesperance said she had reported the situation to several agencies, including the Menominee County Sheriff’s Department, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and Aquila Resources’ home office in Canada. Lesperance said she was concerned that the mines could easily be accessed and potentially contaminated if left unlocked.

“At first I thought it was vandalism, so I called the sheriff’s department,” Lesperance said in a telephone interview. She said she also called a pollution hotline for MDEQ and the situation was investigated by the organization. After an investigator looked into the situation, it was determined to not be vandalism at all, and the locks were removed at Aquila Resource’s request.

“I received the complaint from the hotline,” said Jay Parent, the district supervisor of Water Resources Division of the Upper Peninsula for the MDEQ. “I investigated the situation, sent the complaint to the company (Aquila Resources) and they said it was Aquila Resources, themselves, that had removed the locks.”

Parent said Aquila Resources had removed the locks because they had rusted over and the wells could not be accessed. The wells in question are monitoring wells which are used to monitor groundwater and for water quality analysis.

In an email correspondence, Dan Blondeau, who is head of media inquiries for the Back Forty Mine, said the wells were removed by the company over the winter. The locks have since been replaced.

Blondeau, when asked if the lack of locks could have potentially led to an increased chance of the wells being tampered with, polluted or contaminated, did not give an answer.

Lesperance also said she had removed the cap to one of the wells to demonstrate how easily the wells could be tampered with, if someone had chosen to do so. 

“The cap just came off,” she said. “There was a second pipe underneath, which I believe leads to the actual well, but without the locks it is really easy to access.”

Blondeau, when asked if the removal of a well cap could lead to the well being more likely to be contaminated, said, “It is better to not touch things that don’t belong to you.”

“I am concerned because this is my water — this is my neighbor’s water,” Lesperance said. “If someone wanted to put poison or contaminants in that well, it might lead to my water aquifer.”

Aquila Resources has offered to put Lesperance’s home well on a monitoring system, but she said she would only be interested if she could choose a third-party company of her choice to test the wells.

Parent said there isn’t much more for him to do since Aquila Resources has replaced the locks.

“We take the matter seriously, and the locks have since been replaced. Also, we modified our maintenance procedures and added this element to our risk register,” said Chantae Lessard, director of social performance and engagement for the Back Forty Mine.