MENOMINEE — The joint meeting between the Menominee and Marinette city councils will not be held as planned tonight; instead, just the Menominee council will meet as a committee of the whole at Menominee High School.
The change came Monday, after planned participants learned the agenda was altered to allow an anti-mining advocate to speak during the meeting about the Back Forty Mine project in Menominee County.
A joint meeting was originally planned to invite Joe Maki, Upper Peninsula District geologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, to discuss the mining permitting process and state guidelines with the two councils. According to Maki, when he was asked to participate, he was told he was the only speaker.
May 15, during Menominee’s council meeting, Mayor Jean Stegeman announced the plans to hold a joint meeting with Marinette May 24, and said it was to have a representative of the MDEQ talk to both councils about the Back Forty Mine project. She said then it was possible both cities might look at approving resolutions opposing the open pit mine on the Michigan side of the Menominee River.
As Monday approached and no announcement had been made about the joint meeting, the EagleHerald contacted Menominee City Manager Tony Graff, who said the meeting may not be held jointly with Marinette, since Maki had decided he would not attend.
Maki said Tuesday he withdrew after he learned Al Gedicks, a professor of sociology at UW-La Crosse and executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, was invited to participate in the meeting. Maki said the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has filed a legal action against the MDEQ and it would not be appropriate for the MDEQ to become involved in a public debate.
The Marinette City Council also withdrew from the scheduled meeting after learning that the DEQ representative was not going to appear. An email was sent to all Marinette council members by the city attorney and Mayor Steve Genisot Monday afternoon.
Genisot said Tuesday he is still open to the idea of holding a joint meeting with the Menominee City Council, but said his council would not attend after learning that Maki was not coming.
“My intent was to have an informational meeting where both councils could ask questions and get answers from the regulatory agency, and for the public to hear it,” Genisot said Tuesday afternoon. He said Stegeman’s invitation to Gedicks to speak, led to Maki’s withdrawal. While he did not know Tuesday afternoon the reason Maki declined the invitation, he said Gedicks was “not the person we anticipated. Without Maki there, it doesn’t allow us to get the answers from the person we wanted to hear.”
Stegeman confirmed Monday that the Menominee City Council will take no action at the meeting tonight, and will listen to what Gedicks has to say. She said the DEQ was planning to come, “but then they weren’t. I have no explanation for that.”
As for Marinette’s decision to not attend, Stegeman said to ask Genisot, but added, “In some way maybe, when the DEQ pulled out, that may have affected it,” she said. “But we’re still going ahead with Al Gedicks. He is an expert on this, so we’re still having the meeting at the lecture hall to accommodate any kind of crowd that may show up.”
Stegeman said that representatives of Aquila Resources, which is the company seeking to build the mine in Lake Township, were not invited to participate in the meeting initially, but also referred the question to Genisot. She said Gedicks was invited, “because I thought we needed somebody who would help raise the question, because you don’t know how much any of these councilman have, as far as background knowledge, where they will (ask) ‘How about this?’”
The Menominee City Council will hold its committee-of-the-whole meeting at 6 tonight at the Menominee High School lecture hall, during which time Gedicks will make a presentation and council members will ask him questions. Public comment will be allowed at the end of the meeting.
“We’re going to keep it orderly, but it’s informational,” Stegeman said, referring to the possibility of a large crowd. She said the council members need to have the opportunity to gather as much information as possible on the proposed open pit gold and zinc sulfide mine project along the Menominee River.
She said the City of Menominee does not have a comprehensive plan in place to handle any emergency that should arise should an open pit mine fail.
Stegeman, like Genisot, also said she would not rule out a joint meeting with Marinette in the future.
Maki said the Back Forty Mine Project cannot proceed without the wetlands permit, even though it has already received three of the four permits needed from the State of Michigan.
Before that wetlands permit is issued, there will be another public hearing, Maki said. He could not say when that hearing will be held.