EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Burton Warrington, Menominee Nation consultant, talks about how the final wetlands permit for the Back Forty mine may eventually come from the federal government not the Michigan DEQ and that people have a say on what happens to their roads, including the River Road and recreational areas. Warrington stated that the mine is not a done deal and that the community’s opinions still matter.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Burton Warrington, Menominee Nation consultant, talks about how the final wetlands permit for the Back Forty mine may eventually come from the federal government not the Michigan DEQ and that people have a say on what happens to their roads, including the River Road and recreational areas. Warrington stated that the mine is not a done deal and that the community’s opinions still matter.

MENOMINEE — Al Gedicks, a professor of sociology emeritus at UW-La Crosse and executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (www.wrpc.net), was the only presenter at a committee-of-the-whole meeting of the Menominee City Council Wednesday evening.
Mayor Jean Stegeman, Council members Steve Fifarek and Frank Pohlmann and City Manager Tony Graff attended the committee-of-the-whole meeting, which had been announced late Monday. Prior to that, a joint meeting of the full Menominee City Council and the Marinette Common Council had been scheduled to meet Wednesday with Joe Maki, U.P. District biologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
That meeting was canceled when Maki withdrew after learning that Stegeman had invited Gedicks to speak about the potential hazards of the proposed Back Forty Project to mine gold, zinc and silver near the Menominee River in Menominee County. Marinette officials withdrew when they learned that Maki would not attend.
Wednesday evening, the three members of the Menominee City Council held an informational session in the absence of a quorum, since the six remaining members of the council did not attend the redesigned meeting.
The group Gedicks represents, the WRPC, posts a mission statement on its website that reads, “The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC) was founded in 1982 to help counter the lack of information about the effects of large-scale metallic sulfide mining on our state’s precious water supplies, on the tourism and dairy industries, and upon the many Native American communities that are located near potential mine sites.”
Gedicks used a series of images Wednesday to show what he called “critical issues … in direct response to Aquila Resources (statements) that their mine will be safe.”
He often referred to the Reclaimed Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, Wis., which, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ website, states:
“While there are other examples of successfully operated and reclaimed metallic mines in Wisconsin, the Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith in Rusk County is the only example of a metallic mine that was permitted, constructed, operated and reclaimed under the state’s existing regulatory framework.
“The open-pit, copper-gold mine began operations in July 1991, and reclamation activities were completed by the end of 1999. As specified in the Reclamation Plan and Mining Permit, the open-pit was backfilled. The backfilling process involved blending the stockpiled waste rock with a prescribed amount of limestone. Limestone, because of its neutralization capacity, was used to minimize the potential for the development of acid conditions prior to reflooding. Once reflooded, the threat of acidification was largely eliminated.”
Gedicks told the crowd there remain many contamination issues with the Flambeau Mine, which was engineered by the same firm hired by Aquila Resources for the Back Forty Mine Project.
He said plans for the Back Forty mine will be to create a “gigantic open pit mine that will be deeper than the tallest building in Wisconsin … 150 feet from the Menominee River.”
He questioned the protection that would be provided by a rock wall barrier, which he said would still allow sulfide to leach into the groundwater even without a breech. “The fractured rock is permeable and weathered,” Gedicks said, saying that, in his opinion, contamination would migrate toward the Menominee River.
Gedicks, and others who commented after he concluded his presentation, questioned why Aquila Resources’ application to the MDEQ only refers to seven years of open pit mining, but doesn’t include the underground mining that would continue in a 16-year period, overall.
“The safety is based on a misrepresentation of seven years, when it is a 16-year operation,” he said.
One of Gedicks’ slides show the size of the Flambeau Mine in comparison, and pointed out that the Back Forty Mine Project is 4.5 times the size of Flambeau, and will use cyanide in onsite process, something that was not done at the Flambeau Mine.
“That was four years vs. 16 years and a lot smaller,” Gedicks said of the Flambeau Mine, which covered 32 acres and the Back Forty, which encompasses 83 acres.
Gedicks said that “dewatering the mine pit could lower the groundwater levels around the Shakey Lakes” creating what he called “a cone of depression” in a five-mile area surrounding the mine site.
Gedicks showed other photos of mining disasters in other countries, including Canada, and shared his opinion that “Aquila’s plan only minimally addresses potential impacts of accidents and spills.”
Voices of the Menominee Indian Tribe
Several members of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin spoke during public comment, including Gary Besaw, tribal chairman of the Menominee Nation. He thanked Stegeman and the council for holding the informational meeting and asked that the Menominee Nation be put on an upcoming city council meeting agenda to allow a representative to speak and answer questions about the Native American tribe’s connection to the land where the mine would be located, including the garden beds that have been identified there.
“You have a pearl sitting along the river,” Besaw said of the garden beds. “Nobody else has those.”
David Grignon, Menominee historic preservation officer, spoke of the ancient burial grounds on the site and the need to protect those and the river, itself.
An attorney from the Menominee Nation advised people to look into the land swap between the State of Michigan and the mining company. “We all are Michigan citizens, I presume? The city council is Michigan citizens? You have a say-so. It’s in the law that you have a say-so,” he said.
He said citizens can also speak out against the request to reroute River Road, which currently runs through the area where the mine pit would be located.
His third recommendation was to stand up against approval of the fourth and final permit needed by Aquila Resources to begin operations. The wetlands permit, he said, is part of the Clean Water Act, making it a federal permit.
“It’s not a State of Michigan permit and it does take into consideration local opposition, local counties, local townships — the other adjoining states,” he said. He said the federal government still holds control over interstate commerce, which he said could apply to the Menominee River.
He said he and others don’t encourage people to be against the mine, but to learn for themselves what is going on in their own community.
He stated that he believes the reason there isn’t much governmental interest in Wisconsin about what is happening along the Menominee River is because officials there are trying to overturn the moratorium on mining.
“They can’t oppose this mine in Michigan and then turn around the next day and try to lift the moratorium in Wisconsin,” he said. He said corporations with unlimited funds are pouring them into political campaigns of candidates who will support the mining.
David Overstreet, an archaeologist with the Center for Cultural Research at the College of Menominee Nation, said he was misquoted in a summary of all the cultural resource studies done for the Back Forty Mine Project.
“What I read was: ‘The tribal archaeologist, David Overstreet, did not seem to view them as significant. He said the sites look like natural occurrences.’ That’s true,” he said, but explained that it was taken out of context and referred to him viewing some “obvious treefalls. What they didn’t say was, if those sites are destroyed, you’re going to lose an irreplaceable, archaeological landscape that covers over three miles — that I haven’t seen replicated anywhere else, in 50 years of practice, in seven states, except on the Menominee Reservation.”
The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin filed a formal petition in February requesting a contested case hearing on the MDEQ’s approval of the Back Forty Mine permit issued Dec. 28, 2017, stating concerns about the cultural resources and mounds, including ancestral burial sites on the proposed mine site.
A Feb. 27 news release from the Menominee Nation states that the petition for a contested case hearing is “the first step in challenging the MDEQ’s decision to approve the mining permit for the proposed Back Forty Mine.”
Other speakers included many landowners along both sides of the Menominee River, who shared their concerns about contamination, loss of land value and destruction of the land.
Ken Keller, a member of the Marinette Common Council and the Marinette County Board of Supervisors, said he was among the county board members who voted unanimously to approve a resolution opposing the mine.
“I do believe Marinette (city council) will be addressing this issue,” he said.