Dear editor,

Thanks to a major pollution cleanup effort by multiple federal and state agencies and citizen groups, the Lower Menominee River will be delisted or removed as an area of concern for pollution and habitat loss. This restoration work took more than two decades and cost at least $200 million, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The delisting of the Lower Menominee River was announced at the same time that American Rivers, a national conservation group, named the Menominee River one of the 10 most endangered rivers in America, citing the threat from Aquila Resources’ proposed metallic sulfide mine on the banks of the river. This is the second time in four years that the river has made the endangered list. Why spend so much time and money into cleaning up pollution in the Lower Menominee River only to allow potential toxic discharges from the proposed Back Forty mine into the headwaters of the river?

American Rivers, along with the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, have called on Michigan’s Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) agency to deny the tailings dam safety permit for the Back Forty project because the proposed dam, containing large amounts of toxic mine waste, threatens the Menominee River, the Menominee Tribe’s sacred sites and the drinking water of communities in Marinette and Menominee.

Aquila withdrew its original dam safety permit application because of insufficient information in December 2019, but said it plans to re-submit its application in the spring of 2020. Aquila plans to use the risky upstream dam construction — the same method now banned in Brazil due to the 2019 dam collapse that killed over 270 people and flooded the countryside with toxic waste.

In addition to the inherent instability of upstream tailings dams, opposition groups have criticized EGLE for its failure to require that Aquila disclose its stated plans for an underground mine after the open pit phase of the project. Without this information, it is impossible to evaluate the impact of additional mine waste being dumped into a tailings dam that was not designed to handle mine waste from an underground mine.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has recently rejected a permit for PolyMet Mining Corp.’s proposed sulfide mine because the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency failed to address evidence that the company was planning a mine nearly four times larger than the operation covered by the permit. Michigan regulators should be held accountable if they fail to take Aquila’s mine expansion plans into account when they evaluate the dam safety permit application.

 

Al Gedicks

Executive secretary, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council