LAKE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WLUC) - Aquila Resources says it has received final approval for the last state permit needed for the Back Forty zinc and gold mine project.
In a press release Monday morning, Aquila says it now has all state and federal permissions required for the construction and start of operations at the Back Forty Project, which is an open-pit deposit along the mineral‐rich Penokean Volcanic Belt Menominee County's Lake Township, along the Michigan-Wisconsin border.
In February 2017, both the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and an individual owning property near the project site filed an administrative contested case challenge to the mining permit the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, now the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, issued. An administrative law judge opened an evidentiary hearing in April 2018, which ended in October 2018.
On Friday, May 3, following 30 days of cumulative testimony, the judge issued a final decision finding "that the proposed mining operation will not pollute, impair, or destroy the air, water and other natural resources, or the public trust in those resources," in compliance with Michigan's Non Ferrous Metallic Mining Statute.
"Aquila will continue its efforts with the State of Michigan and local communities to demonstrate our commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainable resource development that benefits all stakeholders," said Barry Hildred, President & CEO of Aquila. "The Back Forty Mine will be a safe, disciplined operation that promotes and supports local community socio-economic development and is protective of the environment."
Aquila did not give a timeline for construction and operation in its press release.
The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition disputes the announcement by Aquila Resources. The group issued the following statement on their Facebook page:
"We would like to clear up a misunderstanding created by the TV 6 news story in our previous post. Aquila Resources has not received all the permits to start mining. It won the contested case before the DEGLE administrative law judge.
Aquila has only 1 of 5 State permits: only their NPDES permit is clear and unencumbered by in-progress amendments, or a contested case.
Aquila's 2016 Mine permit was "received" back in 2016, but contested; that Mining Permit was made obsolete by their Wetlands permit application, which used a totally different facility design, different environmental impacts, larger footprint etc. While the contested case was underway, they applied for an amended Mining Permit, deemed a "significant change," as well as a modified Air Permit. Aquila's Wetland permit is also entering a contested case shortly and will not be in force until it is decided.
Finally, Aquila applied for a TAILINGS DAM permit in 2018 - that's the fifth state permit, with new and significant threats not previously disclosed in any of the previous permits. MAG submitted comments and called on the state to hold a consolidated Public Hearing (combining the tailings dam permit, plus amended Mining and Air permits). No decisions yet."