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Judge’s decision denies Wetlands Permit for Back Forty mine project

Back Forty sign.
Back Forty sign.(WLUC photo)
Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 8:24 AM CST
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MENOMINEE COUNTY, Mich. (WBAY) - A judge has issued a decision denying a wetlands permit to Aquila Resources for its Back Forty mine project in Upper Michigan.

Administrative Law Judge Daniel Pulter issued the decision Jan. 4 in favor of the opposition to the mine.

The open-pit mine would produce gold, zinc and copper near the Menominee River. Those who oppose the mine are concerned about environmental impacts.

“The Company strongly disagrees with the Judge’s decision, which is based in significant part on what the Company believes is a misunderstanding of the information concerning the potential for indirect wetlands impacts associated with the Back Forty Project,” reads a statement from Aquila Resources.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) had granted a wetlands permit to the company for the mine. The Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, Inc., objected to the decision in a contested case. The judge sided with them.

“One of our big arguments was that the application should never have been considered administratively complete by EGLE because the wetland impacts were not reliably identified, which deprived the public of its right to review and comment. Judge Pulter agreed,” reads a statement from Dale Burie, President, Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, Inc. “Another issue we raised was that Aquila did not properly assess the alternatives to avoid wetland impacts. Again, the Judge agreed.”

Burie continues, “And, on the big question of whether EGLE could issue a permit with conditions that would have allowed Aquila to submit new and updated modeling to support the wetland impacts, the Judge said such conditional permits are not allowed.”

Aquila says the Wetlands Permit was issued to them with specific conditions, including an updated groundwater model. The company says they’ve been working with EGLE to complete that model.

Aquila President and CEO Barry Hildred says the company has options and they believe they will be able to resolve issues raised in the judge’s decision.

“The Company is evaluating its alternatives, which include the submission of an updated permit application or appealing the decision to the EGLE environmental review panel,” says Hildred. “Aquila has worked diligently to limit impacts to surrounding wetlands and is only directly impacting 11.2 acres of regulated wetlands. Having reviewed the decision, we believe that Aquila will be able to resolve the cited issues and remain confident that Back Forty will be a safe, disciplined operation that promotes and supports local community socio-economic development and is protective of the environment.”

Burie says the Coalition is going over the judge’s decision with their attorney.

“We do understand that the next step, should any of the parties so choose, would be to seek review from the Environmental Permit Review Commission. That request would have to be made within 21 days,” says Burie.

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