Menominee tribe threatens legal action

Leaders submit notice about Back 40 mine

The Menominee tribe this week gave legal notice it would pursue federal litigation if necessary to block a proposed mining project on the bank of its namesake river.

The Back Forty project is an open-pit mine and minerals processing facility proposed by Aquila Resources, Inc. The site borders the Menominee River on the Wisconsin-Michigan border.

The tribe said in a statement that the 60-day notice of intent to sue under the Clean Water Act to ensure that the health of the Menominee River and portions of the tribe’s ancestral homeland and sacred sites won’t be jeopardized by the mine.

The tribe said the project will affect the water quality of the Menominee River and adjacent wetlands downstream to Green Bay.

The mine would be located within a Menominee cultural landscape that includes tribal burial grounds, ancient agricultural sites and ceremonial sites of cultural significance, the tribe aid.

The tribe first raised its objections to the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers two years ago.

“The tribe has made our opposition known to the company, the investors, the state and federal governments—yet our concerns have been ignored thus far,” said Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw.

“This 60-day notice puts the federal government on notice that we expect meaningful consultation and federal regulatory agency action on this important issue,” he said. “If we continue to be ignored, and the agencies fail in their duties, we are prepared to pursue federal litigation.”

The proposed mine pit is less than 50 yards from the Menominee River, which flows into Green Bay in Lake Michigan.

The pit would span 84 acres and be 750 feet deep under current plans. In addition, the complex would a huge processing plant, two large holding ponds for hazardous mine waste and substantial slag piles of overburden from the mining process.

The tribe called it an unacceptable risk to the region’s wetlands and waters.

“Our tribe’s creation story began at the mouth of the Menominee River thousands of years ago,” Besaw said. “Our ancestors’ history and indeed, their very remains are enshrined in the landscape that the Back Forty project will destroy.”

Besaw said the project would also affect other tribes, multiple states, local fishermen, downstream communities, wildlife, and ultimately, the health of the Great Lakes.

“The risks for all are simply too great,” he said.

Aquila Resources, Inc. has already gotten three of the four permits necessary to proceed with the mine.

The company is still seeking a Section 404 wetlands permit, which is necessary under the Clean Water Act because the Back Forty Mining Project would authorize dredging or filling wetlands.

The tribe contends the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have the responsibility for overseeing this process.

“Instead, the Corps and EPA have stepped back, allowing the state of Michigan to exercise regulatory control over the Section 404 permit application — in violation of the Clean Water Act,” said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the tribe.

The Corps and EPA have 60 days to respond to the notice.