The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its hands-off approach to regulating the Back Forty Mine proposed near the border of Michigan and Wisconsin along the Menominee River.
The lawsuit came just before a Jan. 23 public hearing on the project and a few weeks before a decision is expected on the final permit needed by Toronto-based Aquila Resources Inc. to begin mining.
The tribe asserts the EPA and ACE are not taking an active role in reviewing the wetland permit and are delegating the task to the State of Michigan, contrary to a section of the Clean Water Act.
“This permit affects the interests of so many people and the environment in Wisconsin and Michigan, including sites critical to the Tribe’s culture and history,” said Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw in a statement. “Therefore, it is important that this process follow the Clean Water Act and not solely be controlled by the State of Michigan.”
Aquila Resources submitted the final permit on Oct. 2 and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has 120 days to accept or reject the permit. The 120-day clock stopped a few times due to DEQ requesting additional information from Aquila, and a decision is now expected in early February.
Hundreds packed the Stephenson High School gym on Jan. 23 during a four-hour public hearing regarding the final permit.
“This entire process should be placed on hold pending the outcome of the federal litigation filed by Menominee yesterday,” said Besaw at the open of the public hearing. He then cited inconsistencies in the water quality-related portions of the permit applications from Aquila Resources.
The Door County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution opposing the approval of the final wetland permit in July 2017. The Village of Sister Bay also passed a resolution opposing the mine in September.
The Menominee Tribe has stated the cultural significance in the region and the threat to water quality, while Door County officials cited negative impacts to the water quality in Green Bay affecting the local tourism industry.