When asked to point to a mine that has never polluted, Joe Maki of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) confessed, “I cannot.”
What is all the fuss about?
What is the Back Forty Mine?
The Back Forty Mine is a proposal by Aquila Resources, a Canadian mining company, to extract copper, gold, and zinc from a site in Stephenson, Michigan. They intend to create an open-pit metallic sulfide mine.
The mine is estimated to cover 83 acres and be 750 feet deep (that’s the depth of two Statues of Liberty). It would be located only 50 yards from the edge of the Menominee River, which flows into Lake Michigan.
What’s the big deal about a hole in the ground?
It is the process of extracting the ore that contaminates local waters and soils. It produces sulfuric acid (the same caustic substance used in car batteries). This sulfuric acid dissolves rock and leaches out toxic heavy metals. Though the mines are lined below a certain level, this acid and metal seep out along the pit walls into rivers and aquifers (well water).
Also, cyanide will be used on-site because of the low grade of the ore. Because it is highly poisonous, cyanide has been banned from many countries and states, including Wisconsin.
Any contamination at the headwaters of the Menominee River is going to affect people who depend upon the fishing industry or the tourism industry— or for that matter, the clean water downstream.
Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.
Has there ever been a safe sulfide mine?
No. The Flambeau Mine operated near Ladysmith, Wisconsin, in the 1990s. Some point to it as a success, but the evidence of environmental contamination is overwhelming.
Let’s compare the two projects:
|Size of mine pit||32 acres|
Max depth: 225 ft
Max depth: 750 ft
|Ore production||1.9 million tons||12.5 million tons|
|Waste rock production||8.6 million tons||54 million tons|
|Tailings generated from on-site processing of ore||0|
There was no on-site processing of ore at Flambeau. It was all shipped to Canada for smelting.
|11.8 million tons over seven-year life of mine|
|Use of an underground cutoff wall to impede groundwater flow between mine pit and neighboring river||Yes|
(the Flambeau Mine pit was 140 feet from the Flambeau River)
|Yes, BUT the top of bedrock where the cut-off wall will be keyed in, is weathered, fractured, and permeable.|
|Environmental footprint||181 acres||865 acres
(4.5 times the Flambeau Mine)
Read a detailed report by Dr. Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.