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General Questions

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?

The process of extracting the ore 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. The mines are lined below a certain level; however, 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.

Safety

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.

Read a detailed report by Dr. Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council here.

Here is a snapshot of the differences between the two sites:

ParameterFlambeauBack Forty
Size of mine pit32 acres
Max depth: 225 ft
83 acres
Max depth: 750 ft
Ore production1.9 million tons12.5 million tons
Waste rock production8.6 million tons54 million tons
Tailings generated from on-site processing of ore0
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 riverYes
(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 footprint181 acres865 acres
(4.5 times the Flambeau Mine)

Working together

What other organizations are working to oppose the mine?

Front 40 has been standing in opposition the longest. They are an environmental group founded by local citizens and dedicated to ensuring that metallic sulfide mining operations are not allowed to adversely impact our rivers, lakes, groundwater, and lands. The Front 40 name is in direct response to the “Back Forty” venture that was created by the mining interests. Visit their website.

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, a federally recognized Indian Tribe, is indigenous to what is now known as Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. As a result of their undeniable ties and long occupation of the Menominee River area, numerous sacred sites and burial mounds up and down the Menominee River, including the area of the proposed Back Forty Mine. The Menominee River is, in fact, the very origin of life for the Menominee people. It also provides life to Michigan and Wisconsin residents and the natural wildlife within the Great Lakes ecosystem. The harmful threats to this area and all who depend on it far outweigh the corporate interests of a Canadian exploratory company and justify the denial of the necessary permits for the proposed mine. Visit their site: www.noback40.org

Protectors of the Menominee River is a grassroots organization to help protect the river that bears their name against the Back Forty Mine project. Visit their Facebook page.

The Mining Action Group, formerly known as Save the Wild U.P. was founded in 2004 by a small group of grassroots leaders dedicated to defending U.P. communities and environment from the threats of sulfide mining. They work collaboratively with concerned citizens, tribes and allied organizations across the region. As activists, they serve as environmental watchdogs, urging regulators to make wise decisions to protect the natural resources and public lands of Upper Michigan, educating citizens about the risky business of sulfide mining and the industrialization of wild lands, reviewing and objecting to permits for new mineral leases in sensitive areas, speaking out at public hearings, and working collaboratively with regional tribal nations and watershed organizations. Visit their website: www.savethewildup.org

Did someone write a song about this issue?

Yes! It is called “Stop the Mine” by Gary J. Elson. You can listen to it here.