Aquila Resources not moving forward with permit appeal, continuing feasibility study for Back Forty Mine Project

South Central UP

MENOMINEE COUNTY, Mich. (WJMN) – Aquila Resources Inc. announced on Tuesday plans to get shovels in the ground on the Back Forty Mine project by successfully permitting an optimized Feasibility Study design.

Aquila will not move forward with plans to appeal the January 2021 decision by an Administrative Law judge to stop a Wetlands Permit. The company also announced it will not proceed with the contested case of the amended Mining Permit.

Below is the full release made by Aquila Resources Inc.:

In March 2021, Aquila engaged Osisko Technical Services (“OTS”) to lead an optimized feasibility study (the “Feasibility Study”) for the Back Forty Project. Aquila is leveraging OTS’ combined engineering, permitting, construction and operating expertise to unlock value and advance the Back Forty Project through its next phase of development.

A key objective of the optimized Feasibility Study is to reflect feedback from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (“EGLE”) and the local community since the original Back Forty permits were issued. By incorporating the underground mine plan in the Feasibility Study and modifying the Project footprint, the Company expects to demonstrate substantially reduced surface impact, including wetland impacts, and a longer mine life for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Current Feasibility Study activities are focused on:

  • Evaluating open pit configurations and surface infrastructure layouts that avoid direct impact to regulated wetlands;
  • Progressing underground mine planning including ore delivery scheduling, ventilation, and confirming the location of the box cut;
  • Updating the mineral resource estimate using current metal prices and Net Smelter Return calculations; and
  • Preparing samples for additional metallurgical tests to support a simplified process flowsheet and enhanced gold recoveries.

Subject to securing additional funding, the Company’s objective is to complete the Feasibility Study in Q4 2021.

Guy Le Bel, President & CEO, commented, “We are committed to advancing the Back Forty Project with a collaborative approach that integrates feedback from the community. Our goal is to design, build and operate a 21st century mine in sync with American values of safety, quality work, leading-edge technology, and environmentally responsible mineral extraction. The resulting mine will offer over a decade of net benefits to local and regional communities while being protective of the environment.”

Permitting

The Feasibility Study design will build on the substantial technical and environmental work that Aquila has completed since the submission of the original permit applications and the completion of the 2018 open pit feasibility study. Given the enhancements to the Project and the ability to demonstrate substantially reduced environmental impact by incorporating the underground mine plan, Aquila believes the most efficient path to shovel-ready status is to focus efforts on successfully permitting the optimized Feasibility Study design.

As such, the Company has determined not to proceed with its appeal of the January 2021 decision by an Administrative Law Judge to deny the prior issuance of the Wetlands Permit. The Feasibility Study team is focused on a design seeking to avoid direct impacts to wetlands.  Even if a Wetlands Permit is required, Aquila expects that it will be able to secure a re-issued permit from EGLE based on the fieldwork already completed under the existing Wetlands Permit and progress on the groundwater modeling that would be used to support any estimates of indirect wetland impacts.

The Company has also determined not to proceed with the contested case of the amended Mining Permit. As the amended Mining Permit only contemplates the open pit portion of the Project, there is no benefit to continuing to dedicate resources to a permit under which the Company does not plan to proceed. Following the completion of the Feasibility Study, the Company will submit an application for a Mining Permit that reflects the optimized design, including the underground mine plan. Should a Wetlands Permit and Dam Safety Permit be required, the Company will submit applications for these permits concurrent with the Mining Permit application. A key benefit of this approach is that it should facilitate a consolidated review process and, compared to a sequential process, compress the timeline to permit issuances.

The Company is maintaining its Air Permit and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit in good standing and will proceed with timely renewals of these permits, as required.


The Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, Inc., has issued a statement following the news from Aquila Resources saying, “The Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River is pleased that the decision of the Administrative law judge will stand and our hard work and efforts have contributed to the protection of the Menominee River and the surrounding wetlands from the detrimental effects of the proposed Back Forty mine.  While we expected to prevail before the review panel, it is a welcome development.”

The community group also reacted to the Company’s announcement of submitting a new mining permit,

However, as is always the case, the fight goes on.  Aquila indicated in its request to abandon its appeal of Judge Pulter’s decision, that it will be submitting a new mine application, later this year, that will for the first time include underground mining. Of course, we always expected going underground to be part of Aquila’s long-term plan. While Aquila will try to spin this as a new strategy to avoid or minimize wetlands impacts, we intend to remain diligent in our efforts and have significant concerns that extensive underground mining and the corresponding groundwater drawdown will have as much or even more impacts on the watershed and could be an even greater threat to the health of the Menominee River. 

DALE BURIE, PRESIDENT, COALITION TO SAVE THE MENOMINEE RIVER, INC.

The community group is focused on saving not only the Menominee River as a whole but the air, waters and soils around it.

For more information visit Aquila’s website.


An attorney for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin provided the following release on the Tribe’s position on Aquila’s decision to pull its permit applications:

Mining company Aquila Resources notified Michigan environmental regulators today that it will surrender mining permits and drop its efforts to reinstate its wetland permit for the Back Forty project, which would have caused impairment and destruction of the Menominee River and its ecosystem and damaged the historical and cultural resources of the Menominee people. 

This victory for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, which has battled the mining plan for five years, followed a January court ruling rejecting a wetlands permit for the mine, in part because it was not in the public interest. A more recent ruling called the company’s mining permit into question. 

“The position of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has consistently been that approval of these permit applications is inappropriate without an understanding of the true impact of a proposed mine right next to the Menominee River, and we are glad to see the permits withdrawn,” said Gunnar Peters, Chairman of Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. “The proposed project site is sacred to the Menominee people and should remain protected from destruction.” 

“This victory follows five years of fighting on behalf of the Menominee Tribe to protect the river and the Tribe’s cultural heritage, including the last intact Menominee agricultural village complex remaining in the state of Michigan,” said Earthjustice Attorney Gussie Lord. Earthjustice represents the Menominee Tribe in its legal challenges against the Back Forty mine. 

Earthjustice and the Menominee Tribe will remain vigilant because Aquila Resources has announced plans to submit yet another proposal to revive the ill-conceived project.   

“The state of Michigan should realize that Aquila Resources has never been honest, nor transparent, about its plans, and that this project cannot be built without pollution, impairment and destruction of the Menominee River and its ecosystem,” said Lord.  

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