MENOMINEE, Mich. (WJMN) – After a judge denied a wetlands permit in January, Aquila Resources said they would be evaluating their options.
President and CEO Guy Le Bel, says they’re appealing the decision to gain clarity on the decisions made by the judge even if that knowledge is used for reapplication later on. During the appeal time, they will also perform a feasibility study in totality on the mine project.
“We presented to the agency an open pit with the milling facility but there’s also an underground project underneath so what we’ll do right now is we’ll combine everything we’ll make this a whole sum project with a longer mine life and we’ll probably go from 5 years to maybe 10 years or plus and we’ll take the opportunity to review everything that has to do with the project and see if there is a way to maybe I would say have a greater eye to environmental protection and lesser impact,” said Le Bel.
Le Bel says the price of metal has gone up and there could be flexibility in going underground sooner rather than later. He says underground mines have less impact than surface mines. They expect to deliver the feasibility study at the end of the year.
A three-person panel from EGLE will hear arguments over the course of the next few months and have a decision in the second half of 2021 on whether the judge’s decision on the wetlands permit will be adopted, remanded, modified, or reversed, in whole or in part. Le Bel says that some other permits have been contested but won and that the wetlands permit is an administrative ruling about the groundwater model.
“We had a groundwater model but it was not fed with data from the site ok so you know it’s a model that engineers have but you have to populate the model with site data and to show that the model is modeling what’s going on on-site actually and it takes a few years to get enough data to have a model that you can say you vetted the model so when we received the wetlands permits you know we worked on having the groundwater model built and prepared for vetting by the agency,” said Le Bel. “Meanwhile there was the contest of the permit and the judge said well you know you didn’t have the model ready when you get the permits so therefore you don’t have a permit so it’s really I would call this a temporary setback based on the interpretation of an administrative rule I mean everybody at EGLE believe that they can give a permit with conditions and basically you cannot operate the mine if you don’t fill the conditions.”
Le Bel says the groundwater model was always a condition for EGLE giving them the go ahead on the mine project.
“If the model was to say that the impact was such that we cannot have a mine well I don’t want to say that but so be it but we don’t believe so but if at least the model must be reproducing the actual conditions when we put the actual data in it has to tell you what’s going on right now and then we can start modeling what would happen with an open pit, with an underground mine, where would the water go,” said Le Bel.
Aquila Resources has been working with a consultant on the groundwater model since 2018 to gather data and put the data into the model after two years of collection. Le Bel says they presented the model to the agency between one and two weeks ago.
“At the same time we’re looking forward to working with the Michigan Environmental Permit Review Commission to address the challenge that has been raised by the wetland permit and resolve those issues in the appropriate time and also depending on the outcome of the appeal or the result of the feasibility reapply for permits as needed,” said Le Bel.
Le Bel says sometimes it can take time to get permits properly in place for mines and that at times permits may have to be resubmitted. He says they expect to have a better view of what the total project will look like mid-summer 2021.