mine site

Todd Waypa, of Marinette, fishes with Mason Baur, 8, along the Menominee River in Marinette. The EPA formally objected to a mining company's plans for destroying wetlands near the river on the border between Michigan and Wisconsin. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has formally objected to a Canadian company’s plans for a controversial mine along the Wisconsin-Michigan border, saying the company hasn’t demonstrated that public waters would be protected from pollution.

Toronto-based Aquila Resources has 90 days to address the EPA’s concerns about its proposal to extract gold, zinc and other metals from a 580-acre open pit mine on the Upper Peninsula side of the Menominee River.

Aquila’s application to fill federally protected wetlands and dig for ore 150 feet from the river’s edge failed to adequately explain how pollutants would be kept from flowing into the river during heavy rains and how the company’s plan for preserving wetlands elsewhere met legal requirements for replacing filled wetlands, the EPA said.

The ore is buried in tons of sulfide rock, which reacts with air and water to create acid that opponents say could drain into the river. Ten Wisconsin communities have passed resolutions against the mine, and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin in January sued two federal agencies over their handling of the proposal.

An Aquila spokeswoman said Tuesday that company officials were disappointed in the EPA’s objection, but they view the federal concerns as “manageable” matters that won’t derail the project.

“It is part of the process and not unexpected given the public interest in the matter,” said Chantae Lessard, Aquila director of social performance and engagement. “We will respond within the provided timeframe. In the meantime, it is business as usual. Our team is actively preparing the project for the next phase of development.”

In a letter dated Monday, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality notified Aquila of the EPA objection along with comments from the EPA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The formal objection means that Aquila’s permit application, as it stands now, wouldn’t meet federal standards, said Kristi Wilson, of the Michigan DEQ water resources division.

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But it doesn’t mean the company won’t be able to make changes that would satisfy the federal agency.

“It is not uncommon to receive a federal objection with a project of this size,” Wilson said Tuesday.

The EPA objected to a previous Aquila wetlands permit application in 2016, and the company withdrew the application. A revised application submitted in 2017 is under consideration now.

“Although some issues identified in EPA’s August 15, 2016, comment letter have been addressed in the current application, many have not been fully addressed, and the new application contains additional deficiencies,” the federal agencies said in written comments submitted to DEQ this month.

In most states, the Army Corps of Engineers issues permits for filling of federally protected wetlands, but the EPA has granted Michigan the authority to handle the task on the condition that it complies with federal regulations.

If the EPA objection isn’t resolved, Michigan must deny the permit application, said EPA spokeswoman Rachel Bassler. If the state didn’t deny the application under those circumstances, the Army Corps of Engineers would assume jurisdiction, she said.

Aquila said in a statement that the proposed mine, which it calls its Back Forty Project, is designed to be “a safe, disciplined operation” that will boost the local economy and protect the environment.

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