The Back Forty Mine

Fall foliage next to the Menominee River

Aquila Resources, a Canadian exploration company that has never operated a mine before, has proposed an open pit metallic sulfide mine deeper than the height of Wisconsin’s tallest building, Milwaukee’s U.S. Bank tower. The Wisconsin and Michigan chapters of the Sierra Club and dozens of other groups oppose the Back Forty sulfide mine proposal for a number of reasons. The proposed 750-feet deep open pit mine alone would be located 50 yards from the Menominee River that serves as the Wisconsin-Michigan border. 70 million tons of acid-producing waste rock and milled tailings would be produced – far larger than the Crandon mine proposal defeated in 2003 after more than 30 years of opposition.  

The mine pit would consume 84 acres of land and additional underground mining has been proposed that would extend the life of the mine to more than 16 years of operations. The company has received some preliminary approvals by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). 

The waters of the Menominee River flow through forested areas

The proposed mine has special significance for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin because it is their original tribal homeland site that includes prehistoric burial mounds, village sites, raised farming beds, and more. The Menominee reservation is 60 miles southwest of the proposed mine but the tribe’s sacred place of origin is at the mouth of the Menominee River. The tribe fears that sulfide wastes from the proposed mine threatens pollution of the Menominee River and the spawning grounds for one of the largest populations of lake sturgeon in the Lake Michigan basin.

The proposal would require extensive groundwater pumping for many years that will affect the Menominee River and area wetlands. The river itself is further threatened by wastewater discharged into it and potential short and long-term discharges of acid mine drainage from the mine pit and wastes. In addition to lake sturgeon, the Menominee River watershed supports strong populations of small mouth bass, walleye, northern pike and trout. American Rivers named the Menominee River one of our most endangered rivers due to the threats from the proposal and the river’s importance as an aquatic habitat that supports sport fishing and tourism in the river, Green Bay, and Lake Michigan: Green America published a great article about Back Forty background and issues in their magazine.

In February 2017 the Menominee Tribe filed a petition for a contested case hearing on DEQ’s decision to approve the mining permit for the proposed Back Forty mine. “The MDEQ and Aquila Resources Inc. are well aware of the Menominee Indian Tribe’s close cultural connection to this area and our serious concern in regards to our cultural resources and mounds, including our ancestral burial sites located within the impact area of the proposed mine. Despite these valid and well-documented concerns, a full evaluation of the cultural resources and mounds threatened by this project never occurred,” stated Gary Besaw, Menominee Tribal Chairman. Because Michigan is one of only two states that has been delegated authority under the Clean Water Act, the mine application process is subject only to state permits. Michigan DEQ is not required to consult with the tribe or comply with the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Opposition to the project is strong and organized. Seven local counties, two towns, two cities, dozens of tribal governments and intertribal organizations, environmental, sport fishing and faith-based organizations from both Michigan and Wisconsin have passed resolutions opposing the Back Forty project.

Map illustrating how close the proposed mine would be to the riverAs of spring 2019, Aquila has been “granted” four of four required permits by Michigan’s Dept. of Environmental Quality: Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining Permit, Air Use Permit to Install, Pollutant Discharge & Elimination System Permit, and Wetlands Permit. Although the permits have been granted, each has significant conditions attached which have to be met prior to the permit being effective.

What you can do:

Learn more and help spread the word by watching and sharing this video of Al Gedicks on the movement to halt unsafe metallic sulfide mining entitled “The Values That Bring Us Together.”

Send letters to the principal financial investors in the Back Forty proposed mine letting them know that this project faces growing opposition in Wisconsin and Michigan and does not have a “social license to operate.” As described above, the project faces significant regulatory issues due to its threats to cultural and environmental resources. According to mining risk analysts like Ernst & Young, the fourth greatest risk to mining investors comes from “ignoring community voices and their environmental and public health concerns.” 

Click here to email them. Or mail letters to: 

  • Mr. Sean Roosen, CEO and Chair of Board of Osisko Gold Royalties Ltd.
    1100 Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montreal, Suite 300
    Montreal, Quebec H3B 2S2, CANADA

  • Mr. Alan Hair, President and CEO of HUDBAY
    25 York Street – Suite 800
    Toronto, Ontario M5J 2V5, CANADA

  • Ruffer LLP
    80 Victoria Street

  • Mr. Oskar Lewnowski, CIO of Orion Mine Finance Group
    1121 Avenue of the Americas – Suite 3000
    New York, NY 10036

Get involved with a local group opposing the Back Forty Mine: Learn more about how you can support efforts to oppose the Back Forty proposed mine by contacting: