A Message from Nature | Mining law protecting our waters at stake

The Menominee River, a sacred body of water to the Menominee Tribe, is threatened by risk of pollution by the Back Forty mine. Photograph taken by Ken Lund.

ADELANA AKINDES | akind001@rangers.uwp.edu

Wisconsin already faces a plethora of water issues, but a new threat is on the horizon, and it won’t be kept at bay for much longer. The reason no one hears about mining in Wisconsin is because it currently doesn’t exist. After a long history of mining that resulted in environmental hazards, the “Prove It First” law was passed in 1998 that helped prevent harmful mines from further operation. However, development company Aquila Resources has its sights set on mining in Wisconsin, and a slew of Wisconsin senators and legislators has successfully assisted them in eradicating this law.

The thing is, mining was never banned outright. In order to operate a mine, though, a company would need to prove it wouldn’t be detrimental to the surrounding environment. However, they couldn’t just give empty promises. A company interested in mining would need to give a real citation of a mine that has successfully operated and shut down without contamination. Since the law passed, no mining company has been able to find one such example.

Sulfide mines are especially harmful, and they’re what Aquila Resources, a company with no prior mining experience, is interested in. The company is looking to mine gold, copper and zinc. Three sites—Back Forty, Bend and Reef—are all being proposed, the latter two would be right in the middle of Wisconsin. Instead of citing a safe sulfide mine, they have wooed Wisconsin leaders to do away with the precautionary law altogether, and it worked. AB 499 and SB 395, bills created for the sole purpose of undoing the Prove It First law, were passed on November 7.

It’s virtually impossible to not cause harm to the environment with this kind of mining. Waste rock treated with harsh chemicals would be abundant compared to the metals being mined for, and their deposits are highly likely to leach into ground and surface waters. Harmful chemicals such as sulfuric acid would be a byproduct of this activity, and all life in its proximity would be in danger. The mines are around for a short period of time compared to its aftermath.

Out of the three proposed mines, the Back Forty Mine, set to be located in Michigan right near the Wisconsin border, is the most controversial. The Menominee Nation, the indigenous people of Wisconsin who have resided in the area for thousands of years, was never consulted about the mine. If they were consulted, perhaps Aquila Resources would have found out about the sacred burial sites in the proposed mining location. They may have learned about the Menominee creation story, which is within the mouth of the Menominee River itself. The sacred heritage of the Menominee people is at risk of irreversible desecration because of a short-term mining venture.

The people proposing the mining projects and the people who would benefit the most economically from its operation do not live where the mines reside. Even the senators of the Green Bay area, which is the area of Wisconsin closest to the Back Forty mine, have voted against the new bills. The people who live near the mines are going to suffer the most. Sulfide mines still remain a hazard to the environment, life, water, lands and people; a few measly bills do not change that fact.

Adelana Akindes is a junior majoring in environmental science and is treasurer of Parkside Environmental Club(PEC).


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