The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has filed a 60-day notice of its intent to file a federal lawsuit to protect its namesake Menominee River from the effects of the proposed Back Forty Mine project.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Senate voted 19-14 Tuesday to pass a measure lifting the moratorium on sulfide mining in Wisconsin and send the bill to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.
In a news release from Earthjustice, the legal organization that is representing the Menominee tribe said the purpose of the litigation would be “to ensure that the health of the Menominee River and portions of the Tribe’s ancestral homeland and sacred sites won’t be jeopardized by a large mine on the banks of the Menominee River on the Wisconsin-Michigan border.”
The 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue under the Clean Water Act said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers are failing to exercise their authority to protect water quality of the Menominee River and adjacent wetlands, and downstream to Green Bay.
Every Wisconsin county with shoreline along the bay, except Kewaunee County, has passed a resolution opposing the mine, which would be located on the Michigan side of the river. The Oconto County Board also opposed the bill introduced by state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazlehurst, to lift the mining moratorium.
The Back Forty project is an open-pit mine and minerals-processing facility proposed by Aquila Resources Inc. The site borders the Menominee River and is located within a Menominee cultural landscape that includes tribal burial grounds, ancient agricultural sites and ceremonial sites of cultural significance to the Menominee Tribe, the release said.
The tribe has been fighting the mine since 2015, but the project has advanced progressively through the Michigan state permitting process. The final permit needed for construction of a mine in the Stephenson area was filed last month with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
“The Tribe has made our opposition known to the company, the investors, the state and federal governments – yet our concerns have been ignored thus far,” said Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw. “This 60-Day Notice puts the federal government on notice that we expect meaningful consultation and federal regulatory agency action on this important issue. If we continue to be ignored and the agencies fail in their duties, we are prepared to pursue federal litigation.”
The proposed mine site has invaluable historic and cultural significance to the Menominee Tribe, Besaw said.
“Our Tribe’s creation story began at the mouth of the Menominee River thousands of years ago,” he said. “Our ancestors’ history and indeed, their very remains are enshrined in the landscape that the Back Forty project will destroy. But this is about more than just our Tribe. A project of this magnitude will affect other tribes, multiple states, local fishermen, downstream communities, wildlife – and ultimately, the health of the Great Lakes. The risks for all are simply too great.”
The claim concludes that unless the Corps and the EPA assume jurisdiction and control over the Back Forty Project’s permit application, “the Menominee Tribe reserves the right to take appropriate legal action to compel the Corps and EPA to comply with the Clean Water Act and applicable regulation to protect the Menominee Tribe, the Menominee River, and wetlands adjacent to the river.”