Back 40 Town Hall

Emotions ran high at a public forum to discuss a controversial mining proposal on the Menominee River in Stephenson MI.

Hundreds of people poured into the sweltering gymnasium at Stephenson High School where the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality gave them a chance to voice their support or opposition to the project.

Most of those speaking against the mine focused on the environmental dangers, while those in support brought up the need for economic benefits.

As more than 100 people signed up to speak, the time for each person was limited to 3 minutes.

Members of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin in attendance also spoke about their sacred cultural landmarks on the proposed mining site. Joan Delabreau, Menominee Tribal Legislature, voiced this concern early in the meeting.

“This is our ancestral land and with that there are a number of cultural resources, like mounds, garden beds and dance rings,” Delabreau said.

On the economic side there were conflicting voices. Some focused on the prospect for jobs while others worried about unintended negative effects. One economic downside mentioned was the loss of property value caused by the mine.

Ted Sauve, a member of the Marinette County Board of Supervisors, said the economic impacts of the mine were a major reason the board voted unanimously against the mine.

“Menominee River properties values were anticipated to be lowered,” Sauve said, “and Marinette County was very, very happy to pass a resolution in opposition to the mine.”

The environmental and economic concerns were also intertwined. The area relies on tourism for much of its revenue, and locals worried the mine could damage the wildlife people come to see.

The proximity of the mine to the river, only a few hundred feet, was the principle concern for those opposed. Kathleen Heideman, president of Save the Wild U.P., was one of many environmental activists who brought this up.

“With a sulfide mine, there are a lot of dangers because it can get into water ways and accidents could be catastrophic,” Heideman said.

If the mine goes through as proposed more than 20 million tons of waste, including cyanide and metallic acid will be placed on site within a mile of the river.

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and the other environmental groups plan on actively opposing the mine regardless of the permit outcome.

Al Gedicks, emeritus professor of environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, said that social opposition to the mine will make the project not be profitable.

“When you have a failure of a social license to operate the economics of the project go downhill,” Gedicks said.

Public comments on the mine are open until Nov. 3, and the Michigan DEQ has to make a decision on the mining permit by Dec 1.

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