Tribe appeals mine ruling

Menominee Tribe seeks Clean Water Act enforcement

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin filed a court appeal Thursday in a bid to protect its ancestral homeland and sacred sites from a zinc and gold mine on the banks of the Menominee River.

Canadian mining company Aquila Resources, Inc. holds permits to build the Back Forty Mine, an open pit mine and minerals processing facility on the Michigan side of the Menominee River. The river forms part of the border between Wisconsin and Michigan and empties into Green Bay in Lake Michigan.

The tribe, represented by the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, filed in the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to appeal a December decision from the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin that dismissed the tribe’s claims against the federal government.

According to Earthjustice, the mine would be located within the ancestral homelands of the Menominee Tribe.

The tribe went to court in January 2018 asserting that the federal government had improperly abandoned its obligation to exercise jurisdiction over Clean Water Act permitting for the mine, by allowing the state of Michigan to oversee and control what should have been a federal permitting process.

The tribe further asserted its rights under the National Historic Preservation Act to consult on the protection of its cultural and historical sites. according to Earthjustice. In December, the court rejected the tribe’s claims on a preliminary motion by the federal agencies and the mining company and dismissed the case, disallowing full briefing and hearing of the issues.

“The importance of the Menominee River and the Menominee’s history and culture cannot be overstated,” said Menominee Tribal Chairman Douglas Cox. “The Menominee Tribe is prepared to see this through to ensure the full federal protections of the Clean Water Act and the National Historic Preservation Act and to ensure that the federal and state governments do not continue to ignore the Menominee Tribe’s concerns. This large mine-development will affect other tribes, multiple states, fishing and recreation industries in two states, downstream communities and wildlife, and ultimately the health of our Great Lakes, the most precious bodies of freshwater in the world.

“The Menominee River does not ‘belong’ to the State of Michigan,” said Janette Brimmer, lead Earthjustice attorney on this case. “Recognizing the importance of interstate and commercially-used waters, such as the Menominee River, the Clean Water Act requires the federal government to retain jurisdiction and apply federal safeguards for the shared benefit of all.”

The tribe contends that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must take primary responsibility for overseeing the Clean Water Act wetland permit for the Back Forty mine and that the permitting authority for this project is not properly delegated to the state of Michigan.

The tribe further contends that the federal agencies retain an obligation under the National Historic Preservation Act to consult with the tribe concerning the negative impacts to important cultural and historic resources along both sides of the river.

Aquila says it will protect the environment while creating jobs, according to a report from The Associated Press.