Oversight of Mining in Michigan

Oversight of mining in Michigan

Permitting and administration of nonferrous metallic mineral projects

The topic of local regulation has led to a misunderstanding about what role local government plays in mining operations. In Michigan, the Legislature provides the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), responsibility for issuing and enforcing mining permits under the authority of state’s Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining regulations, also known as Part 632. Part 632 broadly prohibits any attempt by local government to regulate or control mining activities. In other words, local regulations cannot preempt or override Part 632.

The confusion over regulation arises because local governments often establish zoning and ordinance rules for their community. However, the law says explicitly that "a local unit of government shall not regulate or control mining or reclamation activities that are subject to this part, including construction, operation, closure, postclosure monitoring, reclamation, and remediation activities, and does not have jurisdiction concerning the issuance of permits for those activities." There is an exception for ordinances that do not duplicate, contradict, or conflict with Part 632. For example, local governments may enact regulations to enforce hours of operation and routes used by vehicles.

In the case of Back Forty Mine, the DEQ is responsible for permitting and oversight of mining activities. Part 632 was created to ensure that proper mining and reclamation methods are carried out to protect the citizens and the environment. A local unit of government cannot require a special land use permit nor enforce a local mining ordinance of a mine operator. For an overview of Part 632, click here.

We will comply with all permit requirements, while ensuring to construct, operate, and close the Back Forty Mine in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. We are always willing to talk with local government and community members about our operation and its significance to the region.


Ensuring Air Quality

Ensuring Air Quality

Protecting People and the Environment

We will protect human health and the environment by following our permits, which include mining, air, water, and wetland.

The Air Quality Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) ensures that the air we share remains clean by regulating sources of air contaminants. The goal of the agency is to mitigate the adverse impact on human health and the environment from emission sources. Issuance of Back Forty's air permit by the MDEQ came in December 2016.

At our facility, we'll use dust suppression and collection systems in areas of concern when mining and processing ore. Examples include enclosed conveyors, collection filters, water sprays, covered stockpiles, and dampening haul roads to control dust in traffic areas.

Once in operation, inspectors from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will check air quality standards at facilities to ensure worker safety. We'll also conduct air quality sampling on site.


Michigan's Nonferrous Metallic Mining Regulations

Michigan's Part 632

Michigan’s nonferrous metallic mining regulations (Part 632) guide the construction, operation, closure, and post-closure of mining operations. The law also guides monitoring, reclamation, and remediation of nonferrous metallic mineral mines in the state of Michigan. Before Part 632 passed in 2004, Michigan’s then-governor formed a workgroup to discuss increased ecological protection if mining took place. The group comprised of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, environmental groups, industry, the Michigan DNR, Michigan DEQ, and Eagle Mine (formerly Rio Tinto). Today, Part 632 is considered one of the most stringent mining laws in the United States. Several states in the Midwest have studied Michigan’s law when updating their own rules. The link below will take you to an overview of Part 632. The mining law is a great document to review if you have interest concerning mining in your community.

Overview of Part 632


RETHINK MINING

There are two ways to look at mining. The first is to see it as an old and declining industry that has caused historical environmental concerns. The second way to see it as an industry that continues to evolve and fuel the technological advances that define medicine, communication, manufacturing, and our way of life.

Mining worldwide hasn’t always effectively managed environmental impacts. Understandably, this causes distress for some concerning mining in their community. Today’s techniques and regulations are meant to address these issues. In just the past few decades water treatment standards, materials management, and safety requirements have changed dramatically. Mining is no longer the labor-intensive, dirty industry of the past. Programs that drive innovation, technology advancement and efficiency are the foundation of modern mining.

At the Back Forty Mine, we are developing a mining operation that protects and minimizes impacts to our environment, promotes sustainable benefit for communities and stakeholders, and inspires commitment to a safe, injury-free workplace for all workers, every day.

If you have questions about our project, please contact our Community Response Line at (906) 451-4192, email info@backfortymine.com, or visit us online.

Go to the American Exploration and Mining Association's website for more information on modern mining.

Rethink Mining Back Forty Mine


WHAT IS A NATIONAL POLLUTANT DISCHARGE ELIMINATION SYSTEM (NPDES) PERMIT?

Back Forty Mine NPDES

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants through a point source without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. A point source is any source that is ‘discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, such as a pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, discrete fissure, or container.’ The purpose of the permit is to ensure that a facility meets a state's mandatory standards and the federal minimums for clean water.

The Back Forty Mine requires this permit to discharge treated water to the Menominee River. Permit conditions place limits on what we can release, monitoring and reporting requirements, and other provisions to ensure that the discharged water does not harm water quality or people's health. The MDEQ, EPA, and the State of Wisconsin have reviewed and determined the water we release will meet all water quality standards applicable to the river.

Other facilities that require NPDES permits include power plants, municipal treatment plants, manufacturers, and recycling facilities. The permit is valid for five years and is available for renewal to allow the discharge to continue.


CREATION OF THE BACK FORTY DEPOSIT

The Back Forty deposit was formed roughly 1.8 billion years ago around a hot spring on the seafloor. In this type of environment, hot water with high concentrations of dissolved metals and sulfur vent onto the seabed and mix with frigid seawater. The change in temperature and chemistry cause the metallic elements including zinc, gold, and copper to bind with other minerals and settle onto the seabed as metal-bearing minerals. Over the course of time, this accumulation can turn into an economic mineral deposit. Several mineral deposits of this type have been found in our region; including Flambeau, Crandon, Bend, and Lynne.

Scientists first discovered these types of deposits in the 1970s while exploring the Galapagos Islands. The researchers learned that large numbers of organisms depend on the ecosystems formed around these hot springs in the ocean floor. Tubeworms, orange shrimp, eel-like fish, bacteria, and many other deep-sea creatures can be found among the springs.


SPILL PREVENTION AND RESPONSE

State and Federal mining regulations provide criteria and guidance for construction, operation, and reclamation of mining operations. Our mining permit requires us to evaluate risks and response measures should an incident occur, such as a spill. We must ensure that any spill is addressed immediately, and dealt with care, to minimize the impact on people and the environment.

It may seem obvious, but the best way to treat a spill is to avoid having one in the first place. To do so, we'll provide employees with the appropriate training to recognize hazards, including the steps they need to take if a spill occurs. We will utilize secondary containment for bulk storage tanks, regularly inspect equipment and document findings, and have Safety Data Sheets (SDS) available for each chemical on site.

In case of a spill on-site, we'll use spill response equipment such as absorbent materials and remove impacted soils. If there is a spillage of concentrate (e.g., processed zinc, copper) outside of the mine property, we will clean up the material and remove affected soils. Following all regulatory requirements, the impacted area will be tested and monitored to ensure that the required clean-up is successful. Also, we will notify the appropriate authorities.

At least once a year we will hold mock field exercises so that if anything were ever to happen, we would be prepared to respond. We will involve local emergency responders in such activities.

As our project progresses, we will review and update our risks and mitigation measures to reflect operations.


WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WASTE ROCK AND TAILINGS

Waste rock

Waste rock is bedrock that has been mined and transported out of the pit but does not have metal concentrations of economic interest. Tailings are the finely ground residuals that remain after the mill process has removed the valuable metals from the ore. Because the waste could affect surface water and groundwater, the waste facilities must limit those impacts to comply with regulatory standards. During mining, we will place all waste rock and tailings on engineered liners similar to those used by community landfills or industrial solid waste disposal facilities.

During closure, the waste rock will be used to backfill the mine pit. The tailings and any remaining waste rock will be covered and monitored per Michigan's mining regulations.

 


WHAT IS A SUPERFUND SITE?

Since 1980, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, has directed the cleanup of hazardous waste sites and responded to local and nationally significant environmental emergencies. The program focuses on a few specific areas: manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills, and mining sites.

The mining facilities on the list include historical operations. Many of these sites began operations in the 1800s and early 1900s and were closed or abandoned.

Today we talk about 'modern' mining and the advancement of our industry. According to the EPA and National Mining Association, the modern era of mining dates back to the 1990s (EPA, 2018). It is during this time that facilities started operating under current management practices and present-day environmental regulations.

The total number of hard rock mines permitted in the U.S. since 1990 is nearly 3,400 (Baird, 2018). None of the sites are on the Superfund list.

Unlike past mining, today the industry is safer and more environmentally friendly than ever before. Water treatment and reclamation activities are an upfront, essential part of project development. Companies are required to provide financial assurance before starting any construction or mining activity. Assurance acts as security for the community, seeing that the State has the right amount of money available to close and reclaim the site at any given time if the company is unable to do so. It also protects taxpayers and the community from these obligations.

Like many industries, mining has evolved. We have the technology available and experience necessary to ensure that mining is safe and protective of the environment – meaning we can have both a strong economy and clean environment. For example, the Flambeau Mine (seen below) is a model for how today’s mining companies operate and successfully close operations, while protecting the environment.

The Flambeau Mine, located along the shores of the Flambeau River near Ladysmith, Wisconsin, operated from 1993 to 1997 and was reclaimed by 1999.

At Back Forty, we’re designing a modern mine. We will be a world-class mining operation that protects and minimizes impacts to our environment, promotes sustainable benefit for communities and stakeholders, and inspires commitment to a safe, injury-free workplace for all workers, every day.


WE'RE HIRING FOR A FACILITIES MAINTENANCE TECHNICIAN

STEPHENSON, Mich. July 16, 2018 – Aquila Resources is hiring for a Facilities Maintenance Technician at the Back Forty Mine in Stephenson, MI. A complete role description can be found here.