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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


STEPHENSON, Mich. July 2, 2018 –Recently, a series of bills that improve transparency and the DEQ rule-making process have become law. These bills enable fact and science, rather than personal opinion, dictate permit decisions.

Senate Bills 652-654 create three independent bodies with a diverse range of topic experts. The goal of the bills is to provide a further review of permitting processes and decisions and advise on issues safeguarding the environment. Senate Bill 839 focuses on the permit amendment process.

SB 652 reestablishes an Environmental Science Advisory Board to hear scientific evidence and provide a recommendation to the governor.

SB 653 creates an 11-member stakeholder committee to review, amend, deny and approve DEQ rule notifiction.

SB 654 establishes an appeals board that, upon request, would serve as a scientific permit review panel to hear an appeal by a permit application that has been denied by the DEQ.

SB 839 clarifies the process for addressing changes in a mining permit, and allows for punctual action on changes where minimal to no adverse environmental impacts would result.

You can read a legislative analysis for SB 652-654 by clicking here.

For more information on SB 839, including the process for the new law, click here.

If you have questions about this topic or anything else, please contact us.


As the Back Forty Mine continues to develop, transparency and effective communication become more important. We recently published a newsletter as just one part of our effort to improve communication with the community now and in the future. It is also a suggestion we received from community members. Here’s a snapshot of where the project is today:
• The project is nearing the final stages of permitting. We look forward to regulatory approval of the wetlands permit by mid-2018.
• We’ve invested more than $90 million into the project and plan to spend more than $260 million to construct the mine.
• Drilling program results provide opportunity for future expansion.

We want to help improve the overall economic strength of the community and the economic quality of life for all residents resulting from our mining activities. Typically, the additional tax revenues generated by a mine provide significant benefits.

In a typical year, we’ll pay roughly $20 million in taxes to federal, state, and local governments. About $5 million of those tax dollars will be distributed to Lake Township as a result of Michigan’s Nonferrous Metallic Minerals Extraction Severance Tax. The Severance Tax will disperse just like general ad valorem property taxes. What does this mean for residents? It means that there will be more money for infrastructure such as broadband and road upgrades, or new technology in schools, a local fire hall, or recreational trails.

Below you’ll find an example of the allocation of Severance Taxes to the local community during an average year.

Back Forty Severance Tax Breakdown








* Calculated using metal prices of $1.20/lb zinc and $1,300/oz gold. These prices are subject to change depending on market conditions.

For more than 15 years we’ve been developing the Back Forty Mine. Recently, we cleared a permit hurdle and we expect to have all permits required to construct and operate the mine by mid-2018. Now, our team is focusing on engineering and planning for construction with the ultimate destination in mind – closure.

Back Forty Project Timeline

As members of the community, we pledge to respect all people and not to harm the environment in Menominee County. We’ve used various communication techniques over the years to capture your feedback and improve the way we do business.

Recently, we added a new set of Community Response tools to create even more opportunity for you to contact us. The tools will enhance and streamline the way community members notify us of feedback, concerns, and grievances about our operation. We are leveraging technology to ensure more timely responses to the community, and complement traditional communication and increase access to the Back Forty Team.

Below you’ll find two new ways to reach us. Both the phone number and online form allow you to contact us 24/7 at your convenience.

• Community Response Line (906) 451-4192
• Online Response Form

Of course, you’re welcome to stop by our office during regular business hours.

If you have any questions or concerns about the information in this newsletter or any other topic, please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.


Recently, Aquila’s Director of Social Performance and Engagement Chantae Lessard spoke with Tails & Trails Outdoors Executive Producer Tim Kobasic about the Back Forty Mine. Tim’s weekly program discusses events and topics of importance to outdoor enthusiast in the Upper Great Lakes region. In this episode, they talk a range of points about the mine as it relates to the area, including environmental protection, economic impact, aesthetics, advancement of mining practices, and more.

Listen to the two-part interview, which we hope is one of many to come.

Part OnePart Two


By Dan Wiitala, Professional Geologist, Marquette, MI

There often exists a false dichotomy of choices that are presented for any new project development. This is especially true of resource extraction projects, such as mining for metals. Our experience has been that both sides of the issue are often presented just that way. On the pro-business side, the argument has historically been made that regulations ruin business. On the pro-environment side, the argument is typically that business ruins the environment. It then becomes “jobs versus the environment” and we are led to believe we can’t have it both ways. In actuality, both sides hold a piece of the truth, but neither is a whole truth in most cases.

Yes, regulations drive up the cost of doing business, but the upside is reducing community risk. Yes, we can easily point to places where unregulated business has resulted in environmental damage, but environmental control technology, best management practices, and cultural changes in workplace safety have greatly reduced these problems in modern project development. Both sides certainly play on fear to rally their base supporters but what can we actually expect to result from a modern mining project in our backyard?

Eagle Mine in northern Marquette County provides a case study where we have the opportunity to look back on what was predicted and what has occurred. Supporters of the mine rallied behind the economic gains that would result from a relatively large project in the county. In fact, Eagle has resulted in hundreds of local jobs, state royalties, and local taxes that have had a clear and measurable economic impact. For full disclosure, as a scientific and engineering consultant to the project, we have directly hired several employees due to the workload that our small company has had with Eagle. In turn these employees are paying rent, buying houses, and purchasing other goods and services to support a thriving local economy. Of course, unless the company makes a new discovery the mine will close in several years and the jobs, royalties, taxes, will no longer be provided by the mine. This may result in an economic contraction, so other new projects (mining or otherwise) will have to take up the slack. Change isn’t easy but inevitable, and without allowing new projects to move forward there can be no economic or community progress.

Opponents predicted many problems if mining were allowed to happen at Eagle. At the very least they suspected the project would change this remote location by making it busier, more accessible to people, and thereby diminish its remote character and qualities. Making worst case predictions, the mine permit was contested by opposition ‘experts’ who testified that the sulfide mineral orebody was so reactive that exposing it at the ground surface could result in a complete degradation of the Yellow Dog and Salmon Trout River watersheds. Some feared and promoted the idea that the acid rock drainage (“ARD”) from the mine site would literally cause these rivers to run red with similar effects that would be visible in Lake Superior.

Truthfully, we can now see the mine has changed the character of the area somewhat. The most visible change is that an all-season road now leads right to the mine, with a pavement so smooth and shoulders so wide that you may see NMU’s Nordic Ski Team roller skiing out there this summer. Finally, the new road has also changed stream quality for the better by repairing many sections of the old Triple A Road that produced a lot of sediment runoff to Salmon Trout tributary streams historically.

Eagle Mine’s operation has had absolutely no impact on surrounding watersheds. The stream quality remains excellent. Water quality is highly monitored by both Eagle and the independent Community Environmental Monitoring program. Groundwater levels and quality are also highly monitored at and around the mine site. Groundwater quality is monitored so tightly at Eagle that we have been able to detect just a few parts-per-billion concentration change in naturally occurring vanadium over one hundred feet beneath the surface of where treated water is returned to the environment. Keep in mind that the water they discharge has to be cleaner than drinking water.

As for the Back Forty project in Menominee County, the narrative of opposition has been that ARD will get into the Menominee River and destroy the water for fisheries and recreational use. This is a scare tactic and simply not true. Just like Eagle, the Back Forty project received its permit to mine under Michigan’s Part 632 Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining regulations. Extensive background data, mine site design, water treatment plant design, and on- and off-site monitoring, financial assurance, and reclamation plan are just some of the conditions included in the mine permit. If the company doesn’t meet the conditions – they don’t mine.   

A very high bar for environmental responsibility has been set through the Eagle Mine and its regulated permit conditions. Even with such regulations, the mine is profitable as reported by its owner - Lundin Mining. Local and regional stakeholders have come together to realize the benefits of the mine, reduce associated risks, and adapt to the changes that any new project brings to an area. I expect that same performance can be achieved at Back Forty through diligent work of all stakeholders.



2018 Mining for Tomorrow Essay Competition

Calling all high school seniors!

Back Forty Mine is pleased to announce the 2018 Mining for Tomorrow Essay Competition.

This contest engages and challenges high school students to learn and write about mining related topics. Don’t miss your chance to compete for $10,000 in educational scholarships.

For complete details, click here.