Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin Prevails in Another Legal Victory Against Back Forty Mine


Court ruling throws second permit for controversial mine into question


Becca Bowe, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2093,

A recent Court decision has created even more uncertainty about the fate of the Back Forty mine, a proposed open-pit mine on the border of Michigan and Wisconsin that has prompted strong opposition from the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin because it would release toxic pollution into the Tribe’s namesake river and threaten a landscape of historic and cultural resources including dance rings, raised gardens, and burial mounds.

On April 23, a Michigan Circuit Court judge ordered an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to reconsider his 2019 decision approving a mining permit for Aquila Resources’ Back Forty Project. In this order, the judge remanded the mining permit decision for reconsideration, directing that the ALJ admit additional evidence including documented concerns from Michigan environmental regulators regarding flawed groundwater modeling. Open-pit sulfide ore mines, like the one proposed on the banks of the Menominee River, can result in acid mine drainage — a toxic runoff problem that is nearly impossible to remediate. 

The mining permit is one of several needed by Aquila to proceed with the Back Forty mine. A second permit, which would allow for the destruction of surrounding wetlands, was denied in January following a separate legal challenge. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, has represented the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin for several years in its bid to stop the Back Forty mine.

“We are encouraged by the news that the mining permit must now be reconsidered,” said Gunnar Peters, Chairman of Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. “And we will not stop fighting until these waters, lands, and sacred sites are protected for good.”

“With one permit denied, this ruling means a second permit needed for this mine to advance now hangs in the balance,” said Gussie Lord, an Earthjustice attorney who directs the organization’s Tribal Partnerships program. “We will continue to defend this cherished river on behalf of the Menominee Tribe, and we look forward to the day when we can say we have halted this project.”

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