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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Marinette Council Tables Resolution Regarding Proposed Back Forty Mine

Issue Date: June 14, 2017

After almost three hours of public comment, the Marinette City Council tabled a resolution which would have opposed the proposed Back Forty Mine Project to seek more information.

Alderpersons Ken Keller, Jeffrey Skorik, John Marx and Wally Flatt voted against the motion to table the mine, meaning Dorothy Kowalski's motion passed 5-4. Rick Polzin, Peter Noppenberg, Brian Walters and Wally Hitt supported the motion to table.

The Back Forty Mine Project is a proposed open-pit sulfide mine in the Upper Peninsula along the Menominee River. Aquila Resources owns the project, and has three of four required permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Opposition to the mine have expressed concerns about the mine's environmental effect and impact on Menominee Nation Tribe gravesites and cultural resources.

If the resolution was brought forward two months ago, the vote could have been a different story. Pamela Goes did not seek re-election in April, allowing Polzin to join the board. She did voice an opinion, however, addressing the council during the public comment period.

"I've talked on the phone with a couple of you regarding my concerns about the proposed mine," Goes said. "I know that you have a tough decision in front of you and I empathize with you."

She continued, saying "you've heard a lot about the money part of it. Now I just want you to think a little bit more about the impact to people's health. I am an 11-year cancer survivor. I know firsthand, as most of you do too, what it means to have your health jeopardized. There is no amount of money that can buy that back. Think about that when you're thinking about what cyanide, sulfide and everything else is going to do."

Polzin said he needed more information and voted to table the discussion. On September 20, 2016, however, he was one of the Marinette County supervisors who unanimously voted to pass a resolution opposing the mine.

"I thought we needed more information," Polzin said. "There was very little discussion at the county board meeting" Just as I think about it, I think we need to hear from the other side a little bit more on what the issues are and what the effect on the community will be."

He also said he felt the council didn't need to act on the issue, since the county board already did. "I think the issue has been addressed at the county level," he said.

Fellow Marinette County supervisor Ted Sauve addressed the council, urging them to oppose the mine.

"If this mine project was given the authority, it will have a tremendous impact on our great county," Sauve said. "Tourist industries, quality of life, recreation involving watersports, boating, swimming, fishing, canoeing and other water-related sports would suffer."

The opinion of the five council members voting to table was that they needed more information, while those wanting to take a vote thought the issue had been around long enough.

"I don't think that any amount of information yet to come is going to make me any more of an expert on the environment or mining," Alderperson Jason Flatt said. "I don't think any information yet to come is going to change the opinions of those who I represent, so with that in mind, I'm prepared to take a vote tonight."

Perhaps the most vocal of the council members was Ken Keller, who was the first to disagree with the motion made to table by Kowalski.

"I believe we owe it, not only to the people attending this meeting, but to the former ones that passed resolutions. We're trying to develop a working relationship between the Menominee, the county and others. This is like a slap in in the face," Keller said. "I think we have to act now and vote on it, one way or another."

The Marinette County Board and Peshtigo City Council have formally opposed the mine, among others.

After the meeting finished, Keller said of the decision, "I'm disappointed, as I should be, because I know how my constituents feel."

Mayor Steve Genisot said he had reached out to the MDEQ's Joe Maki, who was supposed to attend a Marinette-Menominee joint council meeting in May, but the meeting fell through due to a change in the agenda.

Also among the 40 individuals taking their five minutes to address the council was Wisconsin State Assembly Representative Jeffrey Mursau, who opposed the mine.

"I have a lot at stake here with the constituents that I represent. I'm here to say that I do oppose the mine," he said to applause from the room.

"There's probably places for mining, but absolutely mining in the area that's being proposed is not in the best interests of anybody here in the state of Wisconsin or the state of Michigan."

A representative from Aquila Resources spoke during the public comment period, and said after the meeting that company would entertain the idea of attending a meeting with the Marinette City Council in the near future. Genisot also mentioned that he would try and bring in the Menominee Nation and MDEQ for opportunities to answer questions from the council.

Robin Quigley, president-elect of the Marinette-Menominee Area Chamber of Commerce and communications manager for the project, told the council she appreciated its interest in the project.

"We believe any position the city might take on our project should be based on facts, not fear and misinformation, and that science and the strict mining laws of the state of Michigan should be fully considered before any action is taken," she said, also accusing the opposition of "often straying from the facts."

Former Marinette Mayor Doug Oitzinger was one of the first to address the council, and asked them, "What's the upside?"

Oitzinger said he's lived in the area for 43 years. "For a good portion of those 43 years, the river out here was polluted, and it's only recently been cleaned up at great cost and great effort," he said.

"Somebody will make a lot of money, but it won't be us," he added. "Some people will not like what you do on either side of it, but think about the future of our community, and try to come up with what the upside is. There's no end to the downside."


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