Wagner Considers Letter to Michigan Town of Lake On Back 40 Mine IssuesIssue Date: September 19, 2019
The Back Forty Mine that Aquila Resources hopes to build approximately 150 feet from the shores of the Menominee River in Menominee County, Michigan continues to draw objections from residents and land owners on both sides of the river.
Among other items at the 6:30 p.m. monthly meeting of Wagner Town Board on Wednesday, Sept. 11, Jeff Lindbom, who lives on Rademaker Road, across the river from the proposed mine site, asked the board to help him and his neighbors protect their property by sending a letter to the board of Lake Township in Menominee County, Michigan, asking them to consider impact the proposed mine would have on properties on both sides of the river.
Specifically the letter asks the Lake Township Board to reconsider their recent decision to participate in "community outreach" meetings of a "capacity building team" that Aquila Resources is sponsoring with the stated goal of eventually negotiating agreements with local governments. The letter will be on the agenda for action at the board's meeting in October.
The evening on Sept. 11 had begun for Town of Wagner officials with a 5 p.m. meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals with members Mike Caylor, Jessica Lawrence, Darcy Hermes, Ed Delfosse, Julie Brown, Rita Renikow, Steve Renikow Sr., Linda Larochelle and Cassie Brown present. Julie Brown was elected as chairperson and Jessica Lawrence was elected as secretary.
The meeting had been called to discuss a variance request from Doug Wagner, Jack Nolan and Jamie Nolan to zone 40 acres off State Highway 180 to Q-1 Quarrying District for the Nolan family quarry. However, prior to the meeting a letter was received from the applicants withdrawing the zoning request and the meeting adjourned at 5:05 p.m.
Present for the Wagner Town Board meeting were Town Chair Steve Renikow, Sr., Supervisors Mollie Arthur and Ed Delfosse, Clerk Cassandra Brown, Treasurer Linda Larochelle, Assistant Fire Chief Tom Caylor and about a dozen members of the public.
Renikow started the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims, first responders and families impacted by the tragic attack on the Twin Towers and other American targets by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
Larochelle gave the treasurer's report, which showed the town had a total of $359,401 in all bank accounts, plus $9,000 in the escrow account.
The town had received $4,818.63 for flood damage relief, and Renikow thanked Larochelle and Brown for all the paperwork they had done to get the reimbursement.
Larochelle discussed information received from the County Treasurer regarding tax collections in January 2020. Cost for the town to have the county do first half tax property tax collections as well as second half, which they already do, will be 85 cents per taxable parcel plus a $250 administrative fee. Benefits of this service, in addition to saving time for the town treasurer, would be electronic and immediate processing. Renikow asked for an estimated total cost and said he will review the budget prior to board discussion at its October meeting.
Renikow noted Wausaukee Rescue Squad is requesting a 25 percent price increase for 2020, to $14,280.35. A 20% increase was given in 2019, raising the price from $9,520 in 2017 to $11,424 in 2018. He said repeated increases of this size are unsustainable and requested more information regarding the cost for Bay Area Paramedic coverage as well as total 911 calls in the Town of Wagner this year. Patty Michels questioned if patients are charged back per call or transport.
Supervisor Arthur, speaking for Tom Arthur who was unable to attend, stated patients are charged by the mile if they are transported, but there is no other charge for emergency assistance. She added the Wausaukee Rescue Squad cannot find enough volunteers, so now the squad pays personnel for their work.
Renikow wondered how many actual 911 calls were made for the squad from Wagner this year. The issue will be discussed again at the board's October meeting.
(In a telephone interview after the meeting, Tom Arthur said he is assembling the requested information. He said Wausaukee Rescue Squad serves all of Wagner from its northern and western boundary south to County X and Hwy. 180. The small area south of there, to Borderline Road, is covered by Emergency Rescue Squad, Inc.
He said a couple of years ago when the Wausaukee Rescue Squad was having some severe problems and was in danger of having to shut down he had asked the squad secretary to contact Mike Orlando to find out what Bay Area Paramedics would charge to provide rescue squad services to Wagner, and the answer was that they would contract for about $65,000 a year. He said Emergency Rescue Squad, Inc. already serves a huge area and would not be likely to take on more.
He added the Squad is in good shape now, and thanks to their increases in contract prices will soon be making the final payment on the $19,000 still owed on their last vehicle purchase. However, in October they will buy a demo unit to replace their aging ambulance, so there will be a new debt.)
During time for public comment, Gerry Micksch stated Peterson road needs brush cut back.
Patty Michels requested a report regarding which roads were
chip sealed and future plans for road repair. Renikow stated that Bruette Road and a quarter mile on Old Rail Road were chip sealed, and future plans for road repair are to be determined. He said Broennenburg Road and Rademaker Road will be priorities for next year. Patty Michels also stated that Grand Rapids Road will eventually need more than chip sealing.
Caylor reported the fire department responded to two calls during the past month - one for a motorcycle crash and one for a MABAS assist to help fight a house fire in Stephenson, Mich.
The department had 23.5 man hours for training and maintenance. The state mandated testing was to be done on Sept. 12, with hose testing on Sept. 16 and Sept. 28. Any remaining tests will be in late October or early November, Caylor noted.
The brush truck lights will be installed in September, and they are still waiting for the cabinets. The Fall Gun Raffle will be held on November 30 at the Heritage Inn and tickets will be available soon. The Fire Department asked to hold its annual Halloween party on Friday, November 1.
Under Public Works updates, William Woodward reported brush was cut on Country Lane, Ball Park Road. and Wagner Road. Jim Brown will be contacted for brush on Peterson Road. Two loads of scrap metal were hauled from the recycling center and signs were put up.
Woodward said they are looking for someone to help dispose of flags properly. Supervisor Delfosse will contact the American Legion for information on a flag disposal ceremony.
Wagner and the Town of Porterfield take responsibility for snowplowing Borderline Road in alternate years, and Renikow said they will need to contact Road King Excavating before the snow flies to let them know not to plow there, since Porterfield is responsible this year.
Animal Control Officer Jerry Micksch reported there was one dog complaint, for a dog loose during a wedding at the Ball Park on Ball Park Road. The dog had no license or identification tags and was taken to the Menominee Animal Shelter. Micksch said there had been no further complaints regarding dogs at the Brix residence.
Agenda for the meeting had included a report on tourist promotion activities from Melissa Ebsch, who serves as Tourism Director for Marinette County through a contract with the City of Marinette. Ebsch did not show up for the meeting so that section of the agenda was bypassed.
Renikow said people had suggested to him that the town should start charging for items brought to the dumpsters at the recycling center for disposal. He said other towns do charge, and they believe items are coming in from all over because there is no charge at Wagner. Also contractors do not hire dumpsters for their jobs because they can dispose of construction debris at no charge.
Doris Haulotte noted cameras had been used in the past to watch who disposed of items. Renikow said trail cameras had been used but ended up missing.
People in the audience indicated they had no problem with reasonable charges, nor did Arthur and Delfosse. Arthur commented taxpayers shouldn't be paying for disposal that contractors are charging for. Someone had brought in a load of old television sets, for which some other jurisdictions charge $10 each for disposal.
Delfosse suggested finding a way to get proof of ownership of property in the town. Porterfield charges $5 to dispose of a chair and $10 for a couch, and Arthur said she would have no problem with that. Currently Wagner charges only for disposal of tires.
Before the October meeting Renikow will gather information on what other communities charge and there may be action at that time. Setting Trick or Treat hours for Halloween will also be on the agenda for that meeting, which will be at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9.
During his discussion near the start of the meeting Lindbom had told the board that University of Wisconsin Political Science Professor Paula Mohan of Madison had helped him draft the letter that he hoped Wagner would send to to Lake Township Board and Town Chair Robert Desjarlais.
Lindbom said he had attended the Lake Township Board meeting , and reminded them that he and others who live directly across the Menominee River will suffer from their decisions but have absolutely no say in the decisions that will affect them.
He read the letter aloud and gave copies to Arthur, Delfosse and Renikow, and commented, "I would like to see the Town of Wagner give a little push to the Town of Lake...." He assured the board they had kept the letter neighborly, he said, and invited the town board to change it any way they liked.
Renikow said he would like to take a month to see what the public response would be, and Arthur and Delfosse indicated agreement. Mike Caylor noted that Wisconsin has towns, not townships, and suggested changing that wording.
The letter states, "We are writing to you to ask that your board reconsider your decision to participate in the Community Outreach meetings that Aquila Resources is sponsoring with the goal to eventually negotiate local agreements between local governments and the company.
"As a town located in Wisconsin, we and our citizens have no say in whether the mine project is built and under what circumstances, since the decision is under the sole jurisdiction of Michigan agencies. Yet, we are located directly across the Menominee River from you and our town will be as affected by the decisions made as townships in Michigan. So, we are asking you to take our township into consideration, too, when you make your decisions about how best to interact with Aquila Resources," the letter goes on.
It continues, "Asking members of local government to attend "invite only' meetings on company grounds to discuss issues that are of strong public interest but excluding the public from those meetings does not reflect the behavior of a company that is acting in good faith. Beyond the risk of violating "open meetings' laws, why would a company not want to negotiate in full transparency in public meetings in which the citizens can attend and be informed? How does it build trust to try to meet and negotiate in secret?
"From a purely pragmatic point of view, from our view across the river," the letter goes on, "...we also wonder why Aquila Resources is trying to lock local governments into mandatory agreements so prematurely. EGLE has not yet issued all the permits and we don't yet know what final conditions will be placed on the proposed mine, assuming permits are granted at all. Until you have complete information about exactly what you will be agreeing to and all the permit conditions are clear, we urge you to not move forward with these meetings."
"We are your neighbors, though under the jurisdiction of another state. We share the same river, breathe the same air, and will deal with the same noise levels as Lake Township citizens will. Please think of us, too, when you make your decisions about how best to move forward," the letter concludes.
The proposed mine has drawn widespread opposition from governing entities and private citizens on both sides of the river, and Marinette and Oconto County boards and others passed resolutions in 2017 expressing opposition to the mine. Current plans for the mine include a large waste storage pit less than 150 feet from the river, and possibly would disrupt wetlands and ancient Menominee Tribe of Indians sacred sites.
Suits against the mine are still pending in federal and Michigan State courts. The next in a series of administrative law hearings on numerous objections filed against the various permits Aquila needs to build the mine will start on Monday, Sept. 30 in Lansing, Mich., before an Environmental Permit Review Commission Contested Case Review Panel to consider petitions brought by neighboring land owner Tom Boerner and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.
A "confidential draft" of an Aquila communication explaining the community outreach agreements Lindbom referred to has gone public. The communication states that The Back Forty Mine wants to develop an open pit zinc and gold mine and wants to build public confidence in the environmental management and performance of the operations.
Municipalities in Michigan that Aquila has invited to join its "Capacity Building Team" include the City of Stephenson, Village of Daggett, and townships of Lake, Holmes and Daggett.
Lindbom said Daggett and Holmes townships have already agreed not to join.
The draft document states that parties involved want to make sure the mine has a positive impact on the surrounding communities and that the environment, especially the Menominee River, is protected during operations, establish a model of independent monitoring, and "avoid the "boom and bust' that is typical of historic mining."
It mentions wanting to operate to the highest levels of transparency, but says participants "understand the difficulty in negotiating a community agreement in the public," and therefore agree that each participating party should appoint two members to the committee, which will then form commitments that will be legally binding. Aquila is to fund all costs of reaching these community agreements. Meetings are held at the Aquila offices in Stephenson, Mich.
A "Scope of the Agreement" paragraph in the draft document has drawn a great deal of criticism from those who fear impact of the mine, particularly in view of the fact that many of the needed permits are still to be issued. The paragraph states: "The participating local governments to this agreement agree not to oppose the Mine or to take any action which would serve to unreasonably delay the construction of the Mine." Lindbom and others have expressed concern that by agreeing to this document the participating municipalities would be legally binding themselves to remain silent about any future objections they may have to the mine.
Topics that may be addressed by the special committee include mining activities, jobs and workforce development, community and environment services including a grant writer, summer lunch program, recreational trails, road work, a helipad for flight for life; third party water monitoring and Shakey Lakes Park Beach, and mentions protection of cultural resources and land use after the mine is closed.
Lindbom said he recently attended the Lake Township meeting in Menominee County and Aquila representatives were also there, trying to get the township board to name representatives to their committee.
"This is not being done in the public eye, and it should be," Lindbom said of the planned negotiations.
The request for Wagner to send the proposed letter to Lake Township is to be on the agenda for the Oct. 9 Wagner Town Board meeting.
Recent stories, opinions and photos