TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – A Michigan judge has overruled state regulators who approved a key permit for a proposed open-pit mine in the Upper Peninsula, another delay for a project that has been debated for nearly two decades.
Administrative Law Judge Daniel Pulter invalidated a wetlands permit granted in 2018 to Aquila Resources Inc. The Toronto-based company's Back Forty mine primarily would target gold and zinc in an underground sulfide deposit, as well as smaller volumes of copper, silver and lead.
In another twist, the state agency that sided with Aquila two years ago said Tuesday that it agreed with the judge's ruling.
The former Department of Environmental Quality, then part of the administration of former Gov. Rick Snyder, approved the permit despite the misgivings of staff water experts.
But the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy – renamed after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took office in 2019 – said Pulter's reasoning was correct.
“The ruling raises valid concerns about the potential impacts on groundwater, and surface water including the Lower Menominee River,” department spokesman Hugh McDiarmid Jr. said.
Aquila's application provided too little information on potential damage to wetlands near the river, which runs along the Michigan-Wisconsin line, Pulter said in a decision released Monday.
It also failed to show there were no feasible alternative locations for the mine, he said.
“Obviously, we are disappointed by the judge's decision,” company President Barry Hildred said Tuesday.