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Aquila not proceeding with appeal for wetlands permit

STEPHENSON — Aquila Resources Inc. has decided not to proceed with its appeal regarding a recent wetlands permit for its Back Forty Mine near Stephenson.

The company announced on Tuesday that it will not move forward with the appeal of the January decision by an administrative law judge to deny the prior issuance of the wetlands permit.

Aquila also said in its announcement that as the amended mining permit considers only the open pit portion of the project, there’s no benefit to continuing to dedicate resources to a permit under which the company does not plan to proceed.

Following the completion of a feasibility study, Aquila indicated it will submit an application for a mining permit that includes an underground mine plan. Should a wetlands permit and dam safety permit be required, Aquila said it will submit applications for these permits concurrent with the mining permit application.

A key benefit of this approach, the company said, is that it should facilitate a consolidated review process and shorten the timeline to permit issuances.

The feasibility study team is focused on a design seeking to avoid direct impacts to wetlands, the company said. It said that even if a wetlands permit is required, Aquila expects that it will be able to secure a reissued permit from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy based on the fieldwork already completed under the existing wetlands permit and progress on the groundwater modeling that would be used to support any estimates of indirect wetland impacts.

The Back Forty Mine is a proposed open-pit mine expected to produce primarily zinc and gold.

In March, Aquila said it engaged Osisko Technical Services to lead a feasibility study for the Back Forty Project. Aquila is leveraging OTS combined “engineering, permitting, construction and operating expertise to unlock value and advance the Back Forty Project through its next phase of development.”

A key objective of the feasibility study, Aquila said, is to reflect feedback from EGLE and the local community since the original Back Forty permits were issued. By incorporating the underground mine plan in the study and modifying the project footprint, the company expects “to demonstrate substantially reduced surface impact, including wetland impacts and a longer mine life for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

Current feasibility study activities, according to Aquila, focus on:

≤ evaluating open pit configurations and surface infrastructure layouts that avoid direct impact to regulated wetlands;

≤ progressing underground mine planning including ore delivery scheduling, ventilation and confirming the location of the box cut;

≤ updating the mineral resource estimate using current metal prices and net smelter return calculations; and

≤ preparing samples for additional metallurgical tests to support a simplified process flowsheet and enhanced gold recoveries.

Aquila said that subject to securing additional funding, its goal is to complete the study in the fourth quarter this year.

Guy Le Bel, Aquila president and CEO, said in a statement, “We are committed to advancing the Back Forty Project with a collaborative approach that integrates feedback from the community. Our goal is to design, build and operate a 21st century mine in sync with American values of safety, quality work, leading-edge technology and environmentally responsible mineral extraction.

“The resulting mine will offer over a decade of net benefits to local and regional communities while being protective of the environment.”

Aquila said the feasibility study design will build on technical and environmental work that Aquila has completed since the submission of the original permit applications and the completion of the 2018 open pit feasibility study. Aquila said it believes the most efficient path to shovel-ready status is to focus efforts on successfully permitting the feasibility study design.

The Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, Inc., based in Marinette, Wisconsin, has been opposed to the project. The group released a statement on Tuesday in which it said it was pleased that the decision of the judge will stand and that its hard work contributed to the protection of the Menominee River and the surrounding wetlands from what it called the “detrimental effects” of the proposed mine.

“While we expected to prevail before the review panel, it is a welcome development,” the coalition said. “However, as is always the case, the fight goes on. Aquila indicated in its request to abandon its appeal of Judge (Daniel) Pulter’s decision, that it will be submitting a new mine application later this year, that will for the first time include underground mining.

“Of course, we always expected going underground to be part of Aquila’s long-term plan. While Aquila will try to spin this as a new strategy to avoid or minimize wetlands impacts, we intend to remain diligent in our efforts and have significant concerns that extensive underground mining and the corresponding groundwater drawdown will have as much or even more impacts on the watershed and could be an even greater threat to the health of the Menominee River.

“Our coalition and our partners remain steadfast in our resolve and will continue to fight to protect the Menominee River for all to enjoy.”

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