STEPHENSON, Mich. - It's not an old-fashioned gold rush, but it comes close, and it's just across the border in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Two mining companies say there's great potential for a new mine which could create hundreds of jobs.
But some believe the environmental concerns outweigh the potential for jobs.
Drills have been a common sight near Stephenson, Mich. for the past eight years. Stephenson-based company Aquila Resources and Canadian mining corporation HudBay Minerals have been exploring a large mineral deposit in a 60-acre section in Menominee County.
It's about 10 miles west of Stephenson. They call it the "Back Forty Project."
So far, 486 holes have been drilled. What's been found? Zinc, copper, silver and yes, even gold.
Aquila Resources president Tom Quigley says overall, this deposit ranks within the top 20 percent of its kind in the world. And with close to a million ounces of gold present, it ranks in the top 10 percent of its kind in gold deposits alone.
"Mineral discoveries are rare events, and typically, people in our business - exploration - it's a rarity to actually make a discovery," Quigley explained. "So for us, as an exploratory company, it was a big event and now we're transitioning into a potential mine, so it's a success story."
The companies are nearing the end of the exploration process and hope to submit a metallic-sulfide mine permit through the state of Michigan at the end of the year.
Conservative estimates show the mine would create more than 500 jobs. Officials say once the mine is up and running, it would have a $107 million economic impact in 6 counties near the border of Michigan and Wisconsin within the first year of operation.
With four minerals to mine, officials say it's a great business opportunity.
"The poly-metallic nature of our deposit helps in those economics, it protects it from the swings of just one metal price, cause we're producing multi-metals," Quigley said. "Of course gold now is $1,300-1,400 an ounce."
But before any money can be made, the companies have to complete environmental studies. The results are still pending, but some residents are concerned.
The prep work has created a debate among those for the mine and a group of concerned citizens, called the "Front 40." The group has been working to educate the public on the potential hazards of the mine.
"The bottom line is, if you add up all the pros of a sulfide mine and all the cons, it just doesn't add up," said Front 40 member, Ron Henriksen.
Henriksen's concerned with possible contamination of local water resources, like the Menominee River, which is near the potential mine and his home.
"You have to remember, of course, everyone is preaching jobs, jobs, jobs because of the economy, but are temporary jobs worth the harm to people's health and the environment?" Henriksen explained.
Henriksen and other group members have been researching the potential hazards. The group found that other metallic-sulfide mines have run into major pollution issues.
The group has many concerns, particularly acid mine drainage.
"The one that happened in Romania in 2000, it says it spilled mine waste into a tributary of the Danube, killing more than a thousand tons of fish and issued a plume of cyanide that stretched 1,600 miles to the Black Sea," explained Front 40 member, Lyle Espenscheid.
Despite what's happened at other mines, Back Forty officials ask people to wait before drawing conclusions, since they're still conducting the environmental studies.
"The technologies now are so much more advanced than previous mining activities that you know, there's still an opportunity to do it properly and safely," Quigley explained.
Despite the opposition to the Back Forty Project, officials hope to apply for a mine permit by the end of 2011.
In addition to this project, Aquila Resources is also looking into another mining opportunity.
Recently the company began drilling in the northern portion of Michigan's Upper Peninsula looking for gold.
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