Board considers future of mining in county
Mining and Nokomis Lake District issues were two big focuses of the monthly meeting of the Oneida County board last Tuesday.
Mining in the Town of Lynne continues to create division on the board with some supervisors pushing for it while others are willing to wait for more information, especially from the public. Supervisor Tom Rudolph was particularly frustrated with this scenario.
“We can’t do our job because people are against mining,” he said. “We need to be allowed to do our job, but people keep asking us to jump ahead, and now it seems as if we are spinning our wheels. We have to let the (mining) agreements go out and see what mining companies have an interest, or are even willing to bid. Then if we get bids and they are unacceptable to us, we go from there.”
Supervisor Bob Martini also spoke, explaining he had many years experience (32) as a former Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee. “There are multiple questions with this issue,” he said. “So far the general process hasn’t included the citizens of Oneida County. We need to decide under what circumstances are we willing to allow mining. We should not expect the DNR to protect the environment.”
He also noted that within the last two or three years many DNR employees have left the agency that had experience with mining issues particularly when the Noranda Mining Company wanted to mine in the Lynne area back in the 1990s. “A whole bunch of expertise has left the agency-expertise that worked on the Lynne deposit, worked on the Crandon deposit, worked on all kinds of deposits in the North,” he said. Another point of contention was viewing confidential leasing agreements that have not been available to the public or even other board members. “When can the rest of the board see them?” he asked.
Oneida County’s corporate council Brian Desmond explained that those documents were targeted to be approved by the board, but they were sent back to the mining committee for revision to include public hearings about whether mining should even be considered before mining companies have a chance to draw up contract proposals. He hinted that they may be available for board members but not necessarily for the public. “I’m hesitant to put those documents in the public domain before the entire board sees them,” he said.
The board also discussed the meeting that was held in Minocqua on May 8 with the Lac du Flambeau tribal council headed by Tom Maulson. Tribal members are leery about mining in general, but particularly in Lynne. Maulson explained there were significant tribal historical ties with that property, including medicine lodges and burial sites.
Supervisor Gary Baier now heads the committee whose former chairman was Dave Hintz. The mining committee is now under the umbrella of the Forestry, Land and Outdoor Recreation Committee.
“The information from the tribe was very interesting,” said Baier. “I think it needs to go to a referendum form. The mine would be in a sensitive water resource area, and we all know how water flows. But we also need jobs here. It’s a process we need to walk through to meet the requirements (of mining) if it will happen. We have an attorney now that’s also a geologist, and our goal was to get to the first phase and anyone interested in mining do a contract.”
Desmond also briefly explained the complicated process the board and many other governmental entities would have to go through before mining can happen in Oneida County . “There would have to be an exploration lease, a special use permit to allow mining and then a mining lease,” he said. “There’s a host of permits. First a company would have to get a rezone. We would have to remove the land from the county forestry program and the DNR requires that land be replaced. There are standards to be followed with the DNR to take that out of the forestry program.”
There was a meeting scheduled in several townships on June 23 to hear the public’s reaction to mining, but it now appears to be up in the air whether it will take place. “Getting experts from the DNR to come (to these) meetings is very difficult,” said Baier.
The board also discussed the Lake Nokomis lake district petition. The board turned down the proposers of a lake district several months ago and that group is now appealing the decision. There are two ways to form a lake district. One is to gain a majority of signatures of lake residents who approve of forming a district or by a percentage of land owned. While the group did not get enough signatures to form a lake district, they did get the land portion mainly because the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company signed the petition. This company owns a significant land mass in the area. “We reviewed the documents again and they still didn’t have enough signatures but they did meet the land mass requirement,” said Desmond.
County Board Chairman Ted Cushing announced that there would be a special board meeting to again consider the petition and the creation of the Lake District. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 29 at 9:30 a.m. at the Nicolet College Theatre.
“We will be hearing comments from lake people and then make a decision on the petition,” he said.
In other business the board:
• Viewed a demonstration brought before the board by Jim Winkler, youth development agent with the UW-Extension. Students play acted a typical scenario on how teen court operates, and Winkler explained to the board that by having teen courts available in Rhinelander High School and Lakeland Union high School recidivism rates are lower.
• Approved two quit claim deeds in the Town of Three Lakes and one in the Town of Lake Tomahawk.
• Renamed the former Northern Advantage building to the Oneida County Health and Aging Facility. The new facility is expected to open the first of June.
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