Oneida County mining discussion creates additional controversy
If Oneida County board members had any doubts how their constituents feel about mining in the Town of Lynne, they got a good idea at their monthly meeting held last Tuesday. More than 50 people attended the meeting, all to voice their disapproval of the process the board and mining committee (which has recently been combined into the Forestry, Land and Recreation committee) has taken to initiate mining in the county. Even Lac du Flambeau tribal members attended, vehemently voicing their disapproval of how the board and committee have “pushed aside” their efforts to work with the committee concerning the mine.
“All I see here are more broken promises,” said Brooks Big John, tribal member. “Seems like your minds are made up about this (mine) and that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. We are not to be looked down upon as a tribal nation. We are neighbors; our children go to school together. We need to look at each other eye-to-eye and talk about this. We have brilliant people who work for the tribe who know about this kind of mining. Let’s work together.”
On the day’s agenda was a closed session that would “review Oneida County mining documents” and that irked many of the speakers who voiced their opinion to the board. “It seems like we have to protect ourselves from our own county government,” said Karl Fate, an opponent of the mine. “Why are our concerns being pushed aside?”
This isn’t the first time Oneida County citizens and Native American tribal members have been up in arms about a mine in the Town of Lynne. Back in 1990 Noranda Minerals expressed an interest in mining close to six million tons of zinc, lead ore, silver and gold from the Lynne site, which is on land owned by Oneida County. This ore body was discovered by Noranda through soil borings when that company won the county’s 1989 mineral rights lease. Noranda decided not to mine the site because the discovery of lake beds in a wetland south of the deposit resulted in too many environmental regulations to overcome. And then, a little more than two years ago, Tamerlane Ventures expressed interest in exploring the site once again, and then-chairman of the Mining Oversight Committee, Dave Hintz, brought the idea to the board as a way for the county to generate income and create jobs.
After the April election, the Mining Oversight/Local Impact Committee was combined into the Forestry, Land and Recreation Committee. Now this committee includes County Supervisors Jack Martinson, Tom Rudolph, newly elected county supervisors Jerry Shidell and Jack Sorensen. It is chaired by Gary Baier. At their last meeting held June 11 this group (Baier and Rudolph were absent) decided not to have Dave Schatzley, Town of Lynne chairman, sit on the committee or any tribal representatives either, citing possible legal issues of having non-elected officials voting on matters not pertaining to mining since mining was now lumped into the Forestry, Land and Recreation committee. This committee was also directed by the county board last month to consider public hearings on the mining issue, which the majority (Shidell and Sorensen) decided were not necessary.
At their June 11 meeting the Forestry, Land and Recreation Committee did draw up two resolutions to bring to the board requesting a non-binding referendum that would ask voters their opinions about a mine in Oneida County on the Nov. 6 presidential election ballot. The other resolution requested to “release bid packages for the exploration, prospecting and mining lease agreements and hold an information meeting within 60 days of the opening of the bids.”
The fact that the board was even considering releasing bid packages peeved some members of the audience. “If you think you can open this up for exploration and then a mining company won’t mine it, you are deluded,” said one woman. “We do not want this mine.”
After the public comment portion of the meeting was closed, Baier explained why the committee had brought the two resolutions to the board. “Remember this land belongs to all the citizens of Oneida County,” he said. “Give us some time to look at all the environmental issues.”
But supervisor Jack Martinson (who did vote to conduct public hearings at the committee level) stated flat out he was opposed to the resolution concerning the non-binding referendum in November.
“We were directed to have public meetings,” he said. “A lot can happen between now and November. I hope you supervisors wake up here and smell what’s going on. We voted to have public hearings and that got voted down.”
But Supervisor Bob Martini thought both could be used to gauge public opinion. “Referendums aren’t the only tools to get opinions,” he said. “There’s a broad range under which this issue can be presented. For instance, under what conditions would people agree to mining, if at all? We need detailed circumstances of what the public wants, and a whole series of things need to be done. A referendum in November is not enough.”
Carol Pedersen drew applause from the audience with her comment. “Seems the committee on mining has lost the confidence of the people,” she said.
The board voted 11 to 8 to send both resolutions on the agenda concerning mining back to the committee and directed them to come up with a solid “plan” which would include more public involvement. Those voting not to send the resolutions back to the committee included Shidell, Baier, Denny Thompson, Mike Timmons, Scott Holewinski, Paul Dean, Jack Sorenson and Sonny Paszak. Romelle Vandervest and Bob Mott were absent.
Another controversial resolution was offered by Jack Sorensen and it concerned holding the monthly county board meetings after 5:30 p.m. instead of the 9:30 a.m. time table they have been on for years.
“Look around this table and you will see that the vast majority of members are retired,” he said. “With the meetings being held in the mornings, people that work during the day can’t run for county board because of employment conflicts. The reason I brought this forth is so we can get younger people running for the board.”
After a lengthy discussion that resolution was voted down, with Holewinski, Baier, Dean, Timmons, Paszak, Shidell, Hintz, Billy Fried, Martinson and chairman Ted Cushing voting to keep the meeting time at 9:30 a.m.
Editor’s note: How do you feel about mining in Oneida County? We are interested to know, and would appreciate your opinion on a poll we have posted on our website, StarJournalNOW.com. Complete the poll, and we will publish the results in a future issue of the Star Journal. Click here to access the poll.