Letter: Legislators misinform public about future of Penokee Range by Susan Sommer
U.S. Steel was willing and ready to sell the conservation rights on 16,000 acres of land along the Penokee Range through negotiation with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 2003, including their mineral rights.
This is the same land Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) wants to mine; the same land for which GTAC has secured an option to obtain the mineral rights from current owners RGGS Land and Minerals (Texas) and La Point Mining Company (Minnesota); the same land that drove the “Mining for Jobs” bill, SB1 and AB1.
In 2003, TNC applied for Forest Legacy Program funds to help purchase the conservation easement from U.S. Steel. Land and Water Conservation funds were to be used to help the Forest Service buy another 6,000 acres. The resulting easements would have maintained the recreational uses and timber production on a total of 22,000 acres along the Penokee Range. Mining would not have been allowed.
Forest Legacy easements commit land to a forest management plan that recognizes and encourages management of the forest for public recreation, scenic beauty, timber production and conservation benefits. The easements are permanent and binding on future landowners.
The 2003 Forest Legacy Project was named “Bad River Headwaters.” Wisconsin DNR records indicate the federal government awarded $3,428,000 toward the purchase of the conservation easements. The state of Wisconsin match funds totaled $1,143,000. The total value of the land interests was $10 million.
The records state that although negotiations had been going well between TNC and the landowners, one of the larger landowners decided to sell their holdings to another party. The new owner was not interested in selling a conservation easement to the state. A state of Wisconsin Final Report dated June 12, 2006, explains that: “[t]he new owners have indicated that they may mine the property in the future.”
The larger landowner was U.S. Steel. The purchaser was RGGS Minerals.
If there is a profitable ore body on the Penokee Range, why was U.S. Steel willing to sell a conservation easement on that land? The easement would have banned mining in perpetuity. Certainly U.S. Steel knew the implications of a conservation easement. Most certainly, U.S. Steel knew the value of its mineral rights on the Range.
The other parties to this transaction also must have known the value of the mineral rights. In fact, the state of Wisconsin was required to obtain an appraisal in order to determine the fair market value of the land interests. (State of Wisconsin Forest Legacy Program, Program Narrative, 424 Application, Fiscal Year 2003, Bad River tract.)
There must be an appraisal of the mineral value in the land GTAC claims it wants to mine. Clearly, all the parties in 2003 knew the value of the mineral deposits. Certainly today’s proponents of a taconite mine on the Penokee Range must also know.
In 2003, one of the largest steel-producing companies in the world was willing to sell a conservation easement for its 16,000 acres on the Penokee Range, knowing that mining would be prohibited. Yet in 2013, our legislators insist there is profit and jobs to be had in those same hills. Facts suggest otherwise. We have been duped. To what end?
Susan Sommer, Phelps