Last week’s public hearing attracts mining opponents
County Planning and Development Committee continues work on ordinance language
BY NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
The majority of attendees at the public hearing for the Oneida County mining ordinance draft this past Wednesday were adamant in their opposition to mining in the Northwoods. While the hearing had been called to deal with specific issues in the current mining ordinance amendment draft, most speakers focused on the environmental impact of mining itself.
One citizen, Al Gedicks, observed that a “social license” was lacking, a concept that involves not just legislative and regulatory permission but a consensus of the public to operate.
“If Oneida County mines are opened for mining in the face of widespread local opposition, how long will it be before we see armed guards protecting mining operations from democratic dissent? This is the picture of the future in Oneida County: armed security guards,” he finished, holding up photos for the crowd of what he said was such a scenario at another mining site in northern Wisconsin.
“The land and the waters do not belong to Oneida County, they do not belong to Lynne township,” said another citizen, Karen Isebrands Brown. “We are borrowing this land and water from our children and our grandchildren, seven generations out and more.”
The Lac du Flambeau tribe has been vocal in its opposition to mining at council meetings, and several members appeared at the hearing to voice their disapproval as well.
Andrew Adams, an attorney with Hogen Adams in St. Paul, Minnesota who has represented the Lac du Flambeau tribe on a variety of topics, was on hand at the request of the tribe. He noted that a variety of laws were at play regarding mining interests, and that Wisconsin had a requirement to enact “active consultations” with federally recognized tribes within the state prior to a mining lease.
Many comments were directed at the state mining bill’s author, Tom Tiffany, who also took the opportunity to speak. He warned the council about the redundancy of including exploratory and bulk sampling provisions in the ordinance, as similar permit processes and “robust regulations” for exploration and bulk sampling have already been included in the legislation at the state level.
He also noted the presence of financial assurances already included in the state legislation. Wisconsin requires multiple financial assurances to forestall future problems prior to the opening of a mining site, Tiffany explained to the Star Journal. In last year’s legislation, two different types of assurance were added, one of which is a maintenance and repair bond that lasts for 250 years. Tiffany said the mining company is required to put cash aside in an interest-bearing account with the state of Wisconsin that covers the public into the future in the event the mining company “goes broke” or fails to fulfill state requirements.
Pete Rasmusson from Marengo echoed the idea of redundancy in the ordinance, but finished with different advice for the county board. “You’re paying somebody to guarantee that your ability to protect yourself is gone. A local agreement is the one way you guys have to protect the citizens of this county. If you’re mimicking state law, you’re giving that up.”
Kathy Cooper from Pelican said she had been researching sulfide mining.
“Everywhere I’ve looked says that sulfide mining has a near perfect track record of creating pollution,” she said, adding that claims regarding water pollution from the Flambeau mine were false and citing what she called an ongoing lawsuit under the Environmental Protection Act.
The Flambeau mine in Ladysmith, operated during the 1990s, is the only metallic mine in Wisconsin that was “permitted, constructed, operated and reclaimed under the state’s existing regulatory framework,” according to Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR website explains that reclamation has been largely successful for the Flambeau Deposit area, and today the former mine has been reforested and a public use trail system exists through the reclaimed site.
Flambeau stands in contrast to the White Pine Mine in Michigan, referenced by several speakers at the hearing as continuing to leak acid and have a negative impact on the environment. The copper mine was begun in the 1950s, under different regulations than today’s modern mining requirements.
The state’s new mining law goes into effect July 1. Counties have until then to adopt zoning regulations related to the law.