Role of local collaborators in fact-based information on mining initiative clarified
Stacey Johnson of the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation, and Myles Alexander of the University of Wisconsin-Extension Oneida County issued a clarification of their roles regarding the formation of the Oneida County About Mining initiative.
According to a press release, the clarification was issued due to a recent email circulating in the area that “misrepresents the relationship of the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation, University of Wisconsin Extension and Oneida County and the City of Rhinelander.”
The following is the information provided in the press release:
The Information for Oneida County About Mining initiative is a collaboration of the University of Wisconsin Extension – Oneida County and the independent, non-profit Oneida County Economic Development Corporation. The collaboration began after Oneida County supervisors and others asked OCECD Director Stacey Johnson and Extension Communities Educator Myles Alexander to provide fact-based information without a pro- or anti-mine bias. Neither are employees of Oneida County or the City of Rhinelander. The Oneida County Economic Development Corporation board of directors includes representatives from area business, industry and government.
The initiative is funded by a grant from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association for Commerce. The Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy preliminary economic impact study was funded by a grant from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association for Commerce Foundation.
New information is posted on the initiative website and the question and answer (Q&A) discussions continue at the website. The information is provided so Oneida County residents may have a clear understanding of non-ferrous metallic mining topics ahead of the referendum question set to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Some of the information and Q&A is included in this press release. More is at
Non-Binding Referendum Question
After performing their due diligence, should Oneida County allow leasing of County owned lands in the Town of Lynne for the purpose of metallic mineral exploration, prospecting, bulk sampling and mining?
Facts about the Lynne Deposit
- Exxon Minerals identified isolated anomalies from an airborne electromagnetic survey flown in the mid 1970’s
- Oneida County made the mineral lands available for lease through competitive sealed bid in 1989
- Explored in 1990 by Noranda Exploration, Inc.
- A massive sulfide deposit (like the Eagle Mine deposit). Volcanogenic massive sulfide ore deposits are a type of metal sulfide ore deposit, mainly copper-zinc which are associated with and created by volcanic-associated hydrothermal vents in submarine environments.
- Covered by 40 to 75 feet of unconsolidated glacial till
- Approximately 325 feet thick in the central part of the ore zone
- 1300 feet long
- 5 to 5.8 million tons of ore
- The Eagle mine deposit is approximately 1000 feet below the surface of the ground in rock.
- Metallic minerals in the ore deposit:
- 27% zinc
- 47% copper
- 71% lead
- Gold and silver in ounces/ton of ore
- The primary minerals at the Eagle Mine are copper and nickel
- Noranda stopped work in 1993 and reclaimed the exploration disturbances in 1996
Other things we do know now:
- Developing a mine would create jobs
- Mineral mining on county land would provide the county royalty income on the minerals delivered to a smelter in addition to new property and sales tax income.
- People are concerned about the environmental risks to the Willow Flowage area in the Town of Lynne, the quality of life people find there, and impacts on the existing tourist economy.
Some of what we don’t know now:
- We don’t know if a permit for further exploration and mining will be submitted.
- We don’t know the results of a feasibility study that follows exploration. Would a company determine current technology can mine the deposit, meet regulations and make money?
- Until a mining permit is submitted we won’t know:
- what kind of mining technology will be proposed,
- how efficient the mineral extraction process may be,
- the number of employees required to operate the proposed mine,
- how long a mine may be active,
- the environmental protections proposed.
- the utility, transportation and public service demands and how they would be met.
The legal context of the November 6, 2018 referendum
Brian J. Desmond, J.D., Oneida County Corporation Counsel
Michael J. Fugle, J.D., Oneida County Assistant Corporation Counsel
October 22, 2018
Act 134 made it easier for a mining company to get a permit for metallic mining. The change in state law made the Oneida County ordinance unenforceable. Without an updated county ordinance any mining in Oneida County would have been subject only to State Statute and Administrative Rules. There would have been no County role in regulating mining. Therefore, the County adopted a new mining ordinance.
Oneida County does not have an ordinance prohibiting metallic mineral exploration, prospecting, bulk sampling or mining on county owned land. Resolution 59-2012 to lease County Forest Lands for exploration, with the option for prospecting and metallic mining in the future was defeated by the County Board. Since that decision on Resolution 59-2012, the policy of the Board has been to not allow metallic mineral exploration in the Town of Lynne. As the landowner of the Lynne deposit, Oneida County cannot be compelled to permit mining on its land.
The Nov. 6, 2018 ballot referendum is non-binding by state statute. It is intended to give the County Board of Supervisors an indication of voter support or opposition to metallic mining in the Town of Lynne. The Board will use that information as they update their policy about leasing County owned lands for metallic mining in the Town of Lynne. The County Board of Supervisors may change policy by adopting a new resolution.
Due diligence is defined in Black’s law dictionary as “the diligence reasonably expected from, and ordinarily exercised by, a person who seeks to satisfy a legal requirement or to discharge an obligation.” A synonym would be “reasonable investigation” or “careful examination.”
Questions people have asked. Answers are by Advisory Panel members unless others are noted.
Question: How did the Lynne deposit site become public land?
Answer: Almost all County Forest land in Wisconsin, not just Oneida County, was obtained by the counties through tax foreclosure in the 1920’s, & 1930’s. Much of the wild land in northern WI was cut over by lumber companies. After the timber was removed they considered it to be wasteland and let it go under tax delinquency.
Question: If the Lynne deposit were mined, would it need to be withdrawn from county forest land?
Answer: To explore the Lynne deposit (perform new conformation drill holes) the land would not need to be withdrawn from County Forest. To mine, the impacted land would need to be withdrawn.
Portions of the existing snowmobile trail and ATV/UTV trail would likely need to be rerouted if the mine was approved. It is my [JB’s] understanding that a mining company would be responsible for all costs associated to rerouting and possibly improving any impacted existing trails on the OC County Forest.
The process to withdraw county forest land.
- The process is begun by a recommendation of the Forestry Committee.
- The decision is made by the County Board.
- The choice of adding new land to county forest is made by the County Board.
- DNR can approve or disapprove of the withdrawal, based on NR 48.04 which lists many criteria at issue with the land in which the Lynne deposit is located.
- The county board can appeal the DNR decision. The process is outlined at https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/2011/28.11(11)(a)4.
Question: Is withdrawn county forest land still county land for purposes of mining royalties, etc. unless it is sold?
Answer: What the county wants to do with the land gets spelled out in the application. If the application is approved the land is automatically removed from the County Forest Lands. To allow the withdraw to happen, the Department may “order” the county to do something such as include replacement lands or designate funds for future purchases. On approved withdrawals, the county follows through with their plans as explained in the application. So, if the application states that the county retains ownership of the lands and royalties, then that goes into the investigation of the withdrawal. (http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/administrativecode/NR%2048.05)
Answers compiled from responses by John Bilogan, Department Head, Oneida County Forestry and Outdoor Recreation and Doug Brown, DNR County Forest & Public Lands Specialist.
Question: How were the mine employment numbers determined?
Answer: Both economic impact studies we have now are very preliminary. The CROWE study was limited to the economic impact of a mine itself. Questions about the existing economic activity during and after a mine would be operating are good, but beyond the scope of the study. A more complete preliminary economic impact study would cost about $45,000. A study of the impact on current economic activity during and after a mine may be part of the complete economic impact studies done as part of a permit application.
The North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (NCWRPC) used 200 and 250 employee scenarios. They began and completed that study before this information initiative was formally launched. At that time we thought those numbers were reasonable.
The CROWE report presents an economic impact based on 350 employees. Author Noah Williams reiterated that number was estimated from “existing metallic mines (mostly iron) in Minnesota and Michigan [which] employ 340-1200 people, with most in the 600-700 range. (See figures 3 and 4 here: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/eupdates/Sen17/GTAC%20Impact%20FINAL.pdf ). The scales which are given there are similar to Lynne’s estimated 5.6 million tons.”
Additionally, “all of the economic impact measures that we came up with scale with the employment size. So, if only 175 were employed, then all of our total economic impact numbers would be cut in half.” He also reminded us that “any actual operation would have an employment and investment plan, which would make the analysis more concrete.”
One questioner pointed out the Flambeau Mine deposit was larger than the Lynne deposit and employed about 60 people to operate. To see the scale of economic impact of a Lynne mine with that level of employment, multiply the CROWE report numbers by 0.17 (60 is 17% of 350) and the NCWRPC 200 job scenario numbers by 0.30 (60 is 30% of 200).
Based on Adams, G. W. (1996). Geology of the Lynne Base-Metal Deposit, North-Central Wisconsin, U.S.A. In Volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits of northern Wisconsin (pp. 161–179) and information from a Lundin Mining brochure, “Eagle Mine” we know:
Question: How is a mining company held accountable?
Answer: A mining company faces two types of accountability:
- Corporate accountability to shareholders.
- Many federal and state regulations.
The regulations require many permits. Each permit process has opportunities to negotiate some specific terms: environmental protections, royalties, local benefit agreements, neighbor relations and responsibilities. Statues and common law not specific to mining also provide legal recourse.
The accountability mechanisms are negotiated in local agreements. A company must provide statutory and negotiated financial assurances. The regulatory authorities have the power to act.
Consider detection of a ground water quality issue. A monitoring system would be in place on and off the mine site. It would be monitored by the DNR and the mine company, usually by a consultant. A problem would likely be detected before a water quality violation was reached. The local agreements would likely describe how to enforce at each step of detection and what actions would take place.
Question: Who is liable, and for what?
Answer: Liability is very complex.
For environmental impacts the mining company is liable forever. If there is another land owner, under Superfund law there may be long term liability for the land owner in the event the mining company no longer exists. Therefore, if the Lynne deposit were mined, it may be best for the county to sell the land and negotiate the sale to receive royalties.
Other liability issues, not related to the environment such as property damage and vehicle accidents, are short-term and easily covered.