Reader: Oneida County should stop promoting mining
In 2009, an obscure “mining interest” called Tamerlane, approached Oneida County, seeking to acquire the rights to a known mineral deposit on county forest lands on the western side of the county, called the Lynne Deposit. The Lynne Deposit was formed well over a billion years ago and then eroded and twisted for many million more, before being buried beneath a vast column of water and layers of sand and gravel when the glaciers receded over ten thousand years ago, forming the foundation for our lakes, streams, and wetlands.
Our county government reacted to Tamerlane’s request by rubber-stamping a failed, old policy Resolution that was used a decade previously to open the County Forest to metallic mining. A mining oversight/local impact committee was formed to consider developing a leasing plan, and although, over the course of three years the committee spent considerable time, energy, and resources, it was never especially interested in the existing information base, nor the considerable public concerns and opposition that they heard meeting after meeting.
Fortunately, the full county board was listening, and in February 2012 the leasing plan was stopped. The committee was turned back two more times that summer, the last being the defeat of the “Shidell Resolution”, which ended metallic mining as a policy goal of the county government.
Despite no longer pursuing “mining as a policy goal”, the county was back promoting a mine at Lynne within a month of the defeat of the “Shidell Resolution.” This time it was the Planning and Development Committee proposing to allow metallic mining in areas zoned “1-A Forestry”. The county forest at Lynne is zoned “1-A Forestry” and the Town of Lynne was opposed to rezoning the area to “Manufacturing and Industrial” a change necessary to have a mine there. Planning and development wanted to allow metallic mining in “1-A Forestry” to circumvent the need for a rezone, stripping the Town of a critical protection.
It was at this 9/11/2012 P&D committee meeting where the idea of weaponizing the zoning districts in retaliation against a Town that opposed a mine, was first developed. Although the committee would eventually drop the proposal because of public opposition, they had their next chance to go after local control within five years, thanks to Tom Tiffany.
The Mining Moratorium Law was always popular, but Tom Tiffany was able to successfully repeal it in late 2017. Once the law was repealed, it was widely, but inaccurately construed as opening Northern Wisconsin to massive sulfide mining as a matter of right, and it was clear that there was a coordinated effort to establish sulfide mining anew in the Northwoods. There were promotional mine tours, a promotional “Mining 101” seminar, and then the counties were pressured into developing a compliant mining ordinance, removing several key protections.
In Oneida County, vast areas were opened to metallic sulfide mining by precluding a mining company from having to petition to rezone those areas. This was done by allowing metallic mining as a “Permitted Use” in areas zoned “1-A Forestry” and “General Use.” It was already allowed in areas zoned “Manufacturing and Industrial.” This means that in addition to the permitted use specified, “services essential to the permitted use, and its accessory uses shall be permitted in that district as a matter of right.” When you couple this with the fact that the new ordinance removed prohibitions on smelting, refining, solution mining, and dumping mine wastes in the county, generated from outside of the county, the new mining ordinance was a blueprint for turning the region into a mining district. Under this scenario, the Lynne mine would have likely been used as a central processing center, eventually receiving ore, and generating waste on site from other mines, including from outside of the county.
Once Oneida County removed these protections with the new mining ordinance, there was only one more step to open the door for a mine at Lynne. The supervisors pushing the mine at Lynne have always wanted a referendum question on the issue. They finally got it, and it did not go their way when their referendum question failed substantially during the November 2018 election. Without “social license” for a mine at Lynne, the centerpiece for a mining district in our county collapsed.
Since the failure of the Noranda experiment in the 1990s, our county government has, on three occasions spent considerable time, effort, and resources promoting one mining scheme or another in our county, always with considerable public opposition, and always to no avail.
It’s time for our county government to take a sober, objective look at this issue, and ponder its priorities. It makes no sense for our county government to continue squandering its fiscal resources to remove protections from itself, while pushing something that people do not want, and that threatens the integrity of our high quality natural resource base.
Karl A. Fate, Rhinelander