August 2011 Newsletter
August 31, 2011
Dear WRPC Member,
As you know, WRPC, the Center for Biological Diversity and Laura Gauger are embroiled in a lawsuit against Kennecott Minerals over ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act at the Flambeau Mine site near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. What happens at Flambeau stands to impact ALL of us who are fighting ill-advised mining proposals in the Great Lakes region.
You know all too well what we mean. There are now over a dozen mining projects in various stages of permitting in the Lake Superior region of northern Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. All of these projects have the potential to affect the health and environmental quality of life for communities that depend upon clean water and clean air for their economy and their culture. Some mining projects, like Kennecott’s proposed Eagle Mine in Michigan are poised to begin underground construction as early as mid-September. But this is not a done deal. There are still efforts to delay construction, including an administrative appeal of the permit decision. We must do whatever we can to support our friends who are “on the ground” and have dedicated their lives to protecting the water.
Other proposed mines, like Gogebic Taconite’s (GTac) open pit iron mine, have been temporarily put on hold as a result of widespread citizen and tribal resistance to the company’s attempts to rewrite and weaken the state’s mining laws through secret passage of the so-called Iron Mining Law. A revised version of this legislation, which has not been made public, will be introduced sometime this fall.
Throughout this process the mining industry has continually pointed to the “successfully reclaimed Flambeau copper mine” at Ladysmith as an example of how mining can be done without harm to the environment. As Laura Gauger points out in her summary of our legal action in the case, the Flambeau mine has become a fraudulent “calling card” for the industry.
When citizens and tribal members pushed the Wisconsin DNR to deny Kennecott’s request for a full reclamation certificate for the Flambeau Mine in 2007 because of ongoing pollution in a creek that receives contaminated runoff from the mine site and ultimately drains into the Flambeau River, the company was required to conduct ongoing monitoring of the site as part of the settlement. That monitoring continues to show high levels of copper in the creek that clearly exceeded the legal limits set to protect fish and other aquatic species. And, mind you, this is being caused by a very small mine that had a 180-acre footprint and a 35-acre open pit. If they couldn’t “get it right” at Flambeau, what is to happen with the PolyMet proposal in Minnesota that has a 3,000-acre footprint and three large open pits that total 450-acres in size? Goodbye, Clean Water.
Over the years, Kennecott has made three separate attempts to deal with the ongoing problem of contaminated runoff at the Flambeau Mine site. Each plan has failed to fix the problem. Now the company has advanced its latest scheme that entails the construction of three “infiltration basins” at the site and has applied to the Wisconsin DNR for a permit to do so. This action is totally separate from our lawsuit but nevertheless an important piece of the puzzle.
An infiltration basin, as Laura Gauger, has suggested, is a glorified sink hole. “The water that collects in the sink holes will be allowed to seep into the earth, where it will carry the contaminants with it and be hidden from view. Interestingly enough, the direction of groundwater flow in the vicinity of the sink holes is toward the Flambeau River, and the bedrock between the backfilled pit and the river is fractured. As the late Roscoe Churchill would say, this latest proposal from Kennecott is ‘just grass over a grave.’”
A hearing on the permit has been scheduled for Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 5pm at the WDNR Service Center – N4103 State Highway 27, Ladysmith, Wisconsin. It’s Kennecott’s old office building at the mine site. How appropriate, considering how difficult it has been over the years to distinguish who has worked for Kennecott and who has worked for the DNR on the Flambeau Mine project.
We realize it may be difficult for WRPC members and supporters to travel to Ladysmith for this hearing, but we need your help and are asking you to submit written comments to the Wisconsin DNR by mail. Written comments must be postmarked no later than September 10, 2011 and should address “whether there is detriment to the public interest, including fish and wildlife or their habitat, natural scenic beauty or water quality.” Comments should mention the applicant’s name: Flambeau Mining Company. Send to Jon J. Kleist, WDNR, 875 South 4th Avenue, Park Falls, WI 54552 or e-mail: Jon.firstname.lastname@example.org
Renewed interest in Wisconsin’s gold prospects
With gold prices at record levels ($1763 an ounce) and Governor Walker’s support for fast-tracking the permit process, there is renewed interest in the Bend copper-gold sulfide deposit in Taylor County and the Reef gold sulfide deposit in Marathon County (see Ron Seely’s article). Aquila Resources, a Canadian mining exploration company has obtained exploration licenses for both deposits.
Aquila and Hud Bay’s “Back Forty” Project
Aquila Resources is the same company that has been exploring for gold in the “Back Forty” venture near Stephenson, Michigan, not far from Marinette, on the Michigan side of the Menominee River. In 2009 Aquila entered into a joint venture with Hud Bay Minerals of Canada to develop an open pit massive sulfide mine next to the Menominee River, the largest river system in the Upper Peninsula with more than 100 tributaries and a 4,000 square mile drainage area.
Local residents concerned about the threat of a metallic sulfide mine being developed on the shores of the Menominee River formed the “Front 40” organization in 2003. Their objective is to ensure that metallic sulfide mining operations do not adverse affect rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands. For more information go to: menomineeriver.com
Please Renew Your Membership and Contribute to the WRPC Legal Defense Fund
This is the time we ask our members to use the return envelope to renew their membership in WRPC. If the date on your mailing is anytime before 09/11, it means your annual membership is due ($15 for regular or $5 senior/low income). When you renew your membership, please consider an additional donation for WRPC’s legal defense fund. As Laura notes in her update, this fall will be the busiest time on the case and the most expensive. WRPC is not tax-exempt so your donations to the legal fund are not tax deductible.
Thank you for your continued support in this important legal case.
Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary, and Laura Gauger