December 2011 Newsletter
December 8, 2011
Dear WRPC Member,
Supporters of Gogebic Taconite’s (GTac) open pit iron mine in the Wisconsin State Assembly are once again trying to rush through a major assault on Wisconsin’s mining regulations. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) said that lawmakers will hold a news conference on December 8 to reveal details of the legislation. Although copies of the bill have not been available to the public or legislators who represent the proposed mining area, the bill is already scheduled for public hearings on December 15 with the stated goal of getting the bill passed by the end of the year. What’s the big rush to completely overhaul Wisconsin’s mining regulations to accommodate the wishes of one mining company that has never developed an iron ore mine?
The hearings will most likely be in Milwaukee, more than 300 miles from the proposed mine site. Fitzgerald said holding the hearing in southeastern Wisconsin makes sense because the area is home to several mining equipment companies that stand to benefit from the mine.
Mike Wiggins, chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, whose reservation is downstream from the proposed mine views this decision as another attempt to exclude those who are most directly impacted from the permitting process. “They scheduled these hearings so far south, travel is a challenge for anyone,” said Wiggins. “People in the north are the impacted stakeholders.”
The only public hearing that took place near the proposed mine site was the October 27 hearing in Hurley by the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Small Business. The purpose of the hearing was to take testimony on the idea of changing the mining law even though no mining legislation had been proposed at that point.
Mike Wiggins testified about his tribe’s concerns with the proposed mine but the reporter for the Ashland Daily Press ignored the substance of the chairman’s testimony. As WRPC member Mary Rehwald from Ashland noted in her letter to the paper, “Reporter Richard Pufall began his report on the meeting in Hurley about the proposed mine by saying that ‘a few women’ and ‘of course the Bad River Tribe’ were the only people there who opposed the mine. Huh? Excuse me! There were several dozen women and men who spoke eloquently both for and against the mine for a full seven hours. Truth seems to be one of the first casualties of the tussle between a community desperate for jobs and a company that is drooling to mine one of the largest ore deposits in the country.” The Northern Miner, an industry publication, also dismissed the objections of the Mole Lake Ojibwe Tribe when the first public hearing on the proposed Crandon mine was held.
Senator Robert Jauch (D-Poplar), whose district includes the proposed mine site is upset at the secrecy surrounding this bill. “They refuse to discuss any of the details, including the author(s) of the proposal. They are acting more like they serve in the Kremlin instead of Madison,” said Jauch.
My analysis of the failed Iron Mining bill from last spring can be found in “Resisting Resource Colonialism in the Lake Superior Region.” Further information about this project can be found at savethewatersedge.com and at the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice.
Kennecott/RioTinto’s Closed Flambeau Mine is Still Polluting
It is ironic that pro-mining legislators are trying to loosen mining regulations at the precise moment when the truth about ongoing mining pollution from Kennecott/Rio Tinto’s Flambeau mine in Ladysmith is finally receiving the attention it deserves. In January 2011, WRPC, the Center for Biological Diversity and Laura Gauger filed suit against the Flambeau Mining Company for ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act, including unlawful discharge of pollutants to the Flambeau River. On November 2, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a front page story about the pollution and WRPC’s lawsuit. The article mistakenly refers to us as the “Water Resources Protection Council,” a mistake that was corrected in the online version of the story. On November 11, 2011 our attorneys filed a motion for partial summary judgment of the case. We will keep you informed of any further developments in the case.
Michigan Judge dismisses environmental and tribal objections to Kennecott’s Eagle mine permit
On November 23, Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield rejected the expert testimony provided by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), the Huron Mountain Club and the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve that the mine was unsafe and would collapse, endangering the lives of workers and damaging water quality. Despite Kennecott’s failure to prevent acid mine drainage at the Flambeau mine in Wisconsin, the judge accepted the company’s assurances that it would take steps to prevent acid mine drainage at Eagle Rock.
The company has already cleared land and constructed surface facilities for the mine. In September it began blasting and drilling bedrock for the entrance to the underground tunnel at Eagle Rock, a sacred site for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and other tribes with ties to the area. Michelle Halley, an attorney for the NWF, has not yet decided whether to take the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Growing opposition to proposed mining exploration in the town of Lynne, Oneida County, Wisconsin
Oneida County’s Mining Oversight and Local Impact Committee had planned to present the full county board with proposed contracts and bid packages for possible mining on county forest land in the town of Lynne at their November meeting. Three mining companies – Tamerlane Ventures, Josephine Mining and Aquila Resources had expressed interest in the zinc deposit discovered by Noranda Minerals two decades ago. But growing opposition to the proposed exploration has put those plans on hold.
A survey of landowners in the Town of Lynne showed over 75% of respondents opposed to the project. Then on November 10, 2011, town chairman Dave Schatzley, along with two supervisors and the local impact committee chairperson wrote to the Oneida County Board expressing strong opposition to the efforts of the county to authorize mining within the Town of Lynne. Among their greatest concerns was the impact on water quality. “We do not believe it is possible to be guaranteed our ground water and water resources will not be polluted.
In correspondence with the Tomahawk Leader, Schatzley said, “I think the future will see increased action to oppose the mine all together and several separate groups will unite in a common goal.” Until then Schatzley encourages any group representatives or political representatives who wish to join in efforts against the mine to contact him at (715) 564-2620.
Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary