January 2012 Newsletter
January 11, 2012
Dear WRPC Member,
Despite efforts to discourage people from northern Wisconsin from attending a public hearing on the Iron Mining bill (AB 426) by holding the hearing in Milwaukee, many northern residents got in their cars or caught a bus at 5am to make the long trip to testify at the hearing. Opponents of this wholesale gutting of Wisconsin’s mining regulatory framework outnumbered supporters 2 to 1!
One of the big unanswered questions raised at the Milwaukee hearing was “who drafted the Assembly’s Iron Mining bill?” Now we learn that Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) ordered the legislature’s bill drafters to write the bill with a little help from Gogebic Taconite (GTac), the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce association and staff from Gov. Scott Walkers office and several Republican legislators (“Lawmakers got help on mining bill,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 12/29/11). Honadel received money from GTac in his last campaign and is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where many of these pro-business proposals originate.
This is not the first time that mining companies have written Wisconsin mining regulations, but it is certainly the most extensive involvement to rewrite so many laws and regulations that provide some measure of protection for Wisconsin’s environment, human health and democratic participation in the decision making process.
It such a bold assault that even supporters of the proposed mine, like the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have condemned the Assembly bill as “a travesty of legislation that will significantly weaken environmental protections and reduce citizen participation in the permitting process. It’s almost as if children had replaced Republican legislators and had dared each other to see how outrageous they could make this bill.” (“Yes to an iron ore mine; no to a bad Assembly bill,” MJS, 12/18/11).
After Assembly Republicans ignored citizen requests to hold a public hearing in the mine-affected communities, Democratic legislators (Sen. Robert Jauch ,D-Poplar and Rep. Janet Bewley , D-Ashland) agreed to hold their own public hearing in Ashland on January 7. Suddenly, Assembly Republicans decided to hold their own hearing several days later in Hurley, on January 11th. At that point Sen. Jauch and Rep. Bewley cancelled the January 7 hearing and urged people to testify at the Assembly Jobs Committee hearing in Hurley. Apparently public opinion does have to be taken into account, even if belatedly and reluctantly.
Urgent Appeal to WRPC Membership
As Assembly Republicans attempt to gut Wisconsin mining regulations, the Wisconsin DNR proposes to list an unnamed stream at the Flambeau mine site (known as “Stream C”) as “impaired” due to copper and zinc toxicity. We are asking you to voice your support for this proposal. The Flambeau mine, owned by London-based Rio Tinto, operated near Ladysmith, WI from 1973 to 1997 and extracted thousands of tons of copper, gold and silver.
The DNR recently released its proposed 2012 list of “impaired waters” – a list of lakes, rivers, and streams that are too polluted to meet state water quality standards intended to protect public health and aquatic life. On the list is Stream C, which flows over the southern portion of the Flambeau Mine site where copper ore crushing and other mining-related activities took place in the mid-1990s, and in which copper pollution was discovered shortly after the mine’s closure. This area of the Flambeau mine site has not been released from state reclamation requirements.
Water quality collected by both Flambeau Mining Company and the DNR since the early 2000’s show that Stream C has consistently had levels of copper (and sometimes zinc) over the concentrations established by DNR to protect surface waters from “acute toxicity.”
Stream C flows under the mine’s former rail spur, across the un-reclaimed portion of the mine site, and into the nearby Flambeau River. The stream is known to receive runoff from areas where mining wastes were stored in the past and where toxic discharges continue to this day. Three nearby streams not impacted by mining were monitored by DNR in 2010-11, and do not show toxic levels of copper or zinc.
Earlier this year, WRPC and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against Flambeau Mining Company for its toxic discharges of metals, including copper, iron, and zinc, into Stream C and the Flambeau River; the litigation is ongoing.
In addition, because of the toxic levels of copper that consistently have been documented in Stream C over the past decade, WRPC petitioned DNR in late 2010 to consider classifying Stream C as “impaired.” The inclusion of Stream C on the Department’s proposed 2012 list of “impaired waters” shows that DNR listened to us. But it is not a done deal.
We expect Flambeau Mining Company to be actively lobbying DNR to take this stream off the impaired waters list proposed by the Department (see press release from FMC – link is listed below) – there is a public comment period now underway.
We are appealing to WRPC members to submit written comments to the DNR in support of the Department’s proposal to list Stream C as impaired for copper and zinc and to ask that DNR require Flambeau Mining Company to clean up its mess.
Comments are due by February 20, 2012 and can be sent via email or regular mail to:
email@example.com or AaronM.Larson@wisconsin.gov
Mail:Aaron Larson Wisconsin DNR Water Evaluation Section – WT/3 101 S. Webster St. P.O. Box 7921 Madison, WI 53707-7921
For more information, please go to:
(When the page pops up, do the following:
-Click on Search 2012 Current, Proposed, and Restored Impaired Waters
-Next you will be asked to “Enter Water Name or WBIC.” Enter the following: “Stream C, trib to Flambeau River” and click “Search”
Another listing on DNR’s impaired waters webpage:
When the page pops up, do the following:
-Click on View a summary of the data submitted to see info on Stream C.
-Click on 2012 Impaired Waters List for more details
Flambeau Mining Company’s press release from 12/11/2011
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about the proposed list, including a paragraph about Flambeau and Stream C
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel front page article from November 2011 about the Flambeau Mine and Stream C
Visit our page on the current lawsuit
Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary
Laura Gauger, Legal affairs coordinator