Extreme Mining Advocate John Sendra Runs for Assembly District 74 Seat

By Barbara With

On August 16, 2012, extreme mining advocate John Sendra addressed the Ashland County Board as part of his campaign for the 74th Assembly District seat. Sendra is a Tea Party Republican from Mercer running against incumbent Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) and appears to be basing his entire campaign on the single issue of mining.

Back in March 2012, Sendra launched the recall of Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) for voting against AB426, the mining bill that was narrowly defeated last Spring when Sen. Dale Schultz (R-New Richmond) also voted against it. (After months of denying knowledge of who wrote the bill, Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) admitted G-Tac, the mining company interested in building a 22-mile open pit mountaintop removal iron ore mine within miles of Lake Superior, was responsible for drafting the bill.) When Sendra failed to get enough signatures for the recall, he announced that he would run for office against Bewley.

The Penokee Hills above and strip mined land for iron ore in MN below. Photos by Joel Austin

Sendra opened his remarks to the Board saying he was going to “blast some myths” about mining, and reviewed the work he has done to bring a mine to the Penokee Hills, including a bi-partisan resolution signed by the Iron County Board in favor of the mine. He claimed to have unanimous support, but failed to mention the No Mining Resolutions that the Red Cliff and Bad River Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Town of La Pointe (Madeline Island) have signed, and the resolution recently passed by Oneida County to exclude mining as a as vehicle for economic development. He also did not mention the violation to Treaty Rights such a project would create, and the possibility of the Tribes filing suit in federal court.

Referencing a report done by NorthStar Economics, Sendra claimed the mine will create over 2,100 new jobs that will pay an average of $83,000. However, NorthStar Economics has a shady history. For example, a similar report that NorthStar prepared for the City of Madison in 2006 was proven fatally flawed by the Wisconsin State Journal. While evaluating the economic impact of a proposed sick leave law, NorthStar misplaced a decimal and the mistake inflated projected property tax losses by tenfold.

Missing from NorthStar’s mining report were estimates of possible economic losses to other area businesses, such as the Bad River Casino (the area’s largest employer), the organic farming industry, and area tourism. Nor did it mention the potential cost of a water purification system that would be needed, as the mine site sits in the middle of the Bad River watershed, which supplies the water for the entire area. There are several scientists who have pointed out the problems. According to all independent scientists who have examined the mining proposal, the environmental consequences of tailings mixed with pyrite could be devastating.

Map showing proximity of proposed mine to inhabited areas.

Throughout his campaign, Sendra has repeated refused to discuss the potential risks of a mine in this region. In an interview on March 19, 2012 at the Government Accountability Board offices in Madison, Sendra claimed no one lived near the proposed site. In fact, the town of Mellen is a short 8 miles away and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation is a mere 6 miles from the site and inhabited by 1,500 of their over 7,000 members.

When asked about the risk to the natural resources of the area, Sendra replied, “Why are you living in Madison? Shouldn’t you destroy all these buildings here and just let things go back…let’s go back to caves.”

He also failed to respond to questions about the devastating impact the mine would have on the Bad River Tribe and the Kakagon Sloughs, known as the Everglades of the North. Sulfide mining is known to destroy wild rice, which grows there and on which Bad River depends for food and ceremony. He did not seem to know the geography of the district he is running to represent, and appeared to be refusing to listen to the voices of his future constituents.

As Sendra was addressing the Ashland County Board, Sam Morris, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, began drumming in the park outside the boardroom window. On January 26, Morris was removed for drumming a prayer in the Wisconsin state capitol before AB426 went to the Assembly. He was escorted out of the building by Capitol Police officers and was issued a $260 ticket for disorderly conduct. Tribal attorney Glenn Stoddard was nearby and attempted to assist Mr. Morris, but was bodily pushed away by an officer. Morris has subsequently sued for violation of his rights.

The day of Sendra’s talk in Ashland, Morris positioned himself under the boardroom window to protest the proposed mine, and Sendra’s refusal to acknowledge Federal Treaty Rights.

Ashland police officers escort John Sendra out of the building.

Sendra was accompanied by six Ashland County police officers while in the courthouse. Afterward, he refused to answer questions and was escorted to his car by several of the officers.

On October 17, 2012 at 7 PM, the Ashland Business Alliance with host a debate between Bewley and Sendra. The event will take place at in the Ashland Room of the Best Western Hotel Chequamegon in Ashland, Wisconsin.

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