May 1, 2013 by Rebecca Kemble
On Tuesday, April 23 the Iron County Board held a question and answer session with Gogebic Taconite (GTac) personnel concerning the four-phase, 22 mile long open pit taconite mine they plan to develop in Iron and Ashland Counties.
Despite the requirement that questions from Iron County residents had to be submitted to the board and forwarded to company officials a week before the meeting, GTac came up short on most of their answers. They dodged most questions by saying they have to wait until they drill core samples and do hydrological studies before they can give the public good information about how air, water, wildlife and land will be affected by blasting a four mile long by 900 foot deep crater in the Penokee Hills.
The board room was packed to overflowing with people from Iron, Ashland, Bayfield, Portage and Dane Counties keen to hear what GTac officials had to say during their rare appearance at a public forum.
More than two years ago, then GTac Managing Director J. Matthew Fifield told an audience at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center in Ashland that the company did not need and would not be seeking changes in state law in order to pursue their mining plans. Shortly after that, a massive mining deregulation bill was leaked to the public. When AB 426 failed to pass the Wisconsin State Senate last year, Bob Seitz, lobbyist for the company, said that GTac would be “ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine.”
But their plans were revived last November after pro-mining interests spent well over $1 million to unseat Democratic Party Senator Jess King to regain control of the Senate. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, militant promoters of the mining bill, spent $850,000 in their smear campaign against King, attacking her for her vote against the mining bill. King lost the race by 599 votes.
The first initiative the new legislature took up and passed this session was AB1/SB1, a 206 page mining deregulation bill similar to AB426. It was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker as Act 1 on March 11, 2013 .
A big concern for Iron County residents involves the terms of a 3,331-acre county land lease to GTac for their use as a mining waste site that was signed on January 26, 2011. The lease and associated option require the land to be withdrawn from County Forest Law in order to be used as a waste deposit site.
The day before Tuesday’s meeting Iron County Clerk Mike Saari informed resident Dick Thiede that the statutory vote required to withdraw the land from CFL had already taken place two months before the lease with GTac was signed on November 9, 2010. See Thiede’s description of his investigation into the lease here.
Listed below are links to videos of the April 23 Iron County Board meeting organized by theme:
The Penokee Hills Education Project recently opened an office in Ashland, Wis. to coordinate public education efforts about the proposed mine project and water resources in northern Wisconsin. Check out their website for more information.