Republican Mining Bill Ignores the Truth of Wisconsin’s Mining History

January 19, 2013 by Barbara With

January 8, 2013 - Mike Wiggins Jr. and members of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa gathered at the Congregation of The Great Spirit in Milwaukee to talk about the importance of clean water and the irreparable harm a mine in the Penokee Hills would do to the Bad River watershed and Lake Superior. Photo: Rebecca Kemble

January 8, 2013 – Mike Wiggins Jr. and members of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa gathered at the Congregation of The Great Spirit in Milwaukee to talk about the importance of clean water and the irreparable harm a mine in the Penokee Hills would do to the Bad River watershed and Lake Superior. Photo: Rebecca Kemble

Wisconsin Republicans have finally released their next version of a mining bill, waiting until late Friday afternoon to do so. The only public hearing on the bill will be held in Wednesday, January 23, 2013 in a small hearing room at the Capitol in Madison.

Critics of the bill, SB1/AB1, are calling it “deja vu all over again” because it seems to be nearly identical to AB426, the flawed mining bill that was illegally passed the Assembly last year but failed to make it out of the Senate. Sen. Jauch (D-Poplar), who represents much of the area where the mine would go, called the bill a “hoax.”

According to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters‘ analysis of Senate Bill 1 (SB1)  and LRB 1129, its identical Assembly companion, the new bill will exempt mining companies from following environmental standards, among other things. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a statement strongly opposing the bill, and Mike Wiggins Jr., Chair of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, put it this way:

On January 2, I wrote, “The jobs have gone from GTACs own admission of 30 local and 30 in-house workers over the first couple years…to 2,500 jobs created right now.” Tonight the Governor gave his State of the State Address and his dream of an earth-friendly, environmentally sound open pit mine in the headwaters of the Bad River Watershed will produce … 5,800 jobs. By the time you read this in the morning, you might as well call it an even 6000.

Mining proponents have been citing the Rio Tinto/Kennecott mining company’s Flambeau mine, which operated in Rusk County from 1993 to 1997, as an example of environmentally responsible mining. However, the mine the has caused significant environmental damage and recently was cited for 11 counts of contamination.

Nor did the Flambeau mine generate the economic benefits mining advocates claimed it would. According to data received from Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development in 2002, Rusk County had the highest unemployment rate in the State during the years the mine operated (1993-1997).

The Flambeau Mine (a Kennecott/Rio Tinto project) operated on the banks of the Flambeau River near Ladysmith, Wisconsin in the mid-1990s. This photo was taken in 1994 when the river flooded during heavy rains and came within 20 horizontal feet and 4 vertical feet of spilling into the mine pit.(Photo by Bob Olsgard of Sarona, WI, September 17, 1994)

The Flambeau Mine (a Kennecott/Rio Tinto project) operated on the banks of the Flambeau River near Ladysmith, Wisconsin in the mid-1990s. This photo was taken in 1994 when the river flooded during heavy rains and came within 20 horizontal feet and 4 vertical feet of spilling into the mine pit.
(Photo by Bob Olsgard of Sarona, WI, September 17, 1994)

In 1997, Tim Tynanm and the Mining Impact Coalition released a report titled, “When Mines enter Minds: An investigation of Ladysmith and Medford, Wisconsin and the Economic Impact of the Flambeau Mine” which summarized the truth about the alleged economic benefits of mining:

1. The Flambeau Mine had a negligible impact of the economy of Ladysmith.

2. A similar city, Medford, Wisconsin (a city without a mine) has spent roughly the same amount of tax revenue as Ladysmith but on different initiatives. Ladysmith has spent much more money on economic development than Medford, and Medford has spent much more on schools and residential amenities.

3. Medford has outperformed Ladysmith in terms of economic prosperity over the past seven years.

4. The rich copper mine which once “promised the world” to those in Ladysmith is now gone–leaving a large, empty hole just outside the city.

In 1995, UW Madison issued “The Socioeconomic Impacts of Mining in Wisconsin,” a report written by an interdisciplinary team of eight University of Wisconsin-Madison students with assistance from Professor William Freudenburg. The report was presented to the Wisconsin State Legislature, Assembly Natural Resources Committee, 1995:

Predicting economic impacts of a mine on a nearby community is complicated and by its very nature laden with uncertainties. The predictions used to assess economic impacts are often just ‘shots in the dark.’ The literature has shown that the margin of error in the past commonly reaches 100%.

In the spring of 2011, Marcia Bjornerud, Professor of Geology and Schober Professor of Environmental Studies at Lawrence University in Appleton Wisconsin led a group of 60 geologists on a field trip just west of Mellen, as part of the annual Institute of Lake Superior Geology. Their finding proved the danger of an open pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills:

Kakagon Sloughs: Home of Bad River's wild rice stands, and eyed as prime development real estate by Walker's fascist land grab program, "Ready Set Build." According to sources, this will make a great water ski resort. Photo © Larry Kinnett

Kakagon Sloughs: Home of Bad River’s wild rice stands and the heart of the Bad River Watershed. Photo © Larry Kinnett

Namely, there ARE sulfide minerals. Because the rock layers dip, or tilt, steeply to the northwest, a very large volume of the Tyler Formation would have to be removed to create stable benches or terraces on the northwest wall of an open pit mine. There is no use for this weak, clayey material, and so it would simply be stored in tailings piles. The disseminated pyrite in the fragmented rock would over time be oxidized and interact with rain and snow leading to acid drainage.

This year’s mining bill is also a clear violation of treaty rights as well, as Republicans once again failed to include the Lake Superior Chippewa in the negotiations, opening the gates for Federal litigation.

By putting forth a mining bill that will surely end up in court, Wisconsin Republicans appear to be abandoning their oaths of office, taken earlier this month. All historical and current evidence indicates that this bill will put the entire state, particularly the Penokee Hills, the Kakagon Sloughs and its watershed, in severe economic and environmental risk.

Contact all legislators and tell them to vote NO on the new mining bill.

People who cannot make the hearing should email their vote via email directly to Sen. Tom Lehmen (D-Racine) Sen.Lehman@legis.wisconsin.gov and Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) Sen.Tiffany@legis.wi.gov. Copy both to ensure your vote is counted.

Be sure to include SB1 in the subject line and indicate in the body it is SB1 you are registering your vote for. Include your name and address.

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