Ashland County Mining Impact Committee Hears Warnings from Northland Professor

October 16, 2013 by Barbara With

Bad River Tribal Chair speaks out at Ashland County Mining Impact Committee meeting. Photo: Barbara With

Bad River Tribal Chair Mike Wiggins Jr. speaks out at the Ashland County Mining Impact Committee meeting. Also present were Dr. Joseph Skulan, Bad River Elder Joe Rose and Town of Morse Mining Impact Committee Chair Jeff Ehrhardt. Photo: Barbara With

The Ashland County Mining Impact Committee met this morning before a full house to hear information given by Dr. Tom Fitz, a Northland College professor who was part of the team that discovered abundant amounts of asbestos in the Penokee Hills. Present at the talk and standing in support of Fitz was Northland College President Michael A. Miller, PhD.

Many of the leaders of the Lake Superior Bands of Ojibwe were in attendance, including Mike Wiggins Jr. and Joe Rose of Bad River Band, and Rusty Barber and Mic Isham of Lac Courte Oreilles Band, as well as concerned citizens from around the region.

Fitz gave a presentation about where the grunerite was found, its characteristics and his concerns about the discovery. He warned that even though it cannot be confirmed that grunerite is present in other areas of the proposed mine site, that it was found so abundantly draws cause for concern. The possibility of asbestos being abundant beneath the surface throughout the entire range is quite likely, according to Fitz. Fitz also supported the idea that the public has a right to see the information from the drill cores.

Grunerite is the same mineral that led to the lawsuits against Reserve Mining in northern Minnesota in the 1970s. The company was sued for poisoning drinking water by dumping asbestos-laden waste rock into Lake Superior.

Bad River Edler Allie Raven. Photo: Barbara With

Bad River Elder Allie Raven testified: “This process has already gone too far… We’re all downstream of this, and I am truly horrified at the kind of discussion we’re having today… We’ve got a wake up call, and it is extremely serious. I’m not hearing the outrage.” Photo: Barbara With

Dr. Joseph Skulan explained further concerns — “Even if asbestos dust can be confined to the mine when it is initially produced, that dust will be transported out of the mine as some point, creating additional sources of asbestos dust beyond the mine proper. So piles of waste rock will contain asbestos dust, and wind can blow the dust off of the waste heaps and spread it. Water contaminated with asbestos dust could be deposited on stream banks during flooding, creating an additional source of airborne asbestos when the dust dries. The point is that even if the dust is initially controlled, there will be other opportunities for the dust to be released as material from the mine is stored, moved and processed. ”

Skulan also explained the impossibility of engineering a way out of the problem. Pyrite, also present in the hills, requires dry stacking, and asbestos requires wet treatment. This makes it difficult to handle in the waste piles GTac plans to create on 3,331 acres of land leased from Iron County.

During public testimony, Ashland City Alderman Richard Ketring spoke up to say, “We don’t want to be an experiment for GTac.” Bad River Tribal Chair Mike Wiggins Jr. reiterated, “This is our home, and a Florida-based company is not part of this community.”

Washburn resident Jeff Silbert addressed the mining company, who did not have a representative present. “I would like to respectfully ask GTac to leave. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong people. We have a vision of 10,000 protectors in the hills to stop this mine.”

When asked how the county board would protect the citizens of the county, Ashland County Board Chair Pete Russo said, “If the County Board has to pass more regulations, we’ll do it. If it’s going to protect the county, we’ll do that so you don’t have to worry about that.”
Photo: Barbara With

Photo: Barbara With

At the committee meeting that followed, Board Supervisor Donna Williamson assured the group that the county has the responsibility to close down any proposed mine that would create a public health risk, even if they had to go to court. She named Public Health Nurse Cyndi Zach and Zoning Administrator Larry Hildebrandt as key figures moving forward in how the committee decides to address the issue. “I am proud to serve with a team who feel the social, moral and legal responsibility to do something about this situation and to protect the residents of the county of Ashland.”

Zach was present at the meeting and added, “The county has a human health hazard ordinance on the books already.” The committee will review the existing human health hazard and proposed bulk sampling ordinances and determine if any additional protections are needed.

Ann Coakley, DNR Director of the Bureau of Waste and Materials Management, spoke briefly to say that the ball is in GTac’s court. “The department is still waiting to hear back from GTac concerning their incomplete application.”

Watch the entire meeting on Indian Country TV.
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2 Comments on “Ashland County Mining Impact Committee Hears Warnings from Northland Professor”

  1. John K. Smith October 17, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    I applaud the Ashland County board for starting discussions on how to deal with the health hazards that Ashland and Iron couny residents face from the blasting of deadly Asbestos into the air from the proposed GTAC mine. If the state and Walker can’t or won’t protect the residents of Wisconsin then I am glad that at least local city officials feel it is their responsibility to protect local residents from inhaling lethal asbestos. What I find shocking is that first GTAC denied any deadly asbestos was present, and now they apparently are saying they don’t know because they haven’t been looking for it. With the relative ease that it was found by area residents, makes me think either GTAC is completely incompetent or they are covering up the fact that they have known all along that this deadly asbestos had been found and documented previously in the US Steel core samples. The presence of lethal asbestos and sulfuric acid producing pyrite is probably why US Steel passed on this mine site a number of years ago. Why any future investor would invest their hard-earned money into this blackhole of a money-pit is beyond me.

  2. Axis October 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Every day as I pray and offer tobacco, I ask for those who would do evil to our sacred Mother Earth be STOPPED. I am glad that wcmcoop is covering this and exposing this EVIL! Closer to where I live, the Frac Sand Mining Issue is on our doorsteps. While we attend township board meetings and try and get some ordinance in place, the dark-power-money people happily work in their Citadel of evil in Madison to destroy what we have known as Wisconsin. Linked to my name, hopefully, is the Wisconsin Democracy Campaigns latest blog “What the Frac.” They are preparing to remove what little local control communities have. I near despair, but while I still have life, they will HEAR from me…and I think you. Thank you!

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