Ashland County Board Chair Calls for Repeal of Mining Law

December 8, 2013 by Pete Russo and Charles Ortman

[On December 7, 2013, in an editorial ran in the Ashland Daily Press, Ashland County Board Chair Pete Russo and Board Member Charles Ortman called for a repeal of Act 1, the new ferrous mining law that was written by Gogebic Taconite and passed into law last March. – Editors]

Ashland County Board Chair Pete Russo and Board Supervisor Charles Ortman at a press conference July 10, 2013 after GTac was caught employing a paramilitary militia in Arizona to patrol their drill sites in the Penokee Hills. Photo: Rebecca Kemble

Ashland County Board Chair Pete Russo and Board Supervisor Charles Ortman at a press conference July 10, 2013 after GTac was caught employing a paramilitary militia in Arizona to patrol their drill sites in the Penokee Hills. Photo: Rebecca Kemble

Gogebic Taconite (GTac) President Bill Williams is wanted in Spain for his role in arsenic pollution of a river and aquifer near a mine he was involved in before coming here, despite promises that were made of “new technology” and “engineering our way out of anything.” At some point engineering failed and arsenic began. Mr. Williams’ response to the Spaniards’ umbrage at arsenic in their aquifer, “It’s just opposition to the mining in that area.”

Background knowledge of this area of Mr. Williams’ life would have undeniably changed the flavor of every hearing on the new ferrous mining law. Certainly his promise of new technology preventing any environmental degradation would have been met with the skepticism it deserved. His front row seat and unlimited time at every hearing cheerleading the law written specifically for his company with input provided by his company at the request of some of our own legislators most likely would not have happened.

Would Mr. Tifany have cheerled requests and written special legislation for Mr. Williams and GTac had he known an entire aquifer was polluted with arsenic on Bill Williams’ watch? Not likely.

Asbestiform grunerite (the bad stuff) has already been confirmed in the Penokee ore body by at least three credentialed geologists, including our own Dr. Tom Fitz. Despite this finding, GTac continues attempts to cloud the asbestos issue by describing it as “the subject of media debate.” GTac also maintains the position that “asbestiform material is unlikely to be present …”

Four scientists who have commented in potentially unfavorable ways to GTac’s permitting plan have also been subjected to discrediting attempts by GTac. These scientists have endured comments ranging from, “… she couldn’t get a job in the private sector …” to “his work is not credible.” Sadly, I have even heard the field of geology compared to lawyering with all the usual negative innuendo when discussing the work of Tom Fitz to bring out the asbestos issue.

This behavior is bizarre but predictable. If the law of gravity was suddenly found to potentially derail GTac’s permitting plan, would they declare gravity a “media debate,” deny its existence and declare Sir Isaac Newton a fraud?

The ferrous mining law should be repealed. We should not be subject to an engineering experiment on our precious watershed by any company, but especially not by one whose leader’s most recent exploit was an epic failure in water protection.

Ashland County Board Chairman Pete Russo
Ashland County Board Supervisor Charles Ortman

Below: Pete Russo speaking at a press conference last summer, July 10, 2013 Mellen, WI after GTac was caught illegally hiring a paramilitary militia to patrol the hills.

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