November 3, 2014 by Maureen Matesuwic and Barbara With
UPDATE: On February 27, 2015, GTac President Bill Williams announced that GTac would be closing their Hurley office and discontinuing their pursuit of iron ore mining in the Penokee Hills at this time. Williams blamed the EPA and the wetlands, which he claimed they did not know existed until recently.
This timeline details how local officials, mining supporters and politicians helped conceal from the public the fact that the new Wisconsin Wetlands and Mining Bills are designed to give Gogebic Taconite (GTac) President Bill Williams what he was asking for in order to build a 22-mile open pit mountaintop removal mine in the Bad River watershed.
It shows government officials using their positions of power to stifle the concerns of the public so as to allow GTac to control the lease, the legislature, and now the local Iron County zoning law which is currently being prepared by GTac lawyers.
JUNE 15, 2010: GTAC INCORPORATES IN DELAWARE
Coal mining magnate Chris Cline and his associate Donald Holcombe file papers for GTac’s incorporation in the tax haven of Delaware. Over the next four months in the run up to the 2010 elections, GTac officials would donate $10,000 to the official campaign of Scott Walker, $2,500 to Assembly Rep Mark Honadel who would go on to champion the mining deregulation bill, and $1,500 to failed Assembly candidate Shirl Labarre who would later be used as a propaganda agent by the company.
NOVEMBER 9, 2010: IRON COUNTY MINING RESOLUTION PASSES
The week after the Republican sweep of the Wisconsin state legislature and governor’s office, without any public notice or discussion, the Iron County Board passes Iron County Resolution 2773 which supports Gogebic Taconite’s plan to strip mine the Penokee Hills. ICR 2773 directs the Iron County Forestry Department to begin the process of removing county land from the Department of Natural Resource’s Managed Forest Land program in an area that would later be defined in an option to lease 3,331 acres of county land to be used as a mining waste site.
JANUARY 21, 2011: GTAC REGISTERS TO DO BUSINESS IN WISCONSIN
The day before GTac’s first public presentation about their project, GTac officials file with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions to do business in Wisconsin as a foreign corporation.
JANUARY 22, 2011: GTAC WON’T CHANGE THE LAW
In a presentation at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, GTac’s Matt Fifield assures the audience that GTac does not intend to change the current Wisconsin mining laws.
JANUARY 26, 2011: GTAC LEASE OPTION
Gogebic Taconite signs an Option Agreement with the Iron County Board, receiving the right to lease or purchase 3,331 acres of Iron County Forest land on the south side of the Penokee ridge. There are many wetlands and streams in this area.
The lease also gives GTac the option to use additional land if they need it. Without the land, the mining company would not have the necessary place for waste dumps, a taconite plant and other of its mining needs.
The old Wisconsin mining law has stricter provisions protecting wetlands and streams. There are also stricter guidelines about how far the taconite plant and waste had to be placed from these waters.
Iron County Board chairman Dennis DeRosso tells Board members it is a resolution in favor of mining. (Source of link to lease agreement: Northwoods Alliance)
MAY 2011: IRON COUNTY ADVISORY MINING COMMITTEE
Iron County sets up a Citizen’s Advisory Mining committee. Minutes of the June 2011 meeting from the IC website show that there is some concern about the proposed changes to mining regulations:
No agenda for this meeting was posted until January 2012, and no minutes until April 2012 when the public learns that the first advisory committee has been disbanded. A new Mining Impact Committee had been put in place with Wisconsin Mining Association member Leslie Kolesar as an unelected member and appointed chairperson. There is no follow-up regarding the concerns from the June 2011 meeting and discussions regarding legislative changes are dropped.
MAY 18, 2011: GTAC AND WALKER START RE-WRITING THE LAW
Emails recovered in an open records request reveal Scott Walker’s policy advisor Jason Culotta was working on a draft of the new mining bill that would eventually become Act 1—the new mining law—with GTac lobbyist Tom Pyper:
JULY 2011: BILL WILLIAMS SAYS THERE IS NO LEGISLATION “OUT THERE”
In a public forum at the Deep Water Grill in Ashland, Williams tells the crowd he does not think there is legislation out there to change the law, even though his lobbyist is helping to write the new law.
OCTOBER 11, 2011: CHRISTMAS FOR BILL WILLIAMS
Bill Williams is interviewed by Wisconsin Eye. In this friendly interview, Williams talks about changes they need in Wisconsin laws. Skip ahead to 10 minutes 20 second in the video below where Williams speaks at length on the importance of being able to fill in wetlands, especially the protected most-sensitive wetlands known as ASNRIs: Areas of Special Natural Resource Interest.
He explains that current law does not allow harm to the ASNRIs, but denies knowing if any ASNRIs are in the mine site. He explains how he would like to be able to fill wetlands and mitigate the harm elsewhere.
DECEMBER 2011 – FEBRUARY 2012: MINING AND WETLAND BILLS
Republicans introduce the contentious new mining bill AB426, and the less discussed AB24 Wetlands Bill. Protections for wetlands and ASNRIs are removed from the bills. Mitigation and the creation of “wetland mitigation banks” are proposed as suitable compensation. Republicans promote the bills as being pro-jobs and necessary to streamline the application process for mining and real estate development. Mitigation for the harm to wetlands is made legal through a variety of methods, including buying credits from a mitigation bank.
Mining supporters on the local and state level continue to insist that they only want mining if it is done in an environmentally safe manner and that the government will protect the land and waters.
Three hearings are held throughout the state regarding the proposed mine and legislative changes, none of them in the Bad River watershed where the biggest effects of the project would take place. The division between citizens and scientists who argue for protections for the water and against the mine and the proposed legislative changes, and those who promote the mine as a way to bring jobs to the area becomes more contentious. Those in favor of jobs argue that the DNR, EPA and other agencies will protect the environment.
Leslie Kolesar, a member of the Wisconsin Mining Association and chairperson of the local Mining Impact committee, speaks in favor of the new bills and mining.
JANUARY 2012: NEW IRON COUNTY COMMITTEE
Pro-miner Leslie Kolesar chairs the Mining Impact Committee. Most of the members from the old committee are not on the new committee. Leslie makes videos promoting the mine and drinking water out of an old open pit mine in Michigan where she used to live. Soon public comment will no longer be allowed at Mining Impact Committee meetings.
FEBRUARY 2012: NEW WETLANDS LAW
The “Wetlands Destruction Bill” or Act 118 is passed in the middle of the night and signed into law by Walker. It allows for the filling of wetlands, mitigation, and removal of protections for ASNRIs.
- Removes the statutory list of wetland “Areas of Special Natural Resource Interest.”
- Establish mitigation bank credits and in-lieu fees as preferred mitigation option, but continues to allow on-site wetland restoration and/or creation.
- Permit applicants will apply for coverage under a General Permit (GP). GPs are automatically approved after 30 days, similar to chapter 30 GPs.
MARCH 2012: AB426 FAILS
AB426 is defeated in the Senate when Republican senator Dale Schulz votes against it.
Meanwhile, GTac gives Walker a $700,000 donation for his recall defense and at his request, directs it through Club for Growth so it can remain secret. News of the donation is released by accident in September 2014 as part of the second John Doe investigation into Walker’s campaign financing activities.
JUNE 2012: WALKER SURVIVED THE RECALL
Even though 1,200,000 Wisconsinites sign the recall petitions and force an election, Walker survives the recall election.
JANUARY 2013: NEW OLD MINING BILL
After raising millions of dollars to defeat Sen. Jess King, Republicans introduce AB/SB1, an almost identical version of AB426. They claim that because it is almost the same as the old bill, no more public hearings are needed, even though there are new members of the legislature who have no information about the measure.
After public outcry, one hearing is held in Madison on January 23, 2013. Total results are not posted on the official Wisconsin Government website until weeks later, and do not include the thousands of email votes sent to bill sponsor Tom Tiffany’s office. Open records would later reveal totals of 145 for the bill, 1,906 against.
FEBRUARY 28, 2013: NEW MINING LAW
AB1/SB1 becomes Act 1 and is signed into law by Governor Walker, giving GTac exactly what Bill Williams asked for publicly in the October 2011 Wisconsin Eye video.
“Under current law, a person who proposes to mine for metallic minerals must obtain a mining permit and any other permit, license, certification, or other authorization (approval) that is required under the environmental and natural resources laws, other than the mining laws, for example, wastewater discharge permits, high capacity well approvals, and permits for discharges into wetlands.
“Under the bill, a person who proposes to mine for iron ore must obtain an iron mining permit. The person must obtain some of the approvals under other environmental and natural resources laws, for example, wastewater discharge permits, but the bill provides approvals specific to iron mining in lieu of some current approvals, for example, high capacity well approvals and permits for discharges into wetlands.”
The bill states that “adverse impacts to wetlands are presumed to be necessary,” and prohibits DNR from “denying the approval permit if any significant adverse impact to wetland functional values that will remain after the impacts are avoided or minimized to the extent practicable will be compensated for under a mitigation program.”
MARCH 2013: IRON COUNTY MINING IMPACT COMMITTEE
GTac President Bill Williams reports it will take three to four years to get a mining permit if there are no surprises. There is a closed session. Public comment is allowed and concerns about wells, the lease, and the need for mining jobs are expressed.
JUNE 18, 2013: PRE-NOTIFICATION APPLICATION RUSHED
In June 2013, Iron and Ashland Counties Zoning Committees takes up a Metallic Mining Ordinance to protect themselves from GTac. At the IC June 18 meeting, GTac’s Tim Meyer drops the bomb that GTac decided to file a “Pre-application Notification,” implying that if they file for this before the new zoning ordinances are in place, they will be able to grandfather in the old zoning ordinances.
JULY 2013: GTAC HIRES UNLICENSED, HEAVILY ARMED MERCENARIES TO GUARD MINE SITE
In July, 2013, GTac brought in an unlicensed security company from Arizona, Bulletproof, to guard test drilling sites. Although they were committing a felony by hiring this firm, Iron County District Attorney declined to prosecute. The presence of armed mercenaries in the Penokee Hills was seen by many as a deterrent to independent scientists working in the area to delineate wetlands and catalog the flora and fauna of the region.
SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER 2014: LESLIE KOLESAR TAKES OVER RECLAMATION PLANS
Committee Chair Kolesar guides the committee and public to think about reclamation rather than impacts of mining such as the open pit, filling of wetlands, or construction of a taconite plant and water usage. Instead, Kolesar visits schools to solicit plans and encourages the public to send in their plans.
At the October Mining Impact Committee meeting, the only thing the public is allowed to talk about is reclamation (October 2014 Agenda #7.) Closed sessions have become more common and public is no longer allowed to speak freely.
OCTOBER 14, 2014: DEUTSCH ATTACKS BEWLEY
Iron County Republican Dane Deutsch, running against Democrat Rep. Janet Bewley for Sen. Bob Jauch’s seat in the 25th district, issues a press release after their debate in Iron County claiming Bewley is “fear mongering” when she states correctly that the new mining law allows the mining company to dump waste in wetlands and streams. Deutsch’s pattern follows the Republican intentional denial of the legislative changes and, when confronted with their deception, painting those concerned as fear-mongers or worse.
OCTOBER 23, 2014: CHANGE OF PLANS
During the Iron County Mining Impact Committee meeting, public reclamation plans are to be discussed. Iron County resident Bobbi Rongstad’s reclamation shows the committee pictures of the wetlands and streams, presumably ASNRIs. Kolesar says that Rongstad’s plan (and any other plans handed in by the public) will not be discussed because it doesn’t include mining.
However, GTac’s Bill Williams informs the committee that GTac is considering changing the plan and now going to use the 3,331 acres of leased county land for the taconite plant and other buildings—essentially making all reclamation plans invalid.
Kolesar then states that she feels she need to inform the public that Janet Bewley is wrong for saying that the new mining law allows wetlands to be filled and instructs her committee to look at Wis. Stats. 295.6. She will not allow Bret Deutscher to talk about the Wetland Bill and changes to the laws regarding fill of wetlands, since his comments were not about reclamation.
Below: October 2014 Iron County Mining Impact Committee meeting. Video: David Joe Bates
Meanwhile, Congressman Sean Duffy is concealing his support of legislation that guts the EPA.