A divisive proposal for a huge open pit mine in the Penokee Hills of northern Wisconsin has helped spur a surprising number of challengers to run against Iron County Board members in spring elections.

“I don’t remember the last time we had even one contested race for County Board supervisor,” said Mike Saari, who has served as county clerk for 15 years. “Even when a supervisor retires, only one person has run for the open seat.”

This year, 10 of the 15 board members are facing challengers. One veteran who has run unopposed every two years since the late 1990s will face a primary election on Feb. 18.

Jim Lambert, 71, who lives in the town of Mercer, has two opponents — one charging that he has been too soft on the Gogebic Taconite mining company and the other insisting that he hasn’t done enough to help the company.

Lambert said that it shows something if he’s made people mad on both sides of the mine debate. “I think I must be doing something right,” he said.

Dissatisfaction with services to senior citizens may have played a role in bringing forth challengers in the county’s four southernmost districts, but the mine appears to be behind most of the uprising, Saari and others said.

“Within my family and neighbors, I see it every day, people arguing,” said Tony Stella, a former county district attorney and longtime political observer who opposes the mine. “It’s like the civil war with brother fighting brother.”

Lambert and other Iron County Board members have taken the position that the county needs the hundreds of jobs the mine promises. They say that the 4½-mile-long iron mine can be operated without ruining the surrounding forest or the scores of lakes, streams and wetlands downhill from the site.

But there also have been disputes about county threats to evict a tribal encampment near the mine site, and disagreements after the company brought in paramilitary-style security guards in reaction to a protest that turned ugly. Persistent questions have been raised about how much the mine will benefit residents.

Critics like Stella say the County Board didn’t demand enough money in negotiations that gave Gogebic Taconite the option to lease more than 3,000 acres of county forest the company needs as a home for about half of the waste rock that is to be excavated from the mine.

The agreement will give the county 10 percent more than it would have earned on fees paid by lumber companies that cut trees on the land.

“It’s a joke, the lease,” Stella said. “And it’s something the county could have gotten wealthy on.”

Gogebic Taconite spokesman Bob Seitz said a new crop of trees will be planted on the waste rock, allowing the county to profit from timber again. The company is also paying $20,000 a year for the lease option, $10,000 for a permit to remove 4,000 tons of rock for testing and $600 so that a public hearing on the permit was scheduled quickly, Seitz said.

Residents should be happy that the County Board didn’t need to spend millions of dollars on incentives to attract the $4.5 billion mine, he said.

“They have not offered and we have not asked for a dime in loans, grants, or free sewer lines or anything like that,” he said. “All of the current board members have a favorable voting record on the mine.”

Seitz said he doesn’t know most of the challengers running for County Board, but he believes that four are in favor of the mine while about five may be against it. Saari said he didn’t know the stances of most of the candidates. Stella said nearly all may be against the mine.

Former allies

In County Board District 11, Lambert will face two opponents with political acumen in the Feb. 18 nonpartisan primary that will place the two top vote-getters on the April 1 election ballot.

John Sendra, a longtime supporter of the mine, is a former Iron County Republican Party chairman. He lost a statehouse bid in 2012 to Rep. Janet Bewley, an Ashland Democrat.

The 67-year-old former restaurant owner said he is running because people have told him Lambert has made statements questioning aspects of the mine proposal.

“I am the pro-mining candidate,” Sendra said. “I don’t believe the myths about the large amounts of pollution. Ferrous mining doesn’t pollute. It can be compared to digging a gravel pit.”

Lambert’s other challenger is Vic Ouimette, 75, a former county Democratic Party chairman and retired insurance agent. He said he supports “responsible mining.”

Ouimette said several years ago he worked with Sendra to promote the mine and the jobs it would bring, but he grew disenchanted with provisions of the 2013 state mining law that weakened environmental protections and reduced the local share of tax benefits from the project.

“A lot of people are not as gung-ho, mine-at-any-cost as they were in the beginning,” Ouimette said. “People are asking more well-reasoned questions and looking at it from more well-reasoned approach.”

Low-key campaigns

Saari said none of the candidates in any of the races has filed a financial report because none plan to spend much money campaigning. He said he remembers seeing candidate yard signs in some past elections, but the snow is so deep this winter that signs might not be practical — the wind might blow them away if they were planted atop snowbanks.

Lambert, who owns some cabins in rural Mercer that cater to people interested in fishing and snowmobiling, said he’s not sure what he did to find himself facing not one, but two opponents. Sendra and Ouimette are also trying to knock him out of his seat on the Mercer town board.

He believes they are probably campaigning actively, knocking on voters’ doors.

“I’ll do some of that,” Lambert said. “But the people in my district know what I stand for.”

Steven Verburg is a reporter covering politics with a focus on environmental issues for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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(50) comments

truthzeeker

Lynne 4300


“The Aldo Leopold foundation has been turned into another wing of the Agenda 21 society.”

Quite an interesting statement from you. In the beginning of the blog you made if sound like you may have had some association with Aldo Leopold or his philosophy……or are you just pandering to people thru his philosophies? And then you make the above statement which leads me to believe you may be of a different color. Apparently the John Birch society (Member?) is not happy with Agenda 21. Interesting.

Nav

People in that part of WI did not vote in the majority for Governor Walker in the recall election. They voted for his opponent.

They need to come out in even larger numbers in November to elect Democratic candidate for Governor Mary Burke.

She has actual experience in creating jobs, and she will use her experience for the benefit of the people up there. She is also on record for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, something our current Governor Walker OPPOSES because he is anti-worker!

Beingbucky
Beingbucky

In case anyone is wondering what Agenda 21 refers to, it is worth googling this bit of Glenn Beck fantasy. Something about the United Nations forces invading the country via bike paths. Something like that.

truthzeeker

I don’t know how many of you have ever been in the area were the mine is proposed but if you have you will be concerned. The Bad river watershed has numerous class 1and 2 trout streams and some of the most pristine forest and lakes in Wisconsin. And to destroy this sensitive ecological area for a few jobs is crazy. Once the damage is done, it will be around for a long time. This may sound cruel but like another blogger said, consider moving to find work. That is what many people did back in the 30's when jobs were hard to find. The damage that will occur to the land will be irreparable. You can move to find a job, but you can’t move land to replace the damage that will occur.

BananaSplitz
BananaSplitz

Very compelling post, thank you.

denbar1948
denbar1948

If you ruin the land you will lose more jobs from the tourist industry then the mine provides.

Wenebojo

Most of the jobs would not filled by local residents!

mhazzard

HB 3590 Feb 9,2013 US House repubs vote unanimously to to "stick it" to Charlston WV residents over Freedom Industries poisoning of there water supply no regulations companies can poison "at will"...

Rosalie

NC regulators shielded Duke's coal ash pollution February 09, 2014 12:02 EST
http://www.wlos.com/template/inews_wire/wires.regional.nc/34e585ef-www.wlos.com.shtml#.UvfUn_u6050

I can see this happening here.

Lynne4300

What plans do democrats have for jobs in the mining area, not everyone can be an Obamacare navigator. There are very few jobs to be found that would support a family, selling fishing worms doesn't quite do it.

Rosalie

I would move to look for a job rather than destroy the land I grew up in and love. Lynne4300 - I suggest you read some Aldo Leopold.

196ski
196ski

I'll enjoy all of the benefits, just don't let it come from my back yard right?

What do you do Rosalie that isolates you from mining?

Lynne4300

Rosalie

Some of us were actually alive when Leopoldo was on this earth. We grew up believing the same as he did, that conservation of our assets is crucial. We took care in our farming operations, and our care of the earth. The Aldo Leopold foundation has been turned into another wing of the Agenda 21 society.

Technology enables us to mine much safer the early miners in Wisconsin. You would "move" to find a job, what about the people who live there and want to stay there? The Northwoods isn't just your playground, and your comment shows you have no other ideas to create jobs in Wisconsin.

BananaSplitz
BananaSplitz

Sorry, but my family always moved to where the jobs were. And I wasn't around during the Aldo Leopold days. Mining is not the only option in this beautiful area of our state.

denbar1948
denbar1948

Everything in life has pros and cons. The North is very pretty but lacking in jobs. Only the people who live there can decide if it is right for them. The mine jobs are a terrible tradeoff for the destruction that will result.

Wenebojo

I'd bet that Lynne4300 isn't from Wisconsin!

hankdog

lynne:

You are correct, "technology enables us to mine much safer the early miners...." , your words.

But the new mining law doesn't require the use of that technology, but rather allows the mining companies, G-Tac in this case, to set the standards for environmental controls.

truthzeeker

Lynne4300

"Some of us were actually alive when Leopoldo was on this earth."

Really? I guess I cannot help but wonder if this is just another one of your unfounded statements made to make you look like you know what you are talking about. If you were around then did you actually read his book? And if you did, then what happened to make you so sour on the philosophy of Aldo Leopold? You sure ain't any protector of the environment. You constant demeaning statements against anyone who has something good to say about the importance of saving our environment is puzzling.

Do you have any understanding of economics? Money begets money. But not when one person is allowed to hoard it all!

witness2012

Lynne, the plans for alternative economic development in Iron County are not Democratic ideas; they are local ideas and they are very exciting. There is a significant agricultural industry beginning, most organic, tourism, hunting, fishing, and most recently, harvesting wild rice, wild mushrooms, maple syrup, and other medicinal products that are sustainable. There has always been a strong forestry industry in the area.

There is grassroots support to develop these alternative and sustainable practices that can add up to a decent living and a strong local economy and it's exciting to watch it grow and for people to collaborate on new entrepreneurial ventures.

The catch is that all of these alternative sources of income depend upon clean water, clean air, and healthy forests and lakes- all of which are threatened by the scope and by the type of mine being proposed in an ecologically sensitive area like the Penokees.

Lynne4300

"Organic" farming, typically is not a huge operation that employs many people. The forestry industry has suffered because of the digital age. Hunting, fishing, mushroom hunting....are you serious? Those are not things which provide a stable income for people in the area.
As far as the "wild rice harvesting", where is the concern for the polluted water from the sewage plants?
There is not strong industry in that area, no matter what you say. People have left the area because there are no jobs. Not everyone can survive off of nuts and berries.

witness2012

No, Lynne, there won't be factory farms or CAFOs in the area- there will be small family farms. I would do a little research into how profitable wild mushrooms, especially chaga, and syrup are. Based on the population size, small independent businesses can make a great living harvesting and selling sustainable products.

And, no the digital age has not erased the need for wood. Don't just spout garbage- do your research.

hankdog

lynne:

You better do your homework on organic farming. One of the largest organic farming/processing operations in the world is located in WI, Organic Valley.

Wenebojo

The locals would not get the jobs!

Nav

Lynne4300,

REPUBLICANS have full control of the Governorship and the legislature, and have had so for over three years. They only go up north to try to get votes but then they forget it. Naturally, the people up there now hold the REPUBLICANS responsible for their problems.

In the 21st century we need to look beyond mining to provide jobs. Instead of building mines, it is time to build factories up there. it is time to invest in the infrastructure there and invest in education so people can acquire the skills to find jobs.

But alas, we will have to wait for a Democratic Governor (Mary Burke) for all this to happen. So, on November 4th this year, stop complaining how bad things are up there. Go cast your ballot and remove from office the Republicans up there who have done nothing for you, and vote in the Democrats who will invest in you.

Lynne4300

Please tell us what factories you would build in the northern area, and why didn't Doyle and the democrats build it before Walker was elected?

truthzeeker

I guess my only comment is why destroy the north woods with factories. People have lived up there for decades and don't seem to have problems until people from the government say they are going to "help" them. And after they vote they are forgotten until the next campaign. I believe the natives up there can tell you all about that.

What we need is a 51st state.....Northern Wisconsin and Michigan's upper peninsula.

James Richard Bailey

There will never be many jobs in the Ironwood/Hurley area. Either work for yourself, find a niche within the established business community, or move away to a larger city. Mining is being increasingly automated, with most of the materials transport now being done with driverless trucks. The future for the area in question is eco-tourism. Over 5,000 people visited the Penokee Hills Education Project research area in 2013. Build on that base. Everybody fails to mention that the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians is the largest employer in the area. It is their watershed that would be destroyed if the mine was created. Tribal sovereignty will prevail in stopping this mine. The US Supreme Court has spoken. Get used to it.

Lynne4300

Too bad that everyone here chooses to ignore the Bad River regarding their pollution issues.

STATE REPRESENTATIVES CONDEMN BAD RIVER TRIBE’S POLLUTION RECORD
http://legis.wisconsin.gov/assembly/severson/pressreleases/Pages/State%20Representatives%20Condemn%20Bad%20River%20Tribe's%20Pollution%20Record.aspx

hankdog

The comment by Sendra comparing this mine to gravel pit is absolutely ridiculous. Hopefully the voters in that district are smarter than he is.

witness2012

They are, hankdog, and learning more all the time.

Sendra has already lost in a challenge to Janet Bewley;s assembly seat. People up there understand where he is coming from.

westmorlander

WSJ: the proposed mine straddles Iron AND Ashland Counties; please correct your map and description. It's not an Iron County mine; it's a proposal in both counties in the Bad River Watershed of Lake Superior.

Love the idiotic Bob Sietz comment that the county can simply grow more trees on the waste rock proving that Seitz hasn't been anywhere near a tailings pond or a mine waste site. If Seitz is promising GTac will spend the serious money that it would take to cover thousands of acres of tailing and waste rock with soil AND plant a forest crop that won't be productive for 2 or more generations I'd like to see that promise on paper to the local governments. It's not going to happen. Period. Seitz and the proposal are becoming a mining industry joke.

Wenebojo

Great post.

hendrix

Divide and conquer, alive and well in Iron County.

JohnGalt2016

Those in Iron county who lived there when the mines operated are all for the mine.

bill jorgensen

Do you have any proof to back up your claims? Mining busted up there in 1960s. The people that truly worked up there in the good ole days would be 70+ now. I suspect that they would make up a small percentage of the population. While they may indeed think mining would be great, they still would not make up a majority. I would be interested in seeing your source. Keep in mind too that these were holes in the ground and not 4 mile long open pit mines.

witness2012

The challengers to IC board seats in a county in which most people had not seen a way that they could be engaged in politics or have a voice is an extremely healthy development.

People who oppose the mine and who attended the meetings have been frustrated that the board accepts whatever the mining company representatives say at face value and seem to rubber-stamp whatever they want. Trying to change the political dynamics of a county board and giving anti-mining people a voice in the decision-making process is for the betterment of everyone.

I've attended Iron County board meetings, many scheduled at the very last minute with a constantly changing agenda, and I know people who want more from their county government. The contrast with the way Ashland county operates with their very tough permit in terms of mining has been very striking with the accommodationist stance of Iron County.

The information about the charges Bill Williams of GTAC is facing in Spain over his polluting of an aquifer with arsenic has come out, the concern over asbestiform in the rocks, and the bullying tone of GTAC towards the DNR and anyone who has legitimate questions about the mine means concerned citizens no longer trust current board members to look out for the best interests of Iron County residents.

They are taking back their county and it's democracy in action. All stakeholders in Iron County deserve to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed.

freddiebell

From where I sit, this is a healthy development. Competition is good. The people who live in the proposed mining region will have a more direct say in the course of future actions. We have a chance to see what they really think about the mine and the issues related to it. Bring it on. May the best candidates, with the best ideas, representing the will of the majority of residents, win in the end.

Nav

We know the Governor is very desperate to create jobs. We expect him to be talking about hundreds of "imaginary" jobs that would be created with a mine in the coming campaign.

This administration his so environment unfriendly that it is truly unbelievable!

Lynne4300

That is an idiotic comment. The people who are without jobs in northern Wisconsin are "desperate" for jobs.
Not everyone has a teaching position, or lives in Mad City, open your mind.

Nav

When it comes to protecting the environment what does a teaching position have to do with anything????

As has been commented by so many on here, your posts often lack substance and do not show great depth in thinking.

The Governor needs to find a more environment friendly way to create the jobs. Opening a mine and have his picture taken during opening ceremony means NOTHING

witness2012

Lynne, this article is about people in Iron County who oppose the mine who are trying to get a voice in their county government so they can have input in the decisions concerning the mine and if/how it is implemented.

The people in Iron County would prefer to make local decisions about their community and NOT have the decisions made in Madison- by people like Tom Tiffany- imposed upon them.

So, yes, this article documents local opposition and its growing strength.

BananaSplitz
BananaSplitz

How come you aren't telling them to move where the work is?

BananaSplitz
BananaSplitz

You know you could be a teacher. I mean, why not? I understand the benefits are exceptional and you hardly have to work? Teaching is EASY! What's stopping you?

bill jorgensen

Wisconsin's previous mining bill taxed the ore coming out of the ground and 100% of that money went into a Local Impact Fund for the towns around the mine area. Walker's new mining bill stole money away from this Local Impact Fund. Instead of 100% the towns around the mine area are only getting 60%. This pilfered 40% now gets deposited into Scott Walker's semi public/private Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Walker's same Corporation that has lost track of millions of dollars in tax payer funded loans and has given away questionable millions.
http://watchdog.org/67474/economic-development-agency-that-lost-track-of-tens-of-millions-of-dollars-wins-big-in-wisconsin-mining-bill/
Yes, if I lived in the area around the proposed mine I would be looking for some new leaders too.

denbar1948
denbar1948

Not to mention that the old law taxed the ore out of the ground, a tonnage tax. Now the company would only pay taxes on profits. Any bets that there are never profits.

Lynne4300

Pro jobs candidates vs anti jobs candidates

freddiebell

Lynne4300: It is hardly that simplistic. Don't let that stop you, though. We all have a right to our opinions, even when facts get in the way of them.

Nav

frediebell,

Don't you get it ,man? many of these Republicans cannot, will not, think beyond a certain point. It must be hard for them to live in a complex world where things don't precisely fall into simple concepts.

Tomtom33 was another good example. Get the Government out of the way. Let the market do its thing. They may sound impressive but when you dig into them. they are total nonsense concepts.

I do miss debatingtomtom33, as he has not posted since the end of January. Maybe he was paid through the end of January, who knows. I do hope he is well.

freddiebell

I have missed tomtom too. I often disagree with him on policy, but I respect him as an informed, articulate observer. I value his contributions to the forum. We are better off for his presence.

MadCityYokal

“I am the pro-mining candidate,” Sendra said. “I don’t believe the myths about the large amounts of pollution. Ferrous mining doesn’t pollute. It can be compared to digging a gravel pit.”

[haiku of a sort]

Hole-Picture?:
Putting Head In Sand
Sendra Will No Longer See
History Repeat

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