ASHLAND — More than 200 northern Wisconsin residents related a wide range of concerns — from worries about the loss of Bad River tribal rice beds to Lake Superior pollution — during a 10-hour-long hearing here Saturday on proposed changes to the state's mining laws.

Most spoke against easing the state's permitting process and against the $1.5 billion, 700-job iron mine that proponents of the legislation hope will be built if a bill is passed.

The 4½-mile-long, open-pit mine is proposed by Gogebic Taconite and would be built in the Penokees, a wild and water-rich range of hills about 25 miles south of this city on Lake Superior.

Among the dozens who walked to the microphones, some did speak in favor of making it easier for Gogebic to build its mine, telling legislators the mine is necessary because of a struggling Northland economy.

"The people here have been living in poverty for 50 to 100 years," said Harry Ellsmore, a resident of Hurley. "That's all they know. ... This mine opportunity is something that should not be taken lightly."

Frank Costka, an Ashland businessman and head of the Ashland County Republican Party, said the mine would provide jobs even to workers who don't have college degrees.

"Tourism doesn't pay a living wage," Costka said.

But most spoke against the mine. Especially outspoken against changing mining laws were members of the Bad River Chippewa band.

Members of the band, whose reservation and rice beds are downriver from the proposed mine, were in heavy attendance at the session, including women wearing traditional jingle dresses that clicked and clattered as they walked. Prior to the first testimony, tribal members formed a drum circle and danced in the bitter cold outside an Ashland hotel.

Mike Wiggins Jr., Bad River tribal chairman, said the mine would threaten the rice beds at the mouth of the Bad River on Lake Superior because of sulfide that could be produced by waste piles and because of silt from earth and ground-up stone.

Also speaking were officials from nearby cities.

Bayfield Mayor Larry McDonald warned of potential damage to Lake Superior.

"Do no harm to Lake Superior," McDonald said. "Don't screw it up. We get only one shot at this. It takes 190 years to flush one drop of water out of Lake Superior."

Ashland Mayor Bill Whalen told legislators not to change current mining laws because the laws now protect communities such as his.

"That material from that mine will reach the bay in 25 or 30 years," Whalen said. "It's very important your legislation protects us."

Bob Tammen drove from Minnesota for the hearing. The former mine worker on Minnesota's famous Mesabi Range said despite the decades of mining in Minnesota, few communities along the iron range enjoy the kind of prosperity backers of the Wisconsin mine promise.

"We don't have a healthy main street along 100 miles of the Mesabi Range," Tammen said. "If mining brings prosperity, how come our communities don't have it?"

Saturday's listening session was organized by state Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, to give northern residents a chance to comment on a mine permitting bill he is offering as an alternative to a GOP bill approved last week by mining committees in both the Senate and Assembly.

Critics say the Republican bill weakens environmental protections by giving the Department of Natural Resources too much latitude to exempt a mining company from laws protecting wetlands, lakes and rivers.

Cullen said his bill sets a reasonable timeline for the DNR to act on a permit but makes no changes to environmental laws.

Ten Democratic legislators were in attendance at the hearing and one Republican, state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center.

State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said the listening session was also organized because Republicans held only one hearing in Madison on the GOP bill and, despite going on all day, it ended with at least 100 people waiting to testify.

"We will stay until the last person has a chance to speak," Jauch said.



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(28) comments

kjsdaddio

Wow, are all you people married to each other, or is this just a bad date? Anyone with a logical mind will say that a 4 mile wide, 1000 ft. deep hole in some of the most beautiful country in the Midwest is not a good thing, regardless of the possible environmental catastrophe. As far as job creation?, forget about it. It's not like the old days when you needed a lot of manpower to operate such projects, it's computer automated, and many of those job fillers will come from Cline Resource Group out of FL. A MN. native talking about the Mesabi area said that it wasn't necessarily a boondoggle for Northern MN. A large majority of the Taconite pellets will be shipped to China to help with their infrastructure expansion. Don't let the dollar signs cover your eye's. Now that that is all said, go ahead and yell at me now.

Comment deleted.
upnorthlife
upnorthlife

Many Republicans have driven North, but they don't get any farther than Hurley where they meet with GTAC and mining cheerleaders. That's the only story they care to hear.

Observer5

Well, if it only takes about 200 years to flush contaminated water out of Lake Superior what's the big worry?

sevendaze

Lynne, pretty sure that a SPECIAL SESSION would have had to been called for by the governor while the Democrats had control of the senate. The session would have been only for a specific topic, AND the legislator would have to also have had to vote on it as well. Nice try though, well not really.

Lynne4300

If mining can not be done in a safe way, why were the democrats wasting time holding committee meetings on mining during their 5 months of having the majority?
Then, when the majority returned to the republicans, mining was BAD again.

witness2012

Do some research first before commenting, Lynn.

The legislature was not in session while the Democrats held the majority, but Senator Cullen held many informational hearing to learn about the necessary issues and to see if there was a way to do 'responsible mining'. He and senator Schultz wrote an alternative bill to AB/SB1, (SB3), which does not weaken existing environmental regulation as a result of his hearings.

Senator Fitzgerald won't even consider it, though the amendments that have been made have come from this alternative bill. The reason the republicans won't consider Cullen's bill is that it doesn't guarantee that a mining company will be allowed to mine. If they can't meet the standards, the state says no.

GTAC paid for "certainty', which means they are guaranteed the right to mine, regardless of what kind of deal they put forth or how many environmental protections they are exempted from.

Lynne4300

Cullen and crew held some "informational" hearings, the public was not allowed to comment during the 5 month "majority". Why did the democrats cancel the public session last January?

Lynne4301
Lynne4301

Even dogs are smart enough not to crap where they live. I hope they build a mine in your backyard Lynne4300/

witness2012

lynne,

The five month period was to explore the problems with mining and how to craft a good mining bill. Since there was no proposed bill, there was no public hearing about one.

I don't know of any public session, hosted by the democrats, that was canceled in January. What are you referring to?

array1

Why are people all askitter over this? After all, the GOP have given their full assurances that all environmental protections will be met. Kinda strange only one showed up to hear the concerns of the people who actually live in the area of the mine though.

witness2012

They can't face the people who will be most affected by the mine and can't answer their questions or address their concerns. Shameful.

koala

array1 - You may not have noticed, but ALL of the Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly rated a 0% on an environmental scorecard based on their votes last year. That is why people are all askitter.

Walleyemaniac
Walleyemaniac

200 people?Two hundred?I have more people at our annual tire fire on Little St. Germaine!You would think the Madison libs would of drove up for support.After all,there isent too many libs up here.It just goes to show you that you people would rather sit on your armchairs and cry from home.It was reported up here that out of that 200,40 were native Americans and 35 were pro mining.One word SAD!

witness2012

wall, you were misinformed. There were many more tribal people than 40. And, this meeting was intended to let people up north be able to speak, since they hadn't had the opportunity before.

array1

Sounds like you are of strong opinion on the matter, how was the drive over to the hearings? I hear one proposal is to haul the sulfide tailing over to your area in Germaine.

magnum1
magnum1

How could anyone want to live or work in a mine with all of the gasses and other toxins escaping from the mine on a daily basis? Their first concern should be all of the "radon gas" that comes from the ground when digging! This causes lung cancer to those that are exposed to it.

Walleyemaniac
Walleyemaniac

Go up to the U.P. and ask those people if they care!The people of the northwoods are survivors.When mining and logging are your only choice,you learn not to complain!Theyre nothing like the people of Dane County,I can promise you that.Generations of families have worked in the mines until the EPA forced them out.

bluffsinview

If you think you are for this bill, please go to the WI Legislature website and read the Legislative Reference Bureau's summary of it...AB 1. It exempts mining companies from complying with our air and water regulations. (Republicans say it doesn't change the regulations - they're right - it just lets the companies ignore them.) It lets the mining companies take as much water from the ground, lakes or streams as it needs, no matter that private wells go dry, and good trout streams disappear. As for jobs..the first year they will bring in their own people..(they admitted all this), the second year they may hire up to 30 locals, and then they said they'd go from there, with maybe 700 employees over the course of 35 years. Meanwhile, they take out enough rock and soil to make a new highest point in WI, store billions of tons of waste in wetlands or pits that are known to leak, or overflow....the waste, which has been ground to powder, contains sulfides. When exposed to air and water it forms sulfuric acid..battery acid. It kills everything it touches..it runs into ground water, it pollutes streams and lakes many miles from the site. The area could eventually be over 20 miles long, and 1,000 feet deep and is proposed to be the largest mine of this kind in the world. When it's all gone, they'll leave a gigantic hole, people without jobs, contaminated wells, lakes and streams and the state will pay for cleanup for over a century. Is that what we want??

HW
HW

Bluffs, your pants are on fire....

koala

Why? HW, is your head screwed on?

koala

It would be interesting to hear from each of the folks speaking for the mine whether (a) they have ever had a course on geochemistry or water chemistry, (b) they have ever looked at a geological map of the area in question, and (c) whether they have ever seen the pristine wetlands along the Bad River, just downstream of the proposed mining area. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but opinions based on little or no knowledge are worth little or nothing.

Walleyemaniac
Walleyemaniac

This must be the reason there is so much pollution in the U.P.Mining for 65 years must of been the culprit.I bet 150 years of logging DIDNT help the cause either! You people are hilarious!I just have to laugh myself to sleep at night,thanking The Lord that I don't live anywhere near Dane County!

motherlode
motherlode

Wisconsin will never be an industrial state, but we have been given farm-rich land left behind after the glaciers, and a very beautiful state that attacts many tourists.
Maybe agriculture and tourism are what we should be putting our efforts in, rather than a strip mine that pollutes and defaces our northland.

We are aiming in the wrong direction.

Walleyemaniac
Walleyemaniac

Just take a look at your beautiful sludge ponds around Madison.I think we need to bring more agriculture up here in the northwoods.LOL Vilas county has over 1300 lakes and not one of them is as disgusting as any one of the lakes and streams in Dane county.The only thing they grow up here are a few potatoes,sugar beets,and lots of trees and that will never change!

witness2012

If you want agriculture, you need to keep the water clean. That is threatened when an open pit iron mine is proposed.

BananaSplitz
BananaSplitz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfGMYdalClU

Ken from Mineral Point

Thank you! I had never seen any of Steve Cutts animates. Man led to "In the fall". Making a point kindly is always the best way to get it across :)

BananaSplitz
BananaSplitz

Idle No More!

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