Citizens Testify for Strong Mining Ordinance

July 5, 2013  By Rebecca Kemble

Ashland County Supervisor Charles Ortman signs up to speak.

Ashland County Supervisor Charles Ortman signs up to speak.

On July 1, 2013, over a hundred people attended the Iron County Zoning Committee’s public hearing on a proposed mining ordinance in Hurley, Wisconsin.

Twenty-three of the twenty-eight people who testified urged the Committee to develop an ordinance containing the strongest possible protections for public health, safety and shared natural resources.

Wisconsin’s new mining law prohibits the state’s Department of Natural Resources from issuing stop orders if mining operations threaten public health, safety or the environment. The law also states that “adverse impacts to wetlands are presumed to be necessary in bulk sampling and mining activities.” Opponents of the law argued that statement gives mining companies a blank check to pollute.

With the recent gutting of environmental regulations relating to mining in state law, it is now up to municipal and county governments to protect the health, safety and air and water quality of their communities.

Last month Ashland County enacted a local ordinance regulating any potential mining activities. Administrators and elected officials in neighboring Iron County then realized that they needed one too. That’s because in the absence of a zoning regulation specifically permitting it, mining would be considered an illegal activity. Iron County currently has no provisions for metallic mining in their zoning code.

The Tyler Forks, one of the "puddles" that could be legally filled in by mining waste.

The Tyler Forks, one of the “puddles” that could be legally filled in by mining waste.

In November, 2010, the Iron County Board passed a resolution approving the withdrawal of county-owned land from County Forest Law. Two months later they signed a 3,331 acre lease with the newly-incorporated mining company Gogebic Taconite for use as a mining waste disposal site. Iron County citizens only recently became aware of the lease and were alarmed by the lack of recourse locals have under it’s terms should the site end up permanently damaging the water supply.

In April of this year, the Iron County Board invited GTac officials to a meeting to answer questions about the lease and their proposed operations on county land. Dozens of questions were put to them which they couldn’t answer, claiming they needed to complete hydrological and core sample studies first.

The mining company has nearly completed their core sampling activities in the Penokee Hills and hope to begin bulk sampling later this month. The DNR responded to the bulk sampling application with a ten point, three page letter requesting more detailed scientific information about the potential environmental impacts of the activities that amount to strip mining five locations in the hills.

Citizens concerned about a potential mine in the Penokees held a press conference before the hearing, and showed up in big numbers to testify.  The Iron County Zoning Committee tabled a vote on the ordinance. They plan to take it up again after more consultation with an attorney.

Here are videos of most of the people’s testimony:

Aileen Potter of Montreal rails against the disinformation of mining proponents:

Maureen Matusewic decries the division in her community and frames her comments in the form of a letter written to her parents who have passed away:

Wendy Thiede wonders why anyone would be against strong protections for health, safety and the environment:

Patricia Aiken-Buffalo asks the committee to look beyond money and write an ordinance that will help local communities live together in peace:

Bobbi Rongstad asks the Zoning Committee for strong protections:

Michelle Heglund lives in a neighboring community close to the proposed mine site:

Leslie Kolesar, mining proponent who stood behind Gov. Walker as he signed the mining deregulation bill earlier this year, asks the committee to slow down the process:

Pete Rasmussen points out that all the poisoned water from the Iron County mine site will flow into Ashland County and the Bad River watershed and asks for protections:

Carl Sack reminds people that GTac officials have a history of lying and are not concerned about local people:

Bruce Noble of Madison makes fun of himself as an “outside influence” but adds that Americans have a reputation for aiding people who are being hurt:

Barbara With notes that it’s “fairly rich” that people from Madison are being called outside influences when an out-of-state company is responsible for re-writing Wisconsin’s laws and is attempting to hold sway over Iron County officials as well:

Mining advocate Kelly Klein asks the Committee to not put up obstacles to mining and economic development:

Failed Tea Party candidate for State Assembly John Sendra says local ordinances would only duplicate state and national mining regulations:

Ashland County Supervisor Charles Ortman reads a statement on behalf of Ashland County Board Chairman Pete Russo:

Rob Ganson urges the committee to write a strong ordinance:

John Schneider reminds the committee that GTac is only in it for profit and that other communities have written successful ordinances:

Paul DeMain suggests that the decision-making processes of the Iroquois Confederacy might be useful to Iron County officials making a difficult decision:

Jeff Silbert argues for a strong ordinance:

Warren Johnson gets into the specifics of what makes a good ordinance:

Ken Saari asks the the ordinance be as specific as possible:

Local Hurley power baron Jack Giovanoni asks to slow down the process:

Dr. James Minikel pleads with the committee to “protect the little guy.”

Maria Minikel describes how she has been lied to by GTac President Bill Williams:

Tom Salzmann relates the history of exploratory mining and drilling activities in the area:

Craig Dumar makes the point that the mining company should follow the same rules as individual residents in terms of getting permits for disturbance of the land, air and water:

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