Mining has always been a controversial subject in the Northwoods, and the Oneida County Board of Supervisors realized that first hand at their monthly meeting last Tuesday.
The county’s Mining Oversight Committee, headed by Supervisor Dave Hintz, has been exploring the possibility of opening a mine in the Town of Lynne to create more jobs in the county for about the last year. Mining companies, in particular Tamberlane Ventures out of Blaine Wash., have shown an interest in a sulfide deposit there. This deposit, consisting of zinc, lead ore and silver and gold, was discovered in 1990 by the Canadaian based Noranda Mining Company. That organization abandoned mining in this area in 1993 because the deposit is located in environmentally sensitive areas, mainly wetlands, and also because of public opposition.
But the subject was once again opened last year when Hintz decided to head the mining committee and look into the possibility of mining at this location. While some meetings of the mining committee have been open to the public, a series of meetings lately have been conducted under closed session and that has rankled mine opponents, particularly those that live near the proposed site.
Listed on the agenda for the county board meeting was an item to “review Oneida County mining documents” and it was scheduled to be conducted in a closed session. More than a dozen citizens came before the board wishing to speak against mining in the town of Lynne and they were allowed to voice their opinions during the public comment portion.
“I have concerns about the Lynne mine,” said Allen VanRaalte of Little Rice. “Most of the deliberations have been under closed sessions. I realize the need for confidentiality but I’m suspicious. Also mining here will be very harmful to the environment in this area. It will affect the Willow River which flows into many other bodies of water. You say this will create employment but it will only be temporary while a mine will leave long term damage to a wide range of areas.”
David Schatzley, town chairman for Lynne, told board members he had been researching the type of mining that was going to take place at the proposed site. “The proposed mine in Lynne and the one they are talking about opening farther north is like comparing apples to oranges,” he said. “This is a sulfide mine, and to get to the ore, they will be pulling out tons of tailings containing sulfuric acid and arsenic. The environment is not going to be able to handle it.”
The fact that mining deliberations have been under closed session also irked Schatzley. “You have public hearings on culverts and not on a proposed sulfuric mine?” he asked. “I’m asking all of you to educate yourself on sulfide mining and if you don’t know what you are voting for don’t vote. There will be pollution with this project but what level of pollution is acceptable? What level of pollution would you accept if you lived two miles away from this project?”
Also attending the meeting was Lynne Broydrick a consultant with Tamberland Ventures. “What you are voting on today is the ability for companies to come in and explore,” she said. “Please allow companies to come in and bid to explore this land. The devastation won’t be to the environment. It will be lack of jobs. We had a booth at the Oneida County fair last summer and I can’t tell you how many people came up and were excited about finding work in Oneida County.”
Supervisor Bob Metropulos also voiced his concerns about the apparent lack of information coming from the mining committee especially where the public was concerned. “I think we are putting the horse before the cart here,” he said. “I feel like we are being pushed into mining. I think the best procedure would be to have hearings throughout the county even before exploring the site. It looks to me that mining issues have slid in without listening to the people of Oneida County. Now here we are going into a closed session to review a possibility to act on something and it’s a given to me that if you are going to approve exploring the site it won’t be long before we are mining.”
Another audience member, Roman Ferdinand, came before the board citing some interesting credentials. “I have a bachelor’s degree in mining engineering and a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering,” he said. “And I can tell you right now even exploring the site will cause damage. Once you start drilling holes you let in oxygen and that will wash pollutants out,” Fredinand explained. “Some quantity of oxidation takes place and then you have acid drainage. Nature always finds a balance but mining throws in out of whack. When you disturb this balance you will be dealing with disaster.”
But Baier was not put off by Ferdinand’s or anybody’s else opposition. “Let’s look at exploring mining and have some job creation,” he said. “Last year we had $3 million in delinquent taxes with job losses and many foreclosures. We’re going to have risk (but) once the DNR comes in they will require permits and it (mining) will be very well watched. And in addition, do you really think the DNR will let this happen? They won’t even let you build a house close to water.”
The board also hashed over whether going into closed session was a good idea and then voted against it, frustrating Hintz. “There’s a lot of unknowns,” he said. “Oneida County has an opportunity to create jobs, but we don’t know how many. We can’t tell the public how the environment will be protected because we don’t know. However, the standards of exploration have changed and now they have to comply with a new set of rules. The intention is to find this (information) out, and I think we should before we say no. We could just walk away, but the intent of the (mining) committee is to gain a broader understanding of what will happen.”
But Supervisor Jack Martinson was not happy about continuing the discussion. “This is terrible,” he said. “To stay on this mining issue and not listen to the people is wrong.”
Dave O’Melia, supervisor, suggested the proposal be sent back to the mining committee to decide if a public hearing would be appropriate. The board agreed and voted to return the proposal to the mining oversight committee to see if a public hearing about mining in the Town of Lynne would be appropriate even before exploring begins.
In addition to the mining issue the board also took public comments from a large group of citizens pushing for a lake district to be formed around Lake Nokomis. Last March the county board voted down a request to form a lake district but Judge Mark Mangerson ordered a reprocessing of the petition as part of a lawsuit filed against the county last May by the Lake Nokomis Concerned Citizens, Inc. The lawsuit alleged the board of supervisors erred when it rejected the resolution establishing a lake district.
At that time, the county board denied the petition because they felt it would unnecessarily burden the affected landowners with more taxes. Property owners can petition for a lake district either by gathering the signatures of a majority of property owners within the proposed district boundaries or by obtaining the signatures of property owners who own a majority of the acreage within the district. Proponents for the district did not meet the signature quota but did get enough signatures using the land-acreage calculation mainly because of the endorsement of the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company. There was a public hearing on the issue Feb. 4.
While emotions ran high last March about forming a lake district around Nokomis, with both con and pro arguments from audience members, at Tuesday’s meeting no one opposed the forming a lake district but all complained about the increasing growth of invasive species, mainly Eurasian Water Milfoil. “If we don’t get some help Lake Nokomis will be a cesspool,” said Mary Martin, a resident of the lake. “It’s a mess and only getting worse. The volunteers are running out of energy and they’re broke.”
Desmond said “presumably” the board will be voting on whether to allow the lake district at their next meeting which is scheduled for March 20.
In other business the board approved:
• Increasing a deputy 1 position in the county clerk’s office from 50 per cent to 80 per cent for the remainder of 2012.
• Hiring three specialists for the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) which will be located in the new senior center when remodeling is completed. The total wage cost of the three specialists will be $199, 528 and will be paid by the ADRC and not from the tax levy.
• Changing two highway maintenance positions to equipment operator positions.
• A petition for airport improvement aid from the Secretary of Transportation.
• Eliminated a solid waste lead position and created a mechanic position.
Associate Editor Mary Ann Doyle is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.